In a surprise, longtime lower Hudson Valley Congresswoman Nita Lowey announced Thursday that she will not seek re-election next year. The Democrat from the 17th District that includes all of Rockland County and part of Westchester has been in Congress since 1989.
The 82-year-old chairs the powerful House Appropriations Committee, the first woman to serve in the position. She spoke with WAMC News after releasing her statement.
“I just celebrated the Jewish holidays, and it’s a time of reflection and, as you know, you think about the past year, you think about your life, what you can do differently,” says Lowey. “And then I decided I could do this for the next 10 years, but I think it’s time for this to be my last term.”
Lowey, in her 16th term, says she looks forward to spending time with her husband and rest of the family.
“I must admit, there are mixed emotions in my family. Some of my kids think it’s time, and the others say, how can you give up such a great job,” says Lowey. “And it’s difficult for me because I love the work I do; I’m very proud of all I’ve done.”
As chairwoman of the Appropriations subcommittee that writes the foreign aid bill, Lowey says she is proud of having advanced record funding for women’s health and basic education - especially for girls – around the world. And she’s proud of her legislation to institute the .08 standard of enforcement for drunk driving, along with her legislation to require clear allergy information on food labels. Congressional reporter David Hawkings is editor-in-chief of The Fulcrum. He talks about Lowey’s role as House Appropriations chair.
“She was a fierce defender of her committee’s powers and prerogatives. There was some talk about, there’s been some good government talk about going, changing the whole Washington budget system so that it’s a two-year budgeting system where those spending decisions are only made once every other year,” Hawkings says. “She singlehandedly repelled that push by saying, look, I’m an appropriator; I believe that we should be doing this stuff every year and you’re not going to take my power away from me. So I’d say she played the inside game extremely, extremely well.”
New York U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is a fellow Democrat.
“Nita was such a champion for New York. I’m going to miss her in Washington,” says Gillibrand. “She’s an extraordinary leader who has really set the bar so high for the rest of us in terms of being a voice for New York.”
Rockland County Legislator Harriet Cornell, a former chair of the county legislature, goes way back with Lowey.
“I first met Nita when she worked for Governor Mario Cuomo,” says Cornell. “She was in, working specifically on women’s issues at the time.”
She praises Lowey’s ability to work across the aisle. Cornell considers Lowey a personal friend, and just saw her a few weeks ago. Like many, Cornell was surprised by Thursday’s announcement.
“She was really such a supporter for women in politics. When I entered the legislature, I was the only woman in an 18-member body, and I have seen her over the years really, really encouraging women to become involved in politics, to run for office,” Cornell says. “We both belong to the Eleanor Roosevelt Legacy Committee, in fact, I chaired it for about 15 years, and, which is really to do the same thing, to encourage women to run for office, to raise money for them, to provide training.”
Speaking of getting women to run for office, there is talk of Clinton Foundation Vice Chair Chelsea Clinton perhaps running for the seat, a name Cornell says she has heard in relation to the race as well. Clinton will be in Hyde Park Sunday as a Val-Kill Medal recipient, for her work as a global health advocate, and women’s rights and civic engagement educator. Another name that has circulated prior to Lowey’s announcement is state Senator David Carlucci, who late Thursday afternoon issued a statement saying he is seriously considering applying his experience and passion for public service to fight on behalf of the people of the 17th district. Lowey is staying out of it for now.
“I’m sure there’ll be many candidates who are thinking about running, who will run, and I don’t have an opinion,” says Lowey.
Over the summer, Rockland native Mondaire Jones announced what he thought would be a primary challenge to Lowey. In a tweet, he thanked Lowey for her “years of extraordinary, inspiring service to the district. I’m looking forward to making my case to every voter in Westchester and Rockland Counties on my plan to bring bold, progressive leadership to Washington.”