Rep. Albio Sires, a Cuban immigrant who rose through Democratic politics in New Jersey to win the House seat that Bob Menendez vacated for an appointment in the Senate, said Monday he would not seek a ninth full term in 2022. Sires said he would back Menendez’s son for the seat.
“It’ll be 16 years” at the end of his current term, Sires, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said in an interview. “I was always hoping to get an infrastructure bill done, all those years. We got a real good one. New Jersey is going to get $12 billion.”
Sires, 70, said he would make an official announcement at the end of the month or in January and, “I still have time to change my mind.” His decision was first reported Sunday night by the New Jersey Globe.
A reliable Democrat who, according to CQ Vote Watch, voted with a majority of his party on 96.9 percent of contested votes, Sires said he was fed up with the climate on Capitol Hill.
“The whole atmosphere in Washington is awful,” Sires said. “You either have to be from the left or from the extreme right, and I don't think that's good for the country.”
While New Jersey’s redistricting process is still underway, the Hudson County-dominated 8th District Sires represents is expected to remain a Democratic stronghold. Sires said he was ready to support Robert Menendez Jr., the senator’s son who goes by Rob, for the seat.
“I think he’s got the right temperament. He’s got the intelligence. I think he’s very well liked and he comes from good stock,” Sires said.
A lawyer with the firm Lowenstein Sandler, the younger Menendez also serves on the board of commissioners of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. A spokesman, Michael Soliman, did not respond to a request for comment.
Congress as a family business has been in decline, but isn’t entirely a thing of the past. Indeed, Democratic Rep. Donald M. Payne Jr. succeeded his father in Congress representing a New Jersey district that adjoins Sires’.
Sires ran unsuccessfully for the House in 1986 and later went on to serve as the mayor of West New York, N.J., and in the legislature, where he rose to become speaker of the state Assembly.
In addition to the transportation panel, he serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, where he chairs the Western Hemisphere subcommittee; and on the Budget committee.
Family fled Cuba
Sires and his family fled Cuba during the socialist revolution in January 1962. “I experienced at the age of 11 how to take apart and put together a Czechoslovakian machine gun,” he said at a 2009 hearing. “I experienced the people knocking on my house door because they thought my father was carrying contraband into the black market.”
Sires has been a fixture in New Jersey politics for over 35 years, and came to Congress after winning a special 2006 election for the remaining months in Menendez's term representing what was then the 13th District.
Though he faced a spirited primary challenge in 2020, Sires won renomination to an eighth full term by 47 percentage points and then won the general election by 49 points. He said the district is very Democratic but not overly liberal, and noted some towns in western Hudson County backed the Republican candidate for governor last month.
“People in Hudson County, they don’t want people coming around and saying they’re going to cut the police budget, they’re going to cut the defense budget. They don’t want people saying they’re going to get rid of ICE,” he said, referring to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Home to the Lincoln and Holland tunnels into New York City and a large commuter population, the 8th District is very invested in transportation. It also has strong economic ties to airports, seaports, highways and rail yards that service the New York metropolitan area.
Sires held $154,000 in his campaign account, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission through Sept. 30. Much of that money came from other committees, including the political action committees of corporations, unions and associations. He disclosed raising $720 in small donations, those under $200.
National Republicans say it’s a sign that the Democrats are preparing to lose control of the House in next year’s midterm elections, which historically have been difficult for the party in power. Though Murphy represented a swing district, Sires’ seat is unlikely to shift parties.
“Democrats have a full-blown retirement crisis on their hands and it’s only getting worse by the day,” said Calvin Moore, communications director for the Republican super PAC Congressional Leadership Fund, in a statement about Sires’ planned departure.