WASHINGTON (AP) — Rep. Steve Israel of New York, a member of the House Democratic leadership in his eighth term in Congress, said Tuesday he will retire at the end of this year. "Simply put, it's time to pass on the torch," Israel said in a statement announcing the unexpected move.
Israel, 57, is a top ally to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, and serves as her chair of policy and communications, a position she created for him.
He's among those seen as a possible successor to Pelosi. But in a statement Israel said it is time to pursue new passions and develop new interests, and spend more time writing his second novel, a satire about the gun lobby.
He said that by retiring in a presidential election year he will help ensure that his district stays in Democratic hands because of the high Democratic turnout in a presidential year. Israel represents northern Long Island and eastern Queens, and his district is narrowly divided between Democratic and Republican voters.
"It has been an incredible and humbling opportunity to serve my community. I am grateful to my family, friends, staff, and most of all - the people of New York," Israel said. "While I will miss this place and the people I have had the privilege to serve, I am looking forward to spending more time home and frequenting my beloved New York diners. Simply put, it's time to pass on the torch."
Friendly and outspoken, Israel has been an able spokesman for his party but has broken with President Barack Obama on some issues, including the Iran nuclear deal. He led efforts to elect Democrats to the House as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
"During his eight terms in Congress, he has fought to expand economic opportunity, deliver on America's promise of equality, honor our commitments to our veterans, and protect our communities from gun violence," Obama said in a statement.
With Democrats in the minority and Pelosi and other top Democrats in the House showing no immediate signs of moving on, Israel's path for advancing in the House was unclear.
"Congressman Israel's deep understanding of the concerns and aspirations of the American people have been invaluable to the Congress and to our country," Pelosi said. "America's working families have always had a champion in Steve Israel."
In his statement Israel cited his work on behalf of New York veterans and military families, including securing $8.3 million in back pay, as his proudest achievements.
"I considered this decision deeply, but ultimately, I want to be a team player and ensure that my district, which is the only competitive district in House Democratic leadership, remains in the hands of Democrats when I leave," he said.
In an interview with the website PJ Media earlier this year, Israel described his upcoming second novel, "Big Guns," as a satire on the gun lobby. He said the premise was that a Republican-controlled Congress would require all Americans to own a gun as a life insurance policy, similar to the requirement in Obama's health law for all Americans to carry health insurance.