North Country Rep. Bill Owens (D-Plattsburgh) announced Tuesday that he will not seek reelection in November -- surprising the political establishment and putting the seat for the 21st Congressional District up for grabs.
Owens said in a written statement that it was time to embark on new endeavors and spend more time with his family. In a conference call with reporters Tuesday afternoon, the Democrat said he came to the decision after some "struggle." He said he had been thinking about it for the last six weeks and after discussions with his family, made up his mind a couple days ago.
“It’s a decision we came to, if you will, as a group, and one I’m very comfortable with, because I think that’s the road I need to take to at this point in my life,” said Owens.
When asked if his decision was motivated by any scandals or was because of health reasons, Owens said in answer to both questions, “not that I’m aware of.”
The congressman had three tight election races, but said he was not afraid of another election fight and that his fundraising had been going well, with about as much in the bank as he had at this point last campaign cycle.
Three Republican candidates had previously announced their intention to run for the congressional seat -- Joseph Gilbert of St. Lawrence County, Michael Ring of Jefferson County and Elise Stefanik of Essex County.
Owens said it's too soon to say who would run on the Democratic line.
“I was a surprise in 2009. There’s another pleasant surprise out there. The Democrats have held this seat for three elections now, the president won the district by five percentage points, so there’s no reason to believe we will not be successful yet again.”
While Owens says he does not believe his decision today will impact the balance of power in the House of Representatives, some political analysts believe Owen's retirement, along with other Democrats who have recently announced they would not seek reelection, will hurt the Democrat Party's chances of retaking the chamber.
Owens said he did inform House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel of his decision.
Owens says he does not have another job lined up, but would continue as a private citizen to work to bring jobs and economic opportunity to the North Country.
The congressman said he would like to be remembered for acting in a bipartisan manner, and not being an ideologue. He also said he would like to see his successor to focus on working as a bipartisan.
His fellow members of the New York congressional delegation from both parties issued statements praising Owens’ service.
A statement from Rep. Dan Maffei (D-Syracuse) read: “Bill Owens has been a bipartisan, common sense leader in the House and a tireless advocate for his constituents in upstate New York. It has been an honor to partner with him on a number of important issues to our region and this nation. He will be greatly missed when he retires at the end of his term and I wish him the best on his future endeavors.
And Rep. Richard Hanna (R-Barneveld) issued this statement: “I have enjoyed working with Rep. Bill Owens in the House of Representatives and I wish him and his family all the best moving forward,” said Bill has been a willing and capable partner on issues important to Herkimer and Oneida counties which we’ve represented together, including supporting our local agriculture industry and upstate defense assets.”
President Barack Obama also released a written statement on Owens' retirement: "During his time in the United States Congress, Bill Owens has been a forceful advocate for the people of New York. Bill has helped create jobs and economic opportunity for hardworking North Country families and farmers. And as a proud veteran of the U.S. Air Force, he has protected the interests of our men and women in uniform. Michelle and I thank Congressman Owens for his service, and we wish him, his wife Jane, and their three children the very best in the future."