Congresswoman Nita Lowey on October 10 announced she will retire at the end of her current term and not seek reelection in 2020. The Democrat and House Appropriations Chairwoman will leave behind a legacy lasting more than three decades of representing the people of the Lower Hudson Valley in Washington.
“First of all, it’s been my deep honor and privilege to serve the community and country in the United States Congress, and I will always be grateful to the people who have entrusted me to represent them—Weschester, Rockland County…and Queens and The Bronx in my former district, and I’m proud for all I’ve achieved working for the wonderful people in the lower Hudson Valley,” Congressman Lowey said to the River Journal in an exclusive interview.
Her impending departure opens the door for a potentially contentious race for her replacement in New York’s 17th Congressional District, which includes all of Rockland and part of Westchester Counties. (For more on the Democratic candidates vying for a chance at her seat, see the story on page 22.) Meanwhile, Representatives Rose DeLauro (Conn.) and Mary Kaptur (Ohio) already announced they will run for the Lowey’s position as the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee.
Born in the Bronx, the 82-year-old Lowey was first elected to Congress in 1988 and became the first woman to chair the House Appropriations Committee, the panel responsible for passing legislation allocating federal funds. In 2018, she won reelection of her district with 88% of the vote and hasn’t faced a party primary since winning her seat thirty-one years ago.
During a term spanning across five presidencies, Lowey has certainly seen and accomplished a lot.
“We’ve done thousands and thousands of case work for people,” Lowey said. “Legislation that has improved the quality of life in our community, to keep us safe, and has even saved lives. And I just want to ensure everyone that my door will remain open to the people across the district.”
Lowey will no doubt be remembered by both sides of the aisle for the strides she made for advancing women in government. Along with chairing the House Appropriations Committee, Lowey made history in 2001 by becoming the first female to lead the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Among the many colleagues praising Lowey after the news of her retirement was U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. In a statement to the River Journal, Sen. Gillibrand said, “Throughout Congresswoman Lowey’s career, she’s been a tireless fighter for New Yorkers, and never wavered in her dedication to speaking out on behalf of the communities in her district and throughout the state. As the first Chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, she paved the way for women to take on leadership roles in the House, and her advocacy has set the bar high for the rest of us who represent New York. It’s been an honor to work with Congresswoman Lowey during my time in Congress, and I’m going to miss her in Washington.”
Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the majority leader of the New York State Senate, also spoke with the River Journal about Lowey’s influence on female politicians. “Congresswoman Nita Lowey has been a role model, a mentor, a friend. I know everyone will talk about the great work she’s done as our Congresswoman and every single accolade is appropriate,” said Sen. Stewart-Cousins, a trailblazer herself, who this year became the first woman to be a majority leader in the New York State Senate’s 241-year history. “For a woman in politics coming up when I came up there were so few women who had a role that was responsible. It was just so important to have a Nita Lowey as a touchstone for how women in government model themselves, how they do their work, and how it’s okay to be strong and push forward. She has just been an incredible example of that. So, I applaud everything she’s done…She really, really has done more probably for women who didn’t feel a place for them in politics than she will ever know.”
Lowey’s list of accomplishments on Capitol Hill include securing federal funding to rebuild areas affected by Hurricane Sandy and her work on foreign aid. But truly discussing all the achievements and summing up the legacy of a Congressional career covering more than three decades is work best suited for a biographer. Instead, Lowey was asked for a couple of highlights from off the top of her head. She began with an anecdote and finished with a few examples.
“One of my constituents came into my office with a food allergy, and they go into a store and don’t know if they can buy a product because the name of ingredients are not listed on the package, so I made sure that this is legislation and now there’s clear identification of what’s in the product,” Lowey said.
She then cited authoring legislation that instituted the maximum blood alcohol content of .08 as the standard of enforcement for drunk driving. “It’s not my business if people drink,” she said. “But if they’re going to drink, they better not get behind the wheel of a car.”
Lowey also mentioned legislation to clean up Long Island sound and increasing funding for the National Institute of Health as work she’s particularly proud of.
As for advice for her eventual replacement in the 17th District, Lowey said, “This is an extraordinary opportunity to serve, and whoever the successor is I want them to be aware that serving in the Congress is an honor.” She added that the work they will do in both the district and in Washington is an opportunity to improve lives. The Congresswoman also hopes they continue on with her work on funding health research and advocating for investments in education so that every child can “achieve a good life, a happy life, and a successful life.”
Although her announcement sparked discussion about what will happen with her NY-17 seat and the deeper implications it might mean in Congress, Lowey points out she still will be in office until January of 2021 and intends on working intently until then, with a particular focus on her role as head of the Appropriations Committee. “We have a budget of 1.3 trillion dollars, and it has several subcommittees that work on the environment and health, and I’d like to get those bills done,” she said. “Right now we have what’s called continuing resolution to extend the time by which we can write those bills, and the Senate doesn’t seem to be moving that legislation. I want to move these bills, because they have many priorities in them.”
With her work far from being over, she also vows to continue fighting hard for the people in her district, as well as leading a charge against Donald Trump, including his impeachment. “In the Congress, we can work together, but to have the president of the United States be so crude and thoughtless about major issues that are facing us is really a danger to my family and all families in my district.”
When asked about her retirement plans, the Congresswoman laughed, then added, “I haven’t thought about it. I have a wonderful husband. I have eight grandchildren. I have three children and their spouses, so I will certainly spend a great deal of time with them. But I don’t have any specific plans.”