We shook hands at the entrance to the Senate House in Kingston last Thursday where, almost 19 years ago, Assemblyman Maurice Hinchey had announced his intentions to run for Congress. I’m not sure he recognized me — or wanted to — even after more than 40 years of what has been a roller-coaster ride, but then he had a lot on his mind.
It happens that busy, active people, as they age, just have too much stored in their minds. For sure, if Hinchey, 73, only about four years older than I am, is losing it, those of us clinging to our 60s can’t be that far behind.
He is these days carefully scripted. The quick, stand-up, rat-tat-tat Hinchey of yore is but a memory. The speeches are written large on pages easily read five feet away. He sticks to the rehearsed text, digressing only for a personal aside.
The farewell at the packed Senate House was in many ways sad but familiar. Hinchey, his emotions rising to the surface, slogged through a 15-minute rehash of his career that with tweaking could have been an announcement for a run at an 11th term.
Surrounded by supporters hastily assembled and a pack of newshounds from around the district just itching to ask the question about his wife’s DWI the night before, Hinchey made his announcement.
Some may have wondered why now, why yet? Even after battling colon cancer for the better part of last year, Hinchey, with his trademark Fonzie-do, looked fit enough for at least another two or three terms. He’s 10 years younger than state Sen. Bill Larkin and that Energizer Bunny looks like he could go on forever.
He had to leave sometime, but he leaves at a time with the borders of his district, his constituents, in peril. The state legislature will reapportion New York’s 27 Congressional districts soon, probably no later than mid-March. Hinchey’s exit leaves the Connecticut-sized district unprotected. It could be divided between two incumbent freshman Republican members, Nan Hayworth to the south and Chris Gibson to the north, both ideological opposites of Hinchey.
“It’s time” really didn’t explain why a congressman who had been seriously challenged only once — winning by fewer than 1,300 votes in catastrophic (for Democrats) 1994 – would walk away from what he described as the greatest job he ever had.
Slideshow image: Maurice Hinchey at last week’s retirement announcement. (Photo by Daniel Torres)