New York 21st District Congressman Democrat Bill Owens announced today that he will not seek re-election.
The North Country Democrat made his announcement in an email statement issued just after noon:“After careful thought and consideration, I have decided not to seek re-election for the 21st Congressional District this November... It is time for me to undertake new endeavors and spend more time with my family. Even though I will not seek re-election, it is my goal that the next phase of my life will continue to focus on helping to improve the lives of all New Yorkers, primarily through job creation and economic development.”
Owens gained his House seat in a special election in 2009 after Republican John McHugh quit the seat to become Secretary of the Army. Owens became the first Democrat to hold the seat since the Civil War. He won two subsequent elections, both by narrow margins. Owens’ decision not to run is rippling thru the North Country. Clinton County Democratic Chair Marty Mannix is stunned. “My first thought is one of absolute disappointment. Bill’s been a great congressman and it’s very sad to hear that he's not running for reelection.”
Mannix says Owens’ efforts to work on both sides of the aisle as a Blue Dog Democrat is something that has been needed in the House. “He’s been a voice of moderation and a voice that has expressed the idea that you can get things done if you're willing to sit down and talk with each other. And he’s certainly demonstrated a willingness to do that.”
New York State Assemblywoman Janet Duprey is a Republican representing New York’s 114th District, comprising all of Clinton and Franklin Counties. Duprey says she has known and worked with Bill Owens for 30 years and was surprised to hear of his retirement. “He and I had a great working relationship. That didn’t mean we had to agree, but that we always could discuss issues and discuss our disagreements or discuss our differences of opinion and more often than not we did agree because the issues that we worked on were North Country issues. And, for the most part, North Country issues are not political issues they’re quality-of-life issues. I think that he and I are both pretty much middle-of-the-road political figures. We’re certainly, neither of us, way left or way right.”
Plattsburgh North Country Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Garry Douglas says Owens’ announcement came as a complete surprise, even to close friends. “We wish our friend well. He’s been a good friend on many issues and matters. And I want to cite two in particular. He has become without a doubt the authority in the U.S. House on anything and everything related to the northern border and U.S.-Canadian relations, and it's going to be important that whoever his successor is, we make sure that they are as strong on that. As John McHugh was. We had a seamless transition on that issue front and we’ll need to do everything we can to make sure that remains so. He also has been very helpful on a number of economic development matters, particularly in terms of funding and support for our transportation equipment companies here in Plattsburgh.”
Marty Mannix believes the loss of the highest-profile Democrat in the North Country’s already busy Congressional election will put all potential candidates on an equal footing. Prior to Bill, if you had a person, a Democrat, who wanted to run they were always faced with running against a Republican incumbent who had what amounted to a two-and-a- half, almost three to one, registration advantage. Bill ran, and he was not to be running against an incumbent. That was an equalizer.”
Congressman Owens is holding a conference call with the region’s reporters this afternoon to discuss his decision.