Much of the attention surrounding Maurice Hinchey’s decision to retire from Congress has been focused on what will happen to the seat in redistricting. But as the Innovation Trail’s Matt Richmond reports, no matter what happens with his district, Hinchey will be hard to replace.
Hinchey's rise to Congress is the stuff of political legend. From a working class family, he joined the Navy after high school. Later, he put himself through SUNY New Paltz by working nights as a toll collector on the New York State Thruway.
Glenn McNitt, a political science professor at SUNY New Paltz, supported Hinchey from his first run for state assembly.
"First of all, he was very forthcoming. When I first met him, I was impressed with the way he seemed to have a lot of energy, a lot of candidates have that but he had more energy than most," said McNitt.
Hinchey served 18 years in the state assembly. He was a member of the environmental conservation committee and investigates the role of organized crime in the waste disposal business.
Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo, who represents the Binghamton area, says his work for the environment is what led her into politics.
"Statewide he was the first person to recognize the importance of acid rain, passed the first laws in the country on acid rain, addressed the PCB contamination in the Hudson, went after people who were doing illegal dumping, he oversaw the creation of the Generic Environmental Impact Statement," said Lupardo.
Lupardo says she is not surprised that Hinchey has decided to retire.
He battled colon cancer during 2011 and said during his retirement speech that the experience led to a change in his priorities.
"It's easy to get caught up in the day to day things in life, but this past year provided me with an even greater appreciation for my family, my friends, and quite frankly my time," Hinchey said.
With Hinchey's retirement, New York State loses a ten term Congressman and a senior member of the House Appropriations committee.
Political scientist McNitt says whoever represents the area after Hinchey will have a long way to go before reaching the stature he attained in Washington.
"There's only three that are really super-committees in the House of Representatives--the Rules Committee is one, and the Appropriations and Ways and Means are the other two. You have to earn it and he's earned it," McNitt said.
And what he's done with that status, according to Binghamton Mayor Matt Ryan, is look out for his district.
"Obviously Lockheed Martin, there were some cuts there but he brought a lot of jobs to there, a lot of money to the university to develop their center on solar technology and renewable energy, all different little projects like our multi-modal center downtown, which is now named after him," said Mayor Ryan.
Bringing home goodies to those exposed Hinchey to criticism in a close 2010 election against Republican George Phillips.
But, says Mayor Matt Ryan, one person's earmark is another's economic development.
"Earmarks have really gotten a bad name in some areas where they've built bridges to nowhere but that certainly has never been the case for most projects in the country," Ryan said.
Ryan and Assemblywoman Lupardo are local Democrats whose names have been floated as possible successors to Hinchey in Washington. But regardless of what happens to Hinchey's district, the region is likely to see less money coming out of Washington without him.