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India's closest friend in US not to seek re-election

March 16, 2012 09:01 IST

One of the closest and time-tested friends of India on Capitol Hill, New York Democrat Gary Ackerman has decided to throw in the towel and not seek re-election for a 16th term.

Ackerman, one of the founders of the congressional caucus on India and Indian Americans, was twice co-chair of the caucus and for years, and when the Democrats were in the majority in the House, was chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and Pacific, which has jurisdiction over affairs pertaining to South Asia.

He was arguably considered one of the most cerebral and strategic thinkers on foreign policy. He has been a regular visitor to India and a conspicuous presence at Indian American events and has a daughter-in-law who's Indian American too.

On the eve of the federal circuit court's approval of congressional district lines that were seen to be extraordinarily favourable to him, and with the primary-free backing of the Democratic party virtually assured, Ackerman however, according to his office had informed his family, staff, friends and party leaders that he will not seek another term ending his three-decades-old career as representing Queens and Long Island

"The residents of Queens and Long Island have honoured me with their trust and support for the past 34 years, first as a New York State Senator, and for the past 15 terms as a Member of Congress," Ackerman said.  

"I've been truly privileged to have had the opportunity to fight for the beliefs of my neighbours in both the State capital and in the halls of Congress."

He said, "During my years in Congress, it has been my pleasure to address the needs of thousands of individual constituents and to influence domestic and global policy while serving on the financial and foreign affairs committees in the House. I am most thankful for the opportunity I've had to serve my country and my community."

Ackerman went on to say that he remains extremely passionate about the causes related to his Congressional activities and expects that he will continue to be aggressively involved in many local and global issues as he moves into his role as a private citizen. His term of office will end on January 2, 2013.

But Republican activists had been saying for some time that with the new congressional redistricting, the question was not if but when Ackerman would retire, and that rumours had been swirling around fuelled by two key telltales.

They was the possibility of another popular Democrat Carolyn McCarthy, would be redrawn together, potentially forcing "a member versus member primary matchup."

Also, apparently his lacklustre fundraising -- just $55,000 in his coffers and a 275 per cent burn rate in the fourth quarter of last year may have led to his decision to call it a day.

But as this chatter got intense, as recently as March 6, Ackerman tweeted that he was still planning to run although the GOP argued that the New York Democrats were just trying to delay the announcement for political gain and the persistent chatter was true.

They said, it was "another New York Democrat, doing the old, 'I'm running until I'm not running' routine that sounds awfully familiar." 

Nat Sillin, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee said, "Are New York Democrats trying to delay Gary Ackerman's retirement for political gain? Despite his defensive response, all the signs are there that Ackerman is prepared to throw in the towel." 

But in his March 6 tweet and a later missive, Ackerman said, should the lines drawn by US magistrate Roanne Mann become final, he intends to run for re-election in the new sixth congressional district in Queens.

"The new sixth CD is a fantastic district in Queens where I grew up, went to public school and college, and started my family and my business," he said. "It contains my political base and longtime roots, and I have had the privilege of representing approximately 90 per cent of it during my 34 years in the State Senate and USW Congress."

He noted that, while the new district lines are subject to change and further action, he is gratified and heartened by the amount of support he has already received from community leaders and others even at this early stage.

The new sixth congressional district stretches from central Queens to northern and eastern parts of the borough. It includes neighbourhoods such as Flushing, Bayside, Fresh Meadows, Forest Hills, Rego Park, Kew Gardens, Elmhurst, Briarwood and Pomonok --where Ackerman was raised -- among others, all with significant Indian American and South Asian populations.

Ackerman's loss in Congress, as an ardent supporter and admirer of India and pulling no punches when it came to Pakistan, political and diplomatic sources told rediff.com, would be significant, particularly since he was well plugged in with both the Indian American community and also senior Indian government officials, and would always be accorded a meeting with any Indian prime minister and senior cabinet official whenever he would visit New Delhi.

As recently as late last year, he pilloried the Pakistani military, accusing it of continuing to tolerate and pander to the LeT, which carried out the horrific 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks.

He also argued that it would be a serious mistake to believe that the LeT is really only India's problem and said that "the idea that this group can be appeased on the subject of Kashmir is dangerous nonsense," and pointed out that this terror outfit was a dire threat to the US too and had been attacking US forces in Afghanistan from day one and was a significant presence in that country.

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC