Rep. Gibson: I'm leaving politics

Julie Lewis | The Daily StarRep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook speaks during a meeting with The Daily Star’s editorial board at the newspaper’s offices in Oneonta last August.

Three months after he opened an exploratory committee for a run for governor, Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, announced Monday that he is getting out of politics to spend more time with his family and to return to academia as a lecturer at Williams College in Massachusetts.

Gibson, a retired Army colonel, noted he and his wife, Mary Jo, are raising three teenagers who are in their last years at home, and he believes spending more time with his family should be his top priority.

He said he will begin his position at Williams as a visiting lecturer in February. The campus is about 50 miles from his home in Columbia County.

Gibson, 51, is in his third term in Congress. He won his last two elections with lopsided victories, routing his most recent rival, Sean Eldridge, by a 2-1 margin in 2014 in the most-expensive congressional race in New York that cycle.

“At the conclusion of my term in the U.S. House of Representatives, I will be leaving politics and starting this new direction with my family,” Gibson said in a statement. “In the near-term, I will be closing my exploratory committee. For our donors to that committee, we’ll be refunding contributions we’ve received.”

On Saturday night, Gibson had been the keynote speaker at the annual Lincoln Day Dinner of the Schoharie County Republican Committee. He offered no hint then that he was getting ready to pull the plug on his political career, said Chris Tague, the committee vice chairman.

“This is very shocking,” Tague said shortly after Gibson issued the stunning announcement. “I really thought he had a shot to be our next governor because he is the type of candidate who is liked on both sides of the aisle, and more-conservative-type Democrats would probably pull the lever for him.”

Tague noted that Gibson has been considered one of the most-independent members of Congress.

“I hope he changes his mind, because he would be great for New York,” Tague said.

In his statement, Gibson reflected on his lengthy career in the military and government.

“Over the past 35 years, I’ve had the great honor and privilege of serving our country — first, for 29 years in the military and now six in Congress,” Gibson said. “In recent months, my family and I have had the opportunity to travel New York state, meeting new friends in 48 counties. I appreciate greatly the warm welcomes and support I have received, and the time so many have dedicated to our mission to change the state. For that, I can only say thank you.”

There are five candidates seeking to replace him as the representative for New York’s 19th Congressional District — three Republicans and two Democrats. All five are slated to appear at a candidate forum Tuesday night at Oneonta High School.

Said Gibson: “I will be working hard to finish strong and transition well to whomever voters choose as the next representative for the 19th District. I truly believe that this is an exceptional country and our best days are still in front of us. Thank you for the opportunity to serve.”

With Democrats holding a big enrollment advantage over Republicans in New York, Gibson would have faced an uphill climb in pursuing statewide office — though former Gov. George Pataki, a Republican, was elected to three successive terms: in 1994, 1998 and 2002.

Gibson had been described by a number of Republican leaders as having the best shot of the GOP candidates since Pataki to win the governor’s office. A series of corruption scandals has blemished Albany in recent years, with two former legislative leaders, ex-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, and ex-Senate Leader Dean Skelos, R-Rockville Centre, both now facing sentencing after being convicted on felony charges.

Just five weeks ago, Gibson declared: “We need a governor who will change the fundamental direction of our state — towards greater economic prosperity, a more honest government, and the individual freedom that every New Yorker deserves. Andrew Cuomo will never be that governor.”

Meanwhile, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration has become enmeshed in a budding scandal involving a former member of his cabinet, Joseph Percoco, who has been subpoenaed by federal prosecutors, according to various news reports from Albany.

Percoco reportedly accepted consulting payments while heading Cuomo’s 2014 campaign for governor.

Gibson has become increasingly critical of Cuomo, accusing the state’s chief executive of running state government with tactics of “fear and intimidation.” He has also sided with critics of Cuomo’s SAFE Act, a sweeping package of gun-control laws passed in the wake of a school massacre in Newtown, Conn., in late 2012.

One of the GOP candidates seeking Gibson’s House seat, former Assembly Republican Leader John Faso of Columbia County, said: “Having known Chris and Mary Jo for many years, I know that they have carefully thought through this decision to forgo elective office and return to teaching. Williams College is lucky to have Chris joining their faculty next year.”

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