At this early stage of the primary season, most candidates give speeches. They prefer to have the spotlight all to themselves. They don’t want anyone else on stage competing for attention.
Perhaps because she’s eager to differentiate herself from the pack (and perhaps because she’s not popular enough to fill a large venue), Kirsten Gillibrand tried something different at Portsmouth Public Library earlier today. She participated on a panel to discuss environmental pollution and safe water.
As six other panelists give short summaries of their experience addressing the threat of chemical contaminants, Gillibrand keeps nodding and interjecting “yes” every few minutes. She’s an active listener, scribbling notes constantly.
Can she be doodling? I doubt it.
Her expressiveness carries over to her speaking style. Her rat-a-tat delivery picks up steam when she talks about mothers who grapple with water contamination at home.
“Just imagine every shower, every bath, every time you boil your water,” you’re exposing your children to potential carcinogens, she says, choking up.
“It’s wrong. It’s immoral, and…” She radiates fury and compassion, her eyes tearful. A cynic might dismiss her emotional display, but this group shares her anguish.
Lest we forget she’s running for president, she shifts into campaign mode every few minutes. An energetic Trump basher, she insists “he doesn’t represent anybody but himself” and “he is a toxic president.”
But she’s not done.
“It’s unbelievable how ignorant he is, and if not ignorant, how hateful he is,” she declares.
In an effort to woo Bernie fans, she lambastes corporate greed. But she doesn’t just bash the wealthy en masse.
“There’s a difference between capitalism and greed,” she explains. She hails America’s entrepreneurs for their innovative vision (“There’s no problem we can’t solve”) while contrasting them with money-hungry moguls who would “rather make a buck than protect a baby.”
Gillibrand scorns the current Environmental Protection Agency. Without mentioning Scott Pruitt by name (which is weird, because she has no trouble uttering the president’s name), she tells us he “sued the EPA a dozen times on behalf of the polluters” before accepting the job to run the very agency he had fought against.
“The EPA has failed us,” she concludes.
There’s not much uplift in her remarks. But at this event, Gillibrand’s goal isn’t to inspire as much as forge a bond with like-minded folks.
It’s probably not an unbreakable bond, as a boundless list of candidates will make their case in the coming year. But for Gillibrand, it’s a start.
Morey Stettner is a Portsmouth-based writer. He's author of “Skills for New Managers” (McGraw-Hill) and four other books.