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Leader Calls it Quits

TimesLedger Newspapers

Two weeks ago, U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman caught Queens by surprise when he announced that he would not seek re-election.

Since 1992, his district included parts of Queens and Nassau County. He no doubt served Long Island well, but his heart belonged to Queens.

Ackerman was born in Brooklyn and raised in Flushing. He graduated from Queens College and taught junior high school students in Queens.

He first went to Capitol Hill after a special election in 1983 and has served in Congress ever since. He is proof that public service can be a noble profession.

The man who lives in a houseboat when he’s in Washington, D.C., drives a 1966 Plymouth Valiant and wears a white carnation in his lapel every day has fought for many causes close to the heart of this newspaper — even though before getting into politics he founded one of our competitors.

Ackerman helped secure the passage of the Baby AIDS legislation in Washington, which requires AIDS testing of all newborns and disclosure of that information to the mothers. It was first introduced on the state level by then-Assemblywoman Nettie Mayersohn, who faced strong opposition.

The congressman may best be remembered for his work on international issues. In 1994, as chairman of the Asia Subcommittee, he became the first U.S. official since the Korean War to enter North Korea. He negotiated with dictator Kim Il-sung to form a framework under which the nation would agree to cease work on nuclear weapons.

And he has fought for Israel. Ackerman became a key figure in the Middle East peace process and has met with Israeli prime ministers and the heads of all the Arab countries.

He crusaded for the victims of 9/11 and their families. He was loyal to Queens and did not announce his decision not to run until he was satisfied with the plan for redistricting.

But Ackerman should be remembered as much for the man that he is as for the things he accomplished.

He summed up a remarkable career as follows: “I guess retiring catches everybody by surprise. I’ve given it my best shot. I’ve enjoyed almost every moment of every day of it. At 69 years old, if I were going to have an Act 4, I can’t think of a better time to do that.”

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