03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Gillibrand, Ford and the White House

Robert Gibbs made a mistake yesterday when he reaffirmed the White House's support for New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, first praising her leadership (mysterious to us New York voters) and wishing her to be re-elected. If that's what he wants, she should be sent back to represent the upstate district she represented in the House before being elevated to the Senate. As Gibbs must remember, she was never elected to the Senate. She was appointed by a governor with low approval ratings looking to shore up his upstate prospects for his re-election. That's hardly a stirring pillar of democracy.

With all of the crossfire caused by former Rep. Harold Ford's debate about entering the Senate race against Gillibrand, the White House's heavy hand is on display yet again. Two years ago, I spent quite a bit of my time working in several states to help an insurgent named Barack Obama first challenge the frontrunner Hillary Clinton and then win the general election. So while I understand his need to keep the seat in Democratic hands and recognize that a bruising primary costs money and can weaken the candidate for the general election (although his bruising battle with Clinton didn't hurt him and may have toughened him for the contest in the fall), it's not the White House's job to pick the New York candidate, particularly not a White House that campaigned on transparency and for changing the tone in Washington.

It's obvious that Gillibrand is being propped up by Chuck Schumer, who must be enjoying every second of no longer being in Hillary Clinton's shadow, and who has clearly contributed to what has been called her greatest political asset: the ability to raise money (with access to his donor network). Rahm Emanuel is obviously still in 2006 Take-Back-the-House mode clearing all other contenders, even those like Reps. Carolyn McCarthy and Carolyn Maloney who had put in their time in the House and deserved a shot at the Senate.

Gillibrand, to the vast majority of primary voters here in the New York City and suburbs part of the state is still largely unknown, except for her rapid reversal on two core stands--gun control and immigration--once she realized that she'd have to appeal to downstate voters. Harold Ford Jr. is doing a pretty quick reversal on some of his stands too. But he's right in refusing to be bullied by the Democratic leadership. It might be best for New York voters if the others who were bullied could get back in the race. New York voters deserve to pick their candidate not have her handed to them by power brokers with other agendas. The downside of that could be that Democratic voters decide to stay home and the Republican candidate, whoever that turns out to be, picks up the seat. Does the Democratic leadership really want that?