NEW YORK (AP) — Longtime U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman, a feisty Democrat known as much for scolding bankers and regulators as he was for his personal quirks like living in a houseboat in Washington, D.C., has decided to retire even though he likely faced an easy re-election.
Ackerman, who has represented diverse communities in Queens and part of Long Island for over three decades, announced Thursday that he would be leaving office after 15 terms. He said in his statement that, while congressional boundaries were extremely favorable, he would not seek another term.
"I have been truly privileged to have had the opportunity to fight for the beliefs of my neighbors," said the 69-year-old lawmaker, whose Washington houseboat was named "Unsinkable II" and who regularly wears a white carnation on his suit lapel.
Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi lauded Ackerman's leadership and his commitment to his constituents.
"Congressman Ackerman has made his mark at home and left a legacy of passionate, bold leadership abroad," she said in a statement. "He has served his constituents with distinction and pride, and earned the respect of his colleagues."
Ackerman is a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and has been outspoken on several global issues, including U.S. support for Israel and the threat it faces from Iran. Prior to his tenure in the House, he served as a New York state senator.
He also serves on the Financial Services Committee, which has jurisdiction over the banking system.
In 2009, during a hearing to assess the multibillion-dollar pyramid scheme orchestrated by disgraced Wall Street financier Bernard Madoff, he lambasted officials with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission when he perceived that he was not getting answers to his questions.
"Your value to us is useless. Your value to the American people is worthless. Your contribution to this proceeding is zero," he said in a clip of the hearing that became popular on YouTube. "Our economy is in crisis. ... We thought the enemy was Mr. Madoff. I think it's you. You were the shield. You were the protector. And you come here and fumble through make-believe answers that you concoct and attribute it to executive privilege."
Madoff pleaded guilty to fraud and is serving a 150-year prison sentence in Butner, N.C.
Ackerman said he was making the announcement on the eve of a federal court decision of new congressional boundaries for New York. Ackerman, whose term in office is set to end Jan. 2, joins 23 other Democrats and 16 Republicans not seeking re-election. He was first elected to the U.S. House in 1983, winning 50 percent of the vote. Prior to serving in Congress, he was a state senator in New York from 1979 to 1983 and founded a series of community newspapers in New York City.
Last October, Ackerman traveled to Israel to bring home a U.S.-Israeli citizen and constituent detained in Egypt for four months and accused of espionage.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent, recalled visiting Israel with Ackerman in 2009.
"Rocket alarms went off as we visited the police station in Sderot," he said in a statement. "As everyone scrambled into the bomb shelter, Gary was cool and collected, which is exactly how he went about business in Congress for more than three decades."
Associated Press writer Donna Cassata in Washington contributed to this report.