Ackerman looks back on 30 years as a congressman

Photo by Phil Corso
By Phil Corso

In his first candid explanation before a large public gathering on why he decided not to seek re-election, U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside) spoke at the Jefferson Democratic Club’s April meeting to reflect on his more than 30 years as a New York lawmaker.

“It was a very tough decision to retire,” Ackerman said. “When you do something for so many years that you know is the best job that anybody can ever have in the world, it’s hard to say when it’s time to move on to something else, especially when you don’t have a something else to move on to.”

Ackerman said though he did not know what he would do next, there would still be time to figure that out.

“It’s not goodbye just yet,” said Ackerman, whose term concludes Jan. 2, 2013. “It might soon be my last day, but it will also be the first day of the rest of my life.”

When asked by a club member if he would consider a position within President Barack Obama’s administration moving forward, he declined to openly commit to such an opportunity.

“This kid’s coming home,” Ackerman, said amid a room of laughter. “I’ve deprived my own kids, which has been one of my biggest regrets. I’ll contribute to society in some other way.”

In an announcement that stunned his constituents and fellow politicians, Ackerman put out a press release March 15 that he would retire at the end of his term, sparking confusion over his motives. Ackerman was expected to receive an endorsement from the Queens Democrats the following day and had been assured by Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) that he would not run for the congressman’s redistricted seat just hours beforehand.

“I thought about it and figured it really was time,” Ackerman said. “The field was cleared. No one was running against me at the moment.”

A political whirlwind erupted in the wake of his retirement, with state officials lining up for his spot. There are currently four Democrats running for his seat in a primary set for June 26, including state Assembly members Lancman and Grace Meng (D-Flushing) and City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village).

Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) is the only Republican currently in the race.

The congressman said he was keeping a close watch on the race and would likely endorse a candidate in the coming weeks.

Meng, who was at the meeting, spoke in support of Ackerman’s legacy.

“I’m excited to have the opportunity to even begin to follow in Gary’s footsteps,” Meng said.

Ackerman has said he wanted to retire at the right time and with grace. His grace was duly noted in his introduction to the monthly meeting, which was met with a booming applause.

“In his nearly 30 years as a member of the House of Representatives, Gary Ackerman has had an immense and positive impact on life not only in our congressional district, but in this country,” District Leader Carol Gresser said. “Congressman Ackerman has made his mark.”

Ackerman said he sought Gresser’s advice and support while considering his retirement.

“He served us well and with style, grace and humor,” Gresser said. “I think he has been just the best and I thank him for his service.”

The congressman also discussed his views on partisanship in Washington and some of the president’s policies, adding that House Republicans have not been willing to compromise on legislation since being voted into the majority in 2010.

But despite his public support of the current administration’s actions on issues like monitoring Iran’s nuclear program and protecting the middle class, Ackerman said it was time to pass the baton to someone else.

“It’s been a hell of a ride,” Ackerman said. “I’ve had a great career.”

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

More from Around New York