CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of House members who are retiring.
The surprise retirement announcement Thursday evening by Rep. Gary Ackerman will rob the Capitol not only of a 30-year veteran, but of one of its most colorful characters.
He became the 23rd House member to decide outright to make the 112th Congress his last, following in the footsteps of other quotable and notable figures including Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass.
Ackerman, 69, lives on a houseboat along the Potomac called the Unsinkable II. Its predecessor, the Unsinkable I, sank. The New York Democrat, often seen around the Hill with a white carnation in his lapel, decided not to seek reelection less than three weeks after he insisted in a tweet that he would.
“Republican rumor mill is 100%, Absolutely Wrong. I’m running,” Ackerman tweeted then.
President Obama praised Ackerman’s “unique enthusiasm” on Friday, saying “his bipartisan efforts helped our nation confront significant challenges at home and abroad.”
What made Ackerman change his mind is uncertain. in a statement, his office said new district lines in New York that are roiling the state were not a factor, noting the new maps were favorable to the longtime Queens Democrat.
Ackerman’s decision presented an awkward moment for one potential successor, Queens Assemblyman Rory Lancman, who only hours earlier had dropped his bid for Congress as the seat he planned to run in had vanished.
Now, the neighboring Ackerman seat is open for the taking.
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel, also of New York, stated the region “supported both President Obama and Senator John Kerry. We look forward to electing a Democrat in November.”
Ackerman was first elected in a special election in 1983. He is an “old-school liberal with a penchant for colorful and tart remarks,” according to National Journal’s Almanac of American Politics.
He is the ranking member on the House Foreign Relations subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia. He voted to authorize the Iraq War, which by 2005 he said he regretted.
He is staunch Israel supporter. He was among Jewish lawmakers who defended Israel’s raid of a Turkish aid flotilla heading for the blockaded Gaza that resulted in 10 deaths and was condemned by the United Nations.
He also was president of the International Council of Jewish Parliamentarians, a global group of Jewish lawmakers who support Israel.
“He was a leader in the fight to pass Wall Street Reform and helped strengthen the bonds between the United States and our allies, particularly Israel,” Obama said in his statement.