WASHINGTON — Veteran U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter, a Kentucky blacksmith’s daughter who went on to chair one of Congress’ most important committees, died Friday at a Washington hospital where she was being treated after falling in her home, her top aide said. She was 88.
The New York Democrat died at George Washington University Hospital a week after a fall in which Slaughter had sustained a concussion, said Liam Fitzsimmons, her chief of staff.
Slaughter was the first woman to chair the House Rules Committee and was her party’s top member on the panel when she died.
Slaughter was serving her 16th term in the House, and her 31 years in the chamber made her its third longest-serving woman, according to the official House website. She chaired the rules committee from 2007 through 2010.
A special election will be held to elect someone to serve out the rest of Slaughter’s term, which expires Dec. 31. Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo will set the date for the special election in the 25th Congressional District, which includes the city of Rochester.
Slaughter had a degree in microbiology and was originally from Harlan County, Kentucky. Her soft, twangy accent always seemed out of place for someone representing a western New York district. But she was repeatedly re-elected — “including a narrow victory in 2014 — and was the longest-serving member of Congress from New York when she died.
“Louise never forgot her roots as the daughter of a Kentucky blacksmith,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement. “She brought the grace and grit of her Southern background to her leadership in the Congress, building bridges and breaking down barriers all with her beautiful accent. Louise could be fiercely debating on the floor in the morning, and singing in harmony with her colleagues across the aisle in the evening.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan called Slaughter “a giant in the people’s House” and said she was “unrelenting” in working for her ideals and constituents.
“Louise did not need a gavel to make a dent in history,” the Republican speaker said.
Slaughter was the chief force behind a 2012 law to ban insider stock trading based on congressional knowledge and require disclosure of market activities by lawmakers. She also helped write the Violence Against Women Act and a 2008 law designed to protect people with genetic predispositions to health conditions from facing discrimination from their employers or health insurance companies.
Her death creates a vacancy at the top of the Democratic side of the Rules panel, which sets the terms of House floor debates. It’s likely to be filled by Rep. Jim McGovern, a Democrat from Massachusetts.
When Slaughter was first elected in 1986, she ousted Republican Rep. Fred Eckert after running a campaign ad in which the sister of kidnapped Associated Press reporter Terry Anderson accused him of refusing to speak up for her brother.
The sister, Peggy Say, and Anderson were both from the Rochester, New York, area. Anderson, the AP’s Middle East bureau chief, had been captured the year before by Islamic militants in Beirut, Lebanon, and was not released until 1991.
Slaughter was born Dorothy Louise McIntosh on Aug. 14, 1929, in Appalachian coal country. According to the Democrat and Chronicle of Rochester, she was doing market research for a major chemicals manufacturer in Texas in the 1950s when she met Ohio native Robert “Bob” Slaughter. They married in 1957 and moved to the Rochester area for her husband’s job. He later joined Eastman Kodak as a legal administrator. Bob Slaughter died in 2014 at age 82.
The couple became involved in local Democratic politics while living in suburban Rochester. Louise Slaughter served in the Monroe County Legislature between 1976 and 1979, then worked for Democratic Gov. Mario Cuomo before serving in the state Assembly from 1982 to 1986. That year she defeated Eckert to become the first woman to represent western New York in Congress.
As Kodak and other Rochester-area manufacturers shed thousands of jobs over the years, Slaughter worked with New York’s congressional delegation to bring high-tech companies to the region and fought for federal dollars to improve the infrastructure, including a new Amtrak train station that opened last year.
“She was such a tireless advocate and great public servant for our community and region throughout her tenure in Congress,” said Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Bob Duffy, a former Rochester mayor and lieutenant governor under current Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
“She was trailblazer, a partner and friend ever since we worked together for my father more than four decades ago,” Andrew Cuomo said in a statement, calling her a “champion for New York.”
“The ferocity of her advocacy was matched only by the depth of her compassion and humanity,” added Senate Minority Leader and fellow New York Democrat Chuck Schumer.
The Slaughters are survived by three daughters, seven grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. Funeral arrangements are pending.