U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh, on Tuesday announced he will not seek re-election in November.
“After careful thought and consideration, I have decided not to seek-re-election for the 21st Congressional District this November,” Owens said in a press release. “I have enjoyed the opportunity to travel the district, meeting and serving the families and business owners of this vast community.”
In a conference call with reporters later Tuesday, Owens, who will be 65 next week, said he wants to spend more time with his family.
“It was a series of discussions with my family — decisions about our personal life. We came to this after some struggle over the Christmas holidays,” he said.
“There are no health issues, at least none that I am aware of,“ he said.
He said he has not been linked with any scandal.
“Not that I am aware of,” he said. “I mean, if there is something out there, I don’t know it.”
Saratoga County Democratic Chairman Todd Kerner said the announcement was unexpected.
“It came as a surprise,” he said.
Owens said he had planned to inform Democratic leaders of his decision on Tuesday and publicly announce it on Wednesday, but word leaked out to the press, so he moved up his public announcement.
Owens, a lawyer from Plattsburgh, was first elected in a 2009 special election, and was re-elected in 2010 and 2012.
He said he will continue in Congress through the end of the year, and is eager to work on getting a new farm bill passed.
The announcement changes the dynamics in the local congressional race that political analysts had predicted would be a challenge for Republicans because of Owens’ incumbency and his appointment in 2013 to the House Appropriations Committee.
“A lot of people liked Bill Owens who are North Country Republicans,” said Warren County Republican Chairman Michael Grasso. “This certainly gives us a push forward.”
State Republican Committee Regional Vice Chairman Ron Jackson said he would not be surprised if Owens’ decision not to run brings out more candidates for the GOP nomination, but Republican leaders are already coalescing behind Elise Stefanik, one of three previously declared GOP candidates.
“There may be some people (who) got thinking about it, but it’s going to be pretty tough for anybody to take it away from Elise at this point,” said Jackson, who also is Essex County Republican chairman.
Stefanik is a businesswoman and former White House policy adviser from Willsboro.
Stefanik issued a press release on Tuesday wishing Owens well.
“I thank Congressman Owens for his many years of public service. I wish him well and his family well as they begin a new chapter of their lives,” she said.
The other two Republican candidates are Joseph Gilbert, a retired U.S. Army major and tea party leader from St. Lawrence County, and Michael Ring, a broadcast engineer and political activist from Jefferson County.
Democrats have a short time to come up with a candidate before the start of circulating nominating petitions in early March.
Kerner, the Saratoga County Democratic chairman, said it is premature to identify potential candidates.
“It’s very early right now, because it’s all speculative,” he said.
Owens was first elected in a special election in 2009, and re-elected in 2010 and 2012.
The 21st District includes Warren, Washington and northern Saratoga counties, and all or part of nine other counties, stretching from Lake Champlain to Lake Ontario.
Owens said he had raised adequate campaign funds for a re-election bid, but decided that family is a priority.
He had $447,930 cash on hand in his campaign fund as of Oct. 31, the most recent Federal Election Commission report.
“I’m not afraid of another (re-election) fight. I’ve just decided it’s time to move on,” Owens said.
Owens said he had not yet spoken with county Democratic leaders about potential candidates, but he is confident a Democrat can win.
“I was a surprise in 2009. There’s another pleasant surprise out there, I’m sure,” he said. “The Democrats have held this seat for three elections now. The president won the district by five percentage points. So there is no reason to believe we will not be successful again.”
Rep. Steve Israel, D-Long Island, who is chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, cited the same statistics.
“I have no doubt that another commonsense Democrat will fill his shoes in this competitive district that Democrats have held for the past three elections,” Israel said in a press release.
Republicans, however, have an enrollment advantage in the district, said Grasso, the Warren County Republican chairman.
There are 183,509 enrolled Republicans in the district and 127,568 Democrats, according to the state Board of Elections.
Another 89,704 registered voters are not enrolled with any party, and 35,957 are enrolled with other political parties.
Owens said his “principal goal” has been to advance bipartisanship in Congress.
“I think we’ve moved the ball on the bipartisanship field a couple of inches,” he said. “I think it needs to go yards.”