The Fairport Democrat served in Congress for more than three decades
ROCHESTER — Many are remembering Congresswoman Louise Slaughter’s feistiness and willingness to fight for what she believed in — and those issues ranged from economic development to transportation to soldier safety to genetics and more — during her over 30 years in Washington, D.C.
Canandaigua Mayor Ellen Polimeni came to admire her longtime friend both for her charm and her conviction.
Polimeni recalled that Slaughter, who died early Friday morning at 88 after a fall last week in her residence in Washington, D.C., got her start in politics at the local level in Fairport, and moved on to state and then federal office, where she has served in Congress since 1987.
“She was a person who championed ethical representation and worked hard for her district, both as an Assembly person and as a congresswoman,” Polimeni said. “She was a true representative of all who live in western New York.”
The Fairport Democrat was the dean of the New York congressional delegation, serving her 16th term in Congress. Funeral arrangements had not been determined as of Friday afternoon.
In a statement issued by her chief of staff, Liam Fitzsimmons, Slaughter was described as a “relentless fighter for families in Monroe County and across the nation,” and authored the landmark Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) and Stop Trading On Congressional Knowledge Act (STOCK), among many other accomplishments.
“To have met Louise Slaughter is to have known a force of nature. She was a relentless advocate for western New York whose visionary leadership brought infrastructure upgrades, technology and research investments, and two federal manufacturing institutes to Rochester that will transform the local economy for generations to come,” the Fitzsimmons statement read. “As the first chairwoman of the House Rules Committee, Louise blazed a path that many women continue to follow. It is difficult to find a segment of society that Louise didn’t help shape over the course of more than 30 years in Congress, from health care to genetic nondiscrimination to historic ethics reforms. The Slaughter family is incredibly grateful for all the support during this difficult time.”
Slaughter was elected to Congress in 1986. Prior to that, Slaughter served in the state Assembly from 1982 to 1986 and the Monroe County Legislature between 1976 and 1979. While holding elected office, she was regional coordinator to Mario Cuomo from 1976 to 1978 while he served as secretary of state and from 1979 to 1982 while he served as lieutenant governor.
For a time early on in her congressional career, Slaughter represented a portion of Ontario County.
Like many, former Farmington Supervisor Ted Fafinski said he was saddened at hearing of her passing. Slaughter represented Farmington at about the time of the town’s bicentennial celebration.
“She wanted to be part of our community and a part of our bicentennial celebration. She entered into the Congressional Record from the floor of Congress a brief history of the founding of Farmington to commemorate our bicentennial and presented that record to the town at our bicentennial celebration on July 4, 1988, at the Farmington Town Hall alongside then Supervisor Wesley T. Payne and other state and county officials,” Fafinski said. “Her long public service will be remembered.”
Redistricting took Slaughter out of the county, but Polimeni said Slaughter would visit and attend local events such as the Canandaigua Treaty Day Celebration, held on Nov. 11 every year to commemorate the 1794 treaty between the United States of America and the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy.
“She was a woman of conviction,” Polimeni said.
Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, R-Canandaigua, said in a statement that Slaughter was a champion for New York who had a larger than life presence in Rochester area politics. He recalled “unmatched charm, sharp wit and an insatiable passion to improve the lives of everyone in her community.”
"As dean of our congressional delegation, she made all New Yorkers proud. With her training as a scientist, Louise fought for fairness and led the way on the major issues of our time, from environmental preservation to women's rights to attracting 21st-century jobs in cutting-edge industries like photonics,” Kolb said. "She was a trailblazer, a partner and friend ever since we worked together for my father more than four decades ago. She will be missed greatly by all who knew her, but she will not be forgotten anytime soon by all those she served."
Richmond Councilman Steve Barnhoorn said he did not always agree politically with Slaughter, but she always was gracious.
“She is properly lionized and rightly remembered as a relentless advocate for the area,” Barnhoorn said.
Reps. Chris Collins and Tom Reed, both of whom represent the county in Congress, and Rep. John Katko, who represents Wayne County, tweeted messages of condolences.
“Louise worked tirelessly to help improve the lives of those in the Rochester region and WNY. It was an honor to serve in the House with her over the years. My deepest sympathies go out to her family. She will be missed,” Reed tweeted.
Slaughter was born in Harlan County, Kentucky, and graduated from the University of Kentucky with a bachelor of science degree in microbiology — she was the only microbiologist in Congress — and a master of science degree in public health.
After graduate school, she and her husband, Robert “Bob” Slaughter, moved to the village of Fairport. They were married for 57 years, until his passing in 2014. Together they had three daughters, seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
Polimeni said Slaughter’s early advocacy for neighborhood issues was how she got her start and she kept that passion throughout her career.
“She did her homework, and she always knew what she was fighting about,” Polimeni said. “I will truly miss my friend Louise Slaughter and send sincere condolences to her entire extended family.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo will have to decide how the people in the late Rep. Louise Slaughter's 25th Congressional District replace her.
Under the state's public officers law, the governor can call a special election if a seat becomes empty before July of an election year.
The governor can just leave Slaughter's seat vacant and let the elections proceed in November, or he could issue a proclamation for a separate special election.
When former Congressman Eric Massa resigned in March 2010, Gov. David Paterson did declare a special election to replace Massa but the special election was scheduled for the same day as the regular election in November.
Any candidates wanting to run for Slaughter's seat will have until April 12 to file petitions.