Dan Janison has been a reporter at Newsday since 1997.
Nathaniel Sillin, spokesman for the National Republican Campaign Committee, probably had more than ESP going for him when he shot back days later: "Are New York Democrats trying to delay Gary Ackerman's retirement for political gain? . . . All the signs are there that Ackerman is prepared to throw in the towel."
Ackerman (D-Roslyn Heights) would keep denying it for nearly three weeks more. He even said March 6 that if 10-year congressional district lines drawn by U.S. Magistrate Roanne Mann became final, he'd run in the new 6th District in Queens -- "a fantastic district" with his "political base and longtime roots," where he looked forward to serving "for many more years to come."
But, nine days after pronouncing the district "fantastic," Ackerman announced he won't seek re-election. His official statement didn't say why, but did say the federal court was about to approve lines "extraordinarily favorable to Ackerman . . . with the primary-free backing of the Democratic Party virtually assured."
Ackerman, 69, said Friday he vacillated over his decision up to the end and that the challenge of a fight would have kept him in the race. To others, however, what changed most clearly was that federal redistricting had more or less been settled. Ackerman acknowledged this kept him "in" until Thursday: "I wanted to keep the district as politically intact as could be rather than . . . dismantled and butchered."
Incumbent seats tend to be protected in redistricting. If Ackerman revealed retirement plans earlier, it might have cost the Democrats. With New York losing two House seats, it was widely understood both major parties would give up one.
As it turned out, even after court intervention, the districts dispersed belonged to Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-Saugerties), who'd announced his retirement in January, and Rep. Robert Turner (R-Rockaway Point), elected in September in a largely Democratic district.
Losing Hinchey's 22nd District might well have cost Democrats less than if Ackerman's 5th had been fair game to chop up during redistricting talks weeks ago; Hinchey's district had nearly twice as many Republicans.