Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat with rising national profile, addresses Denver women

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Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, speaks with FOX31 Denver following a fundraiser at the Oxford Hotel downtown Tuesday.

DENVER — Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand shared her story with a room of around 100 Colorado women Tuesday afternoon, encouraging them to get more involved in politics.

Gillibrand, a New York Democrat appointed to Hillary Clinton’s vacant seat in 2009, advised the women attending her Off The Sidelines event to be proactive, not to wait for people to help them.

“When I was first setting out in politics, I was not taken very seriously by the other women in the party,” Gillibrand told the crowd that included Denver Deputy Mayor Cary Kennedy, City Councilwoman Robin Kneich, former state lawmakers Joan FitzGerald and Karen Middleton and former Colorado Democratic Party Chairwoman Pat Waak.

“But instead of asking people for help, I offered my own help. I started to fund-raise. And I raised a lot of money for candidates. Those women looked at me in such a different light after that, and not only was I taken seriously, I was elevated so high after that in being looked at as a team player.

“I had all these great mentors after doing that, and I earned them. If I hadn’t spent 15 years building great relationships, I wouldn’t have had people calling the governor and encouraging him to appoint me to be the state’s next senator.”

Gillibrand’s story, meant to encourage the young women inside the Oxford Hotel ballroom Tuesday to get more involved in politics, is also a revealing explanation of how a recently appointed senator has become a powerhouse within her party and, increasingly, considered to be a possible presidential candidate down the road.

Last year, Gillibrand’s Off The Sidelines political action committee raised over $1 million to help women Democratic senate candidates like Sens. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Claire McCaskill of Missouri.

Gillibrand is already supporting Democrat Elizabeth Colbert-Busch in her special election race against former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford and is hoping to raise $2 million for Democratic candidates heading into next year’s midterm elections.

As she did 15 years ago, Gillibrand’s support for other candidates is raising her own profile, and events like the one in Denver Tuesday are helping her amass a national mailing list.

The Denver event Monday featured a roundtable with Kim Rivera, Chief Legal Officer and Corporate Secretary for Denver-based DaVita HealthCare Partners Inc., Nicole A. Singleton, CEO of the Colorado Black Chamber of Commerce, and  Marcy Steinke, a senior vice president with DigitalGlobe.

It was moderated by Gail Schoettler, a former Colorado lieutenant governor and the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in 1998.

Tickets for the event ranged from $25-100; a few Democratic men — congressional candidate Andrew Romanoff and Hogan Lovells Managing Partner Cole Finegan — also attended.

Gillibrand will be in New York City Thursday for a much larger fundraiser including another panel discussion with actress Connie Britton, designer Diane von Furstenberg, Voto Latino head Maria Teresa Kumar, and Women’s National Basketball Association president Laurel Richi, according to a report by BuzzFeed’s Ruby Cramer Tuesday.

Tickets, according to a invitation for the event, run from $1,000 to $10,000 a head.

Gillibrand and her staff insist the national travel schedule and fundraising efforts aren’t about laying the groundwork for a presidential run.

“What I’m trying to do with my Off the Sidelines PAC is trying to amplify women’s voices, making sure women are voting, being advocates for things they care about, electing women who can carry that message to Washington,” Gillibrand told FOX31 Denver. “I think it’s really important that women’s voices are heard.”

The women who left Tuesday’s event were buying Gililbrand’s message, except for the part about her not running for president at some point beyond 2016.

“She’s going to be the first female President of the United States,” said Lisa Merlino, the executive director of the non-profit Invest In Kids.

Waak, who’s seen Gillibrand grow, agrees that she has a presidential quality.

“Charisma comes out of being passionate about what you do,” Waak said. “She decided she wanted a life of public service and figured out how to make it happen. I met her years ago at a Women’s Leadership Forum event.

“She has matured much and the wisdom shows.”