In a blunt attack on a school-choice program supported by her likely opponent in the U.S. Senate race, Hillary Rodham Clinton on Tuesday attacked school vouchers as unproven "gimmicks" that rob students and funding from public schools.
In a nearly hourlong address on education, the longest yet of her to-be-announced Senate candidacy, Clinton also said the federal government must offer financial assistance to help with looming teacher shortages. Citing aging Buffalo school buildings, she said the federal government must provide financial assistance to help communities borrow to pay for new buildings or fix up old ones.
The first lady, set to formally announce her Senate candidacy Feb. 6, also laid the responsibility on parents for improving the education of their children.
"The public school system will not be successful if families don't understand their responsibility as well," Clinton said. She called on parents to read to their young children at least 20 minutes a day.
But with her scorching attack on school vouchers, which parents can use to help pay for private school, Clinton tried to separate herself from New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, her likely Republican opponent in the fall race. Giuliani has been a staunch supporter of voucher programs.
In an address to a friendly audience of school superintendents from around the state gathered in a suburban Albany hotel, Clinton said such plans "divide our communities."
She said vouchers are not "the appropriate way to go about dealing with the challenges" facing public schools. "There is no evidence that they work. There is evidence that they drain dollars and students from the public schools, and we need those dollars and students," she said.
Clinton's education speech ended her two-day trip to the state capital. Monday, both she and Giuliani were in town, though their paths did not cross. They spent the day looking senatorial and shaking hands with state lawmakers upon whom the candidates will call to muster resources and foot soldiers in their expected fall campaigns.
Tuesday morning, Clinton went on an Albany radio station and said her gender may be a factor in why some people don't like her. Or, she said, it could be her hairdo. With Republicans already lashing out at her after the interview, Clinton later said she was only joking.
Asked by the host on a WGY-AM morning radio show why so many people dislike her, Clinton said: "I know it's out there, and I think some of it is because of the positions that I've taken, and maybe a little of it is because I'm a woman taking those positions. And maybe some of it is, people don't like my hairstyle. I don't know what it is."
After her education speech, Clinton said of her radio remarks: "I was kidding. I thought I was."
But the first lady, who has had trouble getting her poll numbers to bump up among women, did not hesitate to play a bit with the gender issue. "I think it would be great if New York joined the rest of the country in electing a woman statewide in the 21st century. If you look around the country, . . . I can't think of any other large state that hasn't elected a woman statewide," she said. "I'd be proud to be that woman."
A day after Clinton said Giuliani would be "beholden" to right-wing and fringe groups, the mayor's camp said Tuesday it sensed a pattern. "First it was a vast right-wing conspiracy. Then we were told about a secret network of extremists. Now Hillary Clinton blames her latest campaign woes on her gender. What's next?" asked Kim Serafin, a Giuliani spokeswoman.
Clinton insisted that she knows support on Election Day does not come down to gender.