Congresswoman Louise Slaughter Passes Away

The first woman to chair the U.S. House Rules Committee died Friday at the age of 88.

U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) passed away early Friday morning at George Washington University Hospital following head injuries she sustained earlier this week after a fall at her Washington residence, her office announced. Slaughter had represented the Rochester area in Congress since her 1986 election.

“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,” Slaughter’s chief of staff, Liam Fitzsimmons, announced in the statement from her office.

Slaughter became the first woman to chair the powerful House Rules Committee in 2007 and held the post for four years until Republican retook control of the House of Representatives. She had served as the Rules Committee’s ranking minority member from 2011 until her death. She held the ranking minority member’s post on the committee prior to taking the chairmanship. The Rules Committee reviews almost every piece of legislation headed to the House floor and sets the rules for debates, including which amendments can be debated on the floor, providing Slaughter with a powerful perch in Congress.

Slaughter defeated Republican Congressman Fred Eckert in 1986 to enter Congress and quickly established herself as a political force in the Rochester area. Slaughter was known in her district for attending to constituent needs and campaigned as Louise, showcasing a close tie to constituents.

Slaughter’s district included Niagara Falls and parts of Buffalo for a decade, following a 2002 redistricting, that stretched her district west of Rochester. The redrawn district, which included multiple rural communities between Buffalo and Rochester, at first generated controversy, due to the two cities being linked together in Congress for the first time. Slaughter quickly became a presence in Buffalo and Niagara Falls and became known for helping to save the Broadway Market, an Eastern European market on Buffalo’s East Side that has long been a mainstay in Western New York and was threatened with closure over a decade ago.

During her over three decades in Congress, Slaughter authored the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act and the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act. She was well known for advocating for district needs, including transportation and the Rochester based Photonics Center for Excellence and the Buffalo based Bioinformatics Center of Excellence, and for the medical corridor in downtown Buffalo. She was co-chair of the Congressional Arts Caucus during her time in Congress and was dean of New York State’s congressional delegation at the time of her death.

A native of Harlan County, KY, Slaughter and her late husband, Robert, first settled in the Rochester suburb of Fairport after she graduated from the University of Kentucky with a master’s degree in public health. She also held a bachelor’s degree in microbiology from the University of Kentucky. Slaughter was the only microbiologist in Congress. She worked for Proctor and Gamble in market research and became active in community groups in the Rochester area, including the League of Women Voters.

Motivated by environmental issues, Slaughter first entered politics in the 1970s, winning a seat in the Monroe County Legislature in 1975, where she served for four years. In 1976, while a county legislator, she was tapped to serve as a regional aide to then New York Secretary of State Mario Cuomo (D), a future New York governor. She remained a regional aide to Cuomo when Cuomo became New York’s lieutenant governor in 1979.

Slaughter was elected to the New York State Assembly in 1982, where she served for four years before she was elected to Congress.

Slaughter’s toughest campaigns came in 2012 and 2014 after her district was drawn to encompass only Monroe County. In 2012, she faced a challenge from then Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks (R), a former television anchor and longtime countywide official, whose first name basis profile with voters rivaled that of Slaughter. Slaughter defeated Brooks with 57 percent of the vote.

In 2014, Slaughter narrowly defeated Gates Town Supervisor Mark Assini (R) by 869 votes in a campaign dominated by Slaughter’s health issues. Slaughter had launched her 2014 campaign during a four week stay in a Rochester hospital, where she was recovering from a leg she broke while walking in New York City. In 2016, she defeated Assini with 55.7 percent of the vote.

Slaughter’s death will likely cause a competitive race for her Rochester area seat. New York holds congressional primaries in June. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) would have the option of calling a special election to complete the remainder of Slaughter’s term prior to the November election or hold one concurrent with the November election. Cuomo has been hesitant in the past with calling special elections for state legislative seats, citing expenses, along with political issues relating to the state Senate. He has called several special elections for open congressional seats that became vacant earlier in the term.

Slaughter and her husband, Robert, were married for 57 years prior to his 2014 death. She is survived by three daughters, seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild.