Congressman Steve Israel is turning the page on his political career.
The Nassau County-based lawmaker whose district includes areas of northeast Queens announced late on Tuesday afternoon that he would leave Congress at the end of his eighth term on Capitol Hill this December. Israel indicated that he would concentrate on his writing career; he published his first novel – “The Global War on Morris,” a political satire – last year.
“It has been an incredible and humbling opportunity to serve my community,” he said in the statement. “I am grateful to my family, friends, staff and, most of all, the people of New York. While I will miss this place and the people I have had the privilege to serve, I am looking forward to spending more time home and frequenting my beloved New York diners. Simply put, it’s time to pass on the torch.”
Israel was elected to Congress in 2000, succeeding the outgoing Republican Congressman Rick Lazio, who ran for the Senate seat ultimately won by then-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton rather than seek re-election. Over his nearly 16 years on Capitol Hill, Israel rose through the ranks of the Democratic Caucus, eventually becoming chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and, later, the chair of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee.
Up until 2012, Israel’s district spanned Nassau and Suffolk counties, but when the boundary lines were redrawn that year, several northeast Queens neighborhoods were incorporated into the Third Congressional District that he represents, including parts of Bay Terrace, Bellerose, Douglaston, Floral Park, Glen Oaks, Little Neck and Whitestone.
Though much of his constituency is based in Nassau County, Israel has been active in the northeast Queens political scene since redistricting. Last year, he agreed to help Whitestone residents address helicopter noise in their neighborhood and rallied with Councilman Paul Vallone in calling for increased security at Fort Totten and other Army Reserve centers. More recently, he has been working to expand voting access, including introducing legislation to move Election Day to the weekend.
While he sided with his Democratic colleagues most of the time, he did break ranks with the New York delegation in November regarding allowing Syrian and Iraqi refugees into the U.S. Israel sided with Republicans on the American SAFE Act of 2015, which bolsters immigration requirements; his fellow New York Democrats voted against the bill.
Even so, Congressman Joe Crowley, who chairs the Queens County Democratic Party, praised Israel’s service to the state and nation on Twitter, calling him “a champion for
#NY, a fighter for @HouseDemocrats, and, on a personal level, a wonderful friend. I wish him the best!”
The race to fill Israel’s Congressional seat figures to be competitive; Israel narrowly defeated a Republican challenger in the 2014 midterm elections, garnering 53 percent of the vote. Desiring that his seat remains on the Democratic side of the aisle, Israel believes “the 2016 presidential turnout will help assure that.”
Congressional primaries will be held in June, with the Democratic and Republican nominees facing each other in the November general election.