An ode to a Queens Legend

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I worked for Rep. Gary Ackerman – who announced his retirement last night after 29 years in Congress – for 4 years, 1 month and 13 days.  Yet, I was (almost) as surprised as anyone by his announcement.

In the last few weeks, he made no indication that he would be stepping down.  In fact, after Congressional lines were announced by the judicial magistrate, Ackerman announced that he was 100% running.  True Gary fashion.

With speculation that Assemblymember Rory Lancman was mounting a challenge, the Congressman didn’t back away from his assertion that he was still running as recently as hours before he stunned party insiders and constituents alike with his announcement.

Last night was bittersweet.  It’s the end of an era.  It’s the beginning of something new for the Queens and Nassau residents who Gary has represented for decades.

Of course, it will begin the cavalcade of campaigns by elected officials who have been waiting for him to retire for many years.

Councilman Mark Weprin, who I always thought would succeed Gary in Congress, seems content in his new role as speaker in waiting.  He is well liked and – with young children – is probably happier commuting from Queens to Manhattan than to Washington.

Assemblymember Grace Meng is rumored to be eyeing a 2013 run for Borough President.  Grace would make an amazing borough president.  But she would also have a long and distinguished career in Congress if she chose to do so.

State Senator Tony Avella would also be a good Congressman, but is making a name for himself in the Senate and may want to stay there.

Lancman, who until yesterday was potentially going to challenge Ackerman for the nomination, is also a front runner.  He is full of ambition and has been trying to get his name to the top of everyone’s list for months.

Bipartisanship should compel me to include someone like Republican Councilman Dan Halloran.  But having spent two election cycles on Ackerman’s old 5th district, I am confident that the next representative from the new 6th district will be a Democrat.

I do not know who will be the next Congressman from Queens.  But I do know that no one will represent the district better than Gary Leonard Ackerman.

Growing up on Long Island, Gary was my Congressman beginning in 1992 (after his district was stretched from Queens to Smithtown in another redistricting process).  I paid attention to him and his colleagues the way other 14 year olds paid attention to the Yankees.

By the time I was 24, I was fortunate enough to land a job in his district office as his political and community liaison.  I spent more time with him than his family.  Gary knew I was going to propose to my then-girlfriend before she did.  He traveled to my wedding the morning after an important vote on the Iraq War – on his birthday (I still get emails from him wishing me a happy anniversary before I can shoot one off for his birthday).  And he sent one of the first gifts we received after our daughter was born two years ago.

I have learned many lessons in my years in politics.  No lesson is more important than the way an elected official treats their staff.  It is clearly an indication of how they treat their constituents and fellow citizens.

Thank you, Gary, for the way you treated your staff these 29 years and for the lives of your constituents and fellow citizens you made better. Enjoy your well deserved retirement.