Rep. Louise Slaughter, who has represented parts of Western New York in Congress for more than three decades, has died at the age of 88.
Her death comes about a week after she sustained a concussion in a fall at her D.C. home last week, leading to her hospitalization. She died at George Washington University Hospital early Friday morning.
Slaughter, a Democrat, was the oldest member of the House of Representatives. She was first elected to Congress in 1986 and represented part of the Buffalo area for many years before her district was redrawn.
In a statement, fellow Democrat Brian Higgins praised her decades of public service and called her a "champion" for Western New York.
"She was on the floor last week debating a bill in the House of Representatives and she was as engaging and as energetic as she was the day she walked in decades ago," Higgins told WBFO.
“Her commitment to public service was extraordinary, serving 47 years in elected office, including 32 years in Congress. She was a strong and respected leader in the House of Representatives and a passionate advocate for the community she represented and loved," Higgins said, at the annual St. Patrick's Day luncheon at the Buffalo Irish Center.
Slaughter, a Kentucky native, was the first woman ever to chair the House Rules Committee. She developed a reputation as a staunch advocate for women's issues, including co-authoring the Violence Against Women Act in 1994. Another of her legislative achievements was the The STOCK Act, passed in 2012, which made insider trading among congress members illegal.
The liberal icon, who earned a degree in microbiology and a masters degree in public health from the University at Kentucky, began representing New York's 30th District in 1987. Over the course of three censuses, her district numbers and areas of representation changed three times. From 2000 to 2010, she represented Niagara Falls and a portion of Buffalo. Following the 2010 census, her district lines were compacted to exclude Buffalo.
"I will remember her for her hard work, her tenacity, her passion, her love for Western New York, particularly her home community of Rochester, and all of her efforts to bring resources and attention back to this community from the federal government" said Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, also at the Friday gathering.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo will need to call a special session to fill Slaughter’s seat. Whoever is elected would then fill out the term and could run again in November.
"I loved that fire in her belly that never relented, whether it was her first day in Congress or her last day, she never lost it," added Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul.
Condolences poured in Friday from local, state and national elected officials who worked with Slaughter, including the following statements.
Sen. Charles Schumer:
“Congresswoman Louise Slaughter was a giant. She had deep convictions -- on both issues important to the people of Rochester, and for the integrity and honesty of the political system. Throughout her entire career, Louise worked with people from so many different philosophies and backgrounds, because she was such a genuine human spirit. The ferocity of her advocacy was matched only by the depth of her compassion and humanity. Her passing will leave a gaping hole in our hearts and our nation. My sincere condolences go out to her daughters and grandchildren and to the legions of people who loved and admired her,”
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand:
“I am deeply saddened that my dear friend and colleague Louise Slaughter has passed away. As a long-serving leader of the House Rules Committee, she tirelessly fought for Democratic principles and gave a voice to those who needed it. Louise devoted her life to serving the Rochester community, she never wavered in her fierce defense of our shared values as Americans, and she was one of the kindest and most compassionate colleagues I’ve ever had. She was a brilliant microbiologist who worked tirelessly to make our food supply safer, she was a moral leader who passed the Stock Act to prevent corruption in Congress, and she was a proud New Yorker who fought to bring high-speed rail to our state. Louise will be remembered as one of the great, pioneering women in our country’s history, and it was an honor to serve alongside her in Congress. I offer my heartfelt prayers and condolences to her entire family.”
Rep. Brian Higgins:
“It is with great sadness we learn of the passing of my friend, and a great friend to Western New York, Congresswoman Louise Slaughter. Her commitment to public service was extraordinary, serving 47 years in elected office, including 32 years in Congress. She was a strong and respected leader in the House of Representatives and a passionate advocate for the community she represented and loved. The nation has lost a fervent defender of righteous policies and Western New York has lost a champion. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family.”
Rep. Tom Reed:
"I am sad to learn about the passing of Congresswoman Louise Slaughter. Louise worked tirelessly to help improve the lives of those in the Rochester region and Western New York. 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."
Gov. Andrew Cuomo:
"Louise Slaughter was a champion for New York who had a larger than life presence in Rochester area politics. For more than 30 years, she served in the U.S. House of Representatives with 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. She was 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."
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown:
"I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Congresswoman Louise Slaughter. Congresswoman Slaughter was a fierce advocate for Western New York and the progressive, Democratic values of New York State. Her compassion was boundless, and her tenacity was inspirational. From her authorship of the Violence Against Women Act to her work combating discrimination and bias, Congresswoman Slaughter was a voice for women, diversity, and the belief that through equality and opportunity our country’s greatest days lie ahead. Congresswoman Slaughter’s impact on Buffalo, her beloved home city of Rochester, and all of Western New York will be felt for generations. She will be greatly missed.
Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster:
“I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Congresswoman Slaughter - a tireless advocate for her constituents, stalwart supporter of the City of Niagara Falls and all of Western New York, a colleague, a mentor and friend. For nearly a decade, we in the City of Niagara Falls had the great privilege of her representation in our nation’s Congress and her legacy and leadership for the betterment of our community will continue to be felt for many years to come. On behalf of a grateful city and nation, I want to extend my sincerest thanks to her family and friends for sharing this extraordinary woman with the world, Louise, our thoughts and prayers are with you always.”