Outgoing Rep. Maurice Hinchey’s (D-N.Y.) 38-year career in politics had a humble beginning: collecting tolls on the New York Thruway at night to pay his way through college.
The Manhattan native, who served in the U.S. Navy and worked in a cement factory before attending college, said he was steered toward politics by a “natural calling” to help others.
“I had a strong desire to make life better for people in my community, my state and my country,” Hinchey said.
Hinchey got his chance in 1975, when he was elected to the New York State Assembly — becoming the first Democrat from Ulster County to win a seat in the legislature since 1912.
After being elected to represent the former 22nd Congressional District, which includes Ithaca and Binghamton, Hinchey established himself as a staunch supporter of federal student aid programs and research funding. Visiting Cornell in 2011, Hinchey decried a G.O.P. proposal to cut Pell Grant funding, calling it a “huge, huge mistake.”
He also slammed a proposal in the House of Representative to slash federal investments in research, saying that Cornell, along with other universities, used government funds to advance medicine, clean energy and agricultural technologies.
These fights to preserve federal resources, he recalled, remain “some of the greatest victories” of his political career.
“From money for research projects at Cornell to expanded student aid, I’ve always focused on making strategic investments that will help ensure a brighter future for individuals and our communities,” he said.
As a member of several committees in the House of Representatives, Hinchey continued to push progressive agendas — voting against a proposed ban to prohibit gay couples from adopting children in D.C., advocating replacing the death penalty with life imprisonment and pushing the Environmental Protection Agency to study the environmental effects of hydraulic fracturing.
“I’m also proud of my work on the environment, including strong investments in solar and other sources of clean energy,” he said. “Those fields will continue to steadily grow and will provide quality jobs for future graduates and expand our economy.”
But the measures Hinchey advocated were not always easily accepted. He recalled most of his years in Congress as being fraught with conflict: Partisan agendas put the House in a gridlock, making it hard for either political party to advance legislation, he said.
“The greatest challenge [of my career] has been serving as a part of the minority party in the House for 14 of my 20 years in Congress. With Republicans leading the House for so long, it’s been hard to get as much done as I think many people would have liked,” he said. “Nevertheless, we still accomplished a lot.”
With a reputation for being, in the words of Politico, “one of the most liberal members of the House Democratic Caucus,” Hinchey was not without critics.
Roger Rascoe, chair of the Ulster County Republican Committee, said that Hinchey’s “free-spending” policies piled up debt over the years.
“I certainly respect Congressman Hinchey for his many years of public service in Congress, but his voting record is the exact opposite from what I would have chosen,” Rascoe said. “His legacy is that our grandchildren will have to pay for the measures he voted for.”
Nevertheless, the Congressman found supporters from the left who were disappointed when, in January, Hinchey made an announcement at a press conference:
“It’s time for someone else.”
Hinchey, then 73 years old, said he would retire after the November elections. After being diagnosed with and treated for colon cancer throughout 2011 and 2012, Hinchey said he would not seek re-election once his term ended.
Ulster County Executive Mike Hein — who told the Associated Press that Hinchey was a long-time mentor and friend — said “there’s no question that not having Congressman Hinchey there is a loss for our community.”
Months later, the 22nd district Hinchey served was divided into four new districts through New York State’s redistricting. As Congressional hopefuls battle for seats in the districts, Hinchey articulated his hopes for incoming Congressional representatives.
“I hope that my successors take the time to meet all of the wonderful people who live in their district and to learn their stories,” he said. “All of my accomplishments in Congress have come from listening to the concerns of my constituents and taking the appropriate action in Washington to respond to those concerns and make a difference.”
With election day approaching, Hinchey thanked the constituents he represented throughout his time in Albany and on Capitol Hill.
“As I reflect back on 38 years in public office — 18 in the NYS Assembly and 20 in Congress — I am extremely grateful to the people I’ve represented for affording me the opportunity to serve them,” he said. “I woke up each day ready to fight hard for them. I feel very good about all of the things we’ve accomplished.”
Original Author: Akane Otani