Reynolds Announces Retirement

Posted March 20, 2008 at 1:41pm

Rep. Tom Reynolds (R-N.Y.) announced Thursday that he will not seek re-election, yet another blow to the cash-strapped GOP’s prospects of regaining the House majority in November.

Reynolds made his retirement official at a noon press conference in his western New York district, which stretches from Buffalo to Rochester.

“For 35 years, I have been on an incredible journey. It’s a career I look back on with pride and humility,” Reynolds said. “But for me, the time is right to close out this chapter. At the end of this term, I’ll be 58 years old — older than either Jack Kemp or Bill Paxon, my two predecessors were when they left Congress.

Reynolds, a former Republican leader in the New York Assembly, was widely viewed as a rising star in the party soon after his election to Congress in 1998. At one point, he was seen as being groomed as a potential successor to then-Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).

“Tom Reynolds is perhaps the last of a dying breed, an old-fashioned statesman who revels in the rough and tumble of politics,” GOP Conference Chairman Adam Putnam (Fla.) said in a statement.

Reynolds entered leadership when he was elected chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee in 2002. From that position, he oversaw Republican gains in the House in the 2004 election cycle but also presided over the GOP’s loss of the majority in the 2006 cycle.

That loss under his watch effectively quashed Reynolds’ prospects for moving up the leadership ladder in the near term, but he seemed content to stay in the House and move up the ladder of the Ways and Means Committee — where he was in line to be a top Republican on a subcommittee in the next Congress.

But in recent weeks, Reynolds’ reputation has been dinged by an unfolding accounting scandal within the House GOP’s political arm. Former NRCC Treasurer Christopher Ward, who held that position for the duration of Reynolds’ tenure as well as the first six months of now-Chairman Tom Cole’s (Okla.) term, allegedly funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars from the committee and other accounts to his personal and business bank accounts.

Ward’s alleged activity is being investigated by the FBI, and those familiar with the NRCC’s internal investigation have said all indications are at this point that Ward acted alone without the knowledge of his superiors or anyone else at the committee.

Reynolds said Thursday that he made his decision to retire this week.

Back in Washington, D.C., praise for the former NRCC head trickled in.

“A brilliant tactician and great political mind, Tom helped elect a Republican governor in a large and complicated blue state, and went on to play a pivotal role in building our history-making majority in the House of Representatives,” Putnam said.

Meanwhile, in the 26th district, the race to succeed Reynolds is expected to be competitive.

The district marginally favors Republicans; President Bush won 55 percent of the vote there in 2004. Reynolds only narrowly escaped his re-election battle in 2006, holding off wealthy businessman Jack Davis (D) 52 percent to 48 percent.

Davis, who challenged Reynolds in 2004 as well, is expected to decide soon whether he will run again in 2008.

The top Democratic contender already in the race is Jon Powers, an Iraq War veteran and teacher who has the backing of five of the seven Democratic committees in the district as well as some support from national Democratic-leaning interest groups.

Attorney Alice Kryzan also is seeking the Democratic nomination. It is unclear whether Reynolds’ departure from the race will draw more Democrats into the fray.

On the Republican side, possible candidates being floated for the seat are state Sen. George Maziarz, Assemblyman Jim Hayes, former Assembly Minority Leader Charles Nesbitt, Erie County Executive Chris Collins, Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks and state Sen. Joe Robach. Also mentioned is former Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly.

Reynolds, known for his “all politics is local” mantra and football analogies while chairman of the NRCC, maintained Thursday that the seat would remain in the Republican column.

“Make no mistake, this is a Republican district and it will be represented by a Republican,” he said at the press conference.

A spokesman for the NRCC echoed that sentiment, noting the GOP’s registration and presidential performance advantage in the district.

“We are confident that we will retain the seat,” NRCC spokesman Ken Spain said. “With [Sen.] John McCain [R-Ariz.] at the top of the ticket and widespread disapproval of the Democrat-led Congress, Republican candidates will be provided with plenty of fodder for the fall.”

Democrats wasted little time in highlighting the fact that Reynolds’ departure provides yet another chance for them to pick off the seat of a former member of GOP leadership.

Democrats already have won seats formerly held by Hastert and former Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and have a good shot at picking up the seat of retiring Rep. Deborah Pryce (Ohio), a former GOP Conference chairwoman.

“Republicans are on defense with less than eight months until Election Day, the NRCC still has major recruiting holes, internal problems and little money to defend their vulnerable incumbents,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Doug Thornell said. “Democrats remain on the offense and we are well-positioned to pickup Reynolds’ seat.”

Reynolds is the 25th Republican to announce he won’t run for re-election again in November. Four other Republicans already have left the House this Congress for various reasons.

Reynolds also is the sixth member of the Ways and Means Committee to announce his retirement this Congress.