Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand was named Friday to replace Hillary Clinton as a U.S. senator from New York after Caroline Kennedy withdrew herself from consideration amid controversy over her qualifications for the office.
New York Gov. David Paterson appointed Gillibrand, a second-term Democratic lawmaker from upstate New York, to the post. She will serve until 2010, when a special election will be held to fill out the final two years of Clinton's original term.
Paterson said Gillibrand had "big shoes to fill" in the post and that he had made the decision based on the best candidate and after thoroughly reviewing a number of interested individuals.
Gillibrand acknowledged the "big shoes" she has to fill after Clinton's departure, saying the new secretary of state had been an inspiration to her.
"Ms. Clinton has been a clarion call to all like me who want to restore the beacon of light and hope that has defined our nation," she said.
The surprise choice of Gillibrand, 42, came after Kennedy removed her name from consideration, citing personal reasons. State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo also was considered a top candidate for the position.
Gillibrand represents the 20th District, surrounding Albany. She won her seat in an upset in 2006, toppling veteran Republican John Sweeney, but she built a coalition that allowed her to cruise to re-election last year. She had also been an official in the Housing and Urban Development Department during the Clinton administration.
Later, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said President Obama had telephoned his congratulations to Gillibrand.
Gibbs read a statement from Obama, who said Gillibrand has been known during her career as a strong voice for transparency and reform in government and that she has "the integrity, character and dedication to public service to help us achieve our greatest goals."
Bill Montfort, a Democratic leader in Gillibrand's upstate district, said people were shocked and thrilled by the sudden rise.
"If she does the same job for the state that she's done for the 20th District, then she should be a great senator," Montfort told NPR.
Gillibrand had been a dark horse, especially while Kennedy, whose family name lent her star power, dominated the headlines.
Gillibrand has angered some liberal Democratic lawmakers, who have criticized her for supporting some conservative issues such as gun ownership rights. She is considered one of the fiscally conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats, a stance that reflects her largely rural district.
She voted last year against the $700 billion Wall Street bailout bill.
In November, Gillibrand defeated wealthy General Electric heir Sandy Treadwell. The former state Republican chairman had been seen as one of the Republican Party's best chances to capture another congressional seat in New York.
Gillibrand graduated from Dartmouth College in 1988 and earned a law degree at UCLA in 1991. She is the daughter of Albany lobbyist Douglas Rutnik.
From NPR staff and wire reports