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New York Rep. José Serrano has Parkinson’s, won’t seek re-election

Democrat says disease has not affected his work in Congress, and he will serve the remainder of his term

Rep. Jose Serrano, D-N.Y., announced that he has Parkison’s disease and will not seek re-election in 2020. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. Jose Serrano, D-N.Y., announced that he has Parkison’s disease and will not seek re-election in 2020. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

New York Democratic Rep. José E. Serrano announced Monday that he has Parkinson’s disease and will not seek re-election in 2020.

The 75-year-old said he plans to finish his current term, which is his 15th full one in Congress, as the disease has not yet affected his ability to work.

“Today, I am announcing that I am living with Parkinson’s disease,” Serrano said in a statement. “After my diagnosis, I initially planned to continue my work representing the people of the South Bronx far into the future — a responsibility that brings me great joy.”

“Although this disease has not affected my work in Congress, over the last few months I’ve come to the realization that Parkinson’s will eventually take a toll, and that I cannot predict its rate of advancement,” Serrano said. “Because of this uncertainty, I do not intend to seek re-election in 2020. I do intend to serve the remainder of my term in the 116th Congress.”

Serrano is a senior appropriator who was first elected in a 1990 special election. He represents New York’s 15th District, which is based in the Bronx.

The longtime legislator had already been facing a potential primary challenge from New York City’s youngest councilman, Ritchie Torres. The 31-year-old filed with the Federal Election Commission last week to run. A spokesman said in an email that Torres is “still in the exploratory stages” of a potential House campaign.

“Congressman Jose Serrano is an icon, he’s been an inspiration to young Latino elected [officials] like myself for decades,” Torres said in a statement following Serrano’s announcement. “He should be celebrated for his public service.”

If Torres decides to enter the open-seat race, he is almost certain to have company. Serrano’s son, also named José, who is a state senator, was considered a potential contender, according to a Democratic consultant with experience in New York City.

But Serrano told Roll Call Monday night that his son was not considering running for his House seat.

Other names circulating include Nathalia Fernandez, who was elected to the state Assembly last year; former Serrano staffer Amanda Septimo, who ran unsuccessfully for state Assembly last year; former New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who lost a recent special election for New York City public advocate; and Bronx Democratic County Committee Chairman Marcos Crespo, who is also an assemblyman.

Hillary Clinton carried the 15th District by 89 points in 2016. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Solid Democratic

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the first-term lawmaker who has captured attention as a leader of the Democrats’ liberal wing, had originally filed to run against Serrano last cycle. But she opted to challenge — and defeat — Democratic Caucus Chairman Joseph Crowley in the neighboring 14th District.

While local Democrats eye a run for Serrano’s seat, the veteran congressman said his work will continue in the House.

Serrano chairs the Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee, which will likely be in the spotlight in light of the Justice Department’s decisions following the conclusion of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation.

Democrats are already expressing concerns that Attorney General William P. Barr has made a biased decision in concluding that there is not enough evidence to prosecute President Donald Trump for obstruction of justice — regardless of the department’s view on indicting a sitting president.

Barr is scheduled to testify before Serrano’s subcommittee on April 9 on DOJ’s fiscal 2020 budget request, but he will likely face questions about the special counsel investigation.

Serrano did not specifically mention the special counsel investigation in his statement. Rather, he said he plans to use his chairmanship “to fight for climate change research, a fairer justice system, and an accurate 2020 Census count.”

“There is still a lot of work to be done to stop the harmful policies of the Trump Administration, and I am proud to help lead in that effort as an Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman,” he said.

House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey said in a statement that Serrano will be missed both on the committee and in the New York delegation, of which she is also a member.

“Congressman Serrano has been a champion for civil rights, compassionate and humane immigration policies, and New York’s fair share of federal funding,” she said. “As the longest serving Puerto Rican in Congress, he has fought especially hard since the devastation of Hurricane Maria to help the island recover and rebuild.”

Jennifer Shutt contributed to this report.

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