Former U.S. Rep. William Carney, the House’s first and sole Conservative member who walked away from seeking a fifth term in 1986 when local Republicans balked at his backing of the $4.5 billion Shoreham nuclear power plant, has died. He was 74.
Carney, formerly of Hauppauge, died surrounded by family at his Washington D.C. home just before midnight Monday after a four-year battle with prostate cancer, friends and former aides said.
He served eight years as a congressman, representing Smithtown, Brookhaven and the East End in the 1st District, beginning in 1978 at age 32, after serving as a Suffolk County legislator for a single term that started in 1976.
Carney was the first political victim of the costly nuclear plant, which never opened in the face of opposition of Suffolk and state officials as concerns grew over nuclear safety. Carney had said he supported the plant to supply the region with needed energy.
“I faced a crisis of conscience which placed my commitment to do what I know in my heart to be right against pursuing the path of least political resistance to save my political career,” Carney had said at the time.
“He was firm in his convictions and stood his ground,” said Assemb. Michael Fitzpatrick (R-St. James), whose first job was as a Carney aide. He added Carney “was always a gentleman, had a great sense of humor and as a working man brought the concerns of those people to Congress.”
Desmond Ryan, a veteran Republican lobbyist, recalled that “Bill’s election in 1978 was also an omen of how well Ronald Reagan would later do in New York,” referring to the former president’s win in the state.
In Congress, Carney was a member of the Armed Services Committee, and sponsored a 1982 bill that passed — backed by Reagan — that called for a reduction in strategic arms and then a freeze on nuclear weapons. But he opposed the president when Reagan called for a tax hike in 1981.
Born in Brooklyn, Carney went to St. Catherine of Genoa Catholic school, graduated from Delehanty High School in Queens, and attended Florida State University from 1960 to 1961. He served in the U.S. Army Medical Corps from 1961 to 1964. After the military, he married his childhood sweetheart, Barbara Haverlin, and the couple moved to Hauppauge, where he was a salesman for a heavy equipment firm before he began his political career.
After he left office, he moved to the nation’s capital and worked as a consultant until health problems forced him to retire.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by two daughters, Jackie Carney of McLean, Virginia, and Julie Baker of Bel Aire, Maryland, and four grandchildren.
A wake will be held Monday at Murphy Funeral Home in Arlington from 2 to 5 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. A funeral mass will be celebrated Tuesday at 10 a.m. at St. Peter’s on Capitol Hill Catholic Church. Carney will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.