Maurice Hinchey, former U.S. congressman, recalled as environmental champion
Former Rep. Maurice D. Hinchey, who served 20 years in Congress and had been battling a terminal neurological disorder, died on Wednesday. He was known as an environmental advocate and champion of Hudson Valley causes. Video by Jack Howland/Poughkeepsie Journal Wochit
Former Rep. Maurice D. Hinchey, who served 20 years in Congress and had been battling a terminal neurological disorder, died on Wednesday, his family confirmed.
The 79-year-old Ulster County resident announced in June he had been diagnosed with frontotemporal degeneration after battling colon cancer. Serving in the 22nd Congressional District, which includes Poughkeepsie, Hinchey was an advocate of environmental protection and championed many Hudson Valley causes.
In addition to his 20 years in Congress, Hinchey served 17 years in the New York State Assembly.
“Congressman Maurice Hinchey passed away peacefully at his home in Saugerties this afternoon,” his family said in a statement. “He was a beloved statesman, and cherished for his work in the community and nationwide … The family will announce plans in the coming days and thanks everyone for privacy in this emotional time.”
Hinchey grew up in Saugerties and attended SUNY New Paltz. He was a Navy veteran and a former toll collector with the New York State Thruway.
In Congress, Hinchey was a well-known environmental advocate who supported the dredging of PCB contamination from the Hudson River and led the effort to create the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area.
Hinchey also worked on numerous initiatives when it came to the environment. He supported the Clean Air Act, and was an original co-sponsor of the Small Business Clean Energy Financing Act.
On Wednesday evening, elected officials and members of the environmental groups in the Hudson Valley were learning of Hinchey’s death and mourning his passing.
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer said in a statement that he had known Hinchey since they served together in the state assembly in the 1970’s and he “will be sorely missed.
“‘Mighty Mo’ as I used to call him was a man of great conviction, principle, great energy and great legislative ability,” he said. “He cut a unique figure throughout the Hudson Valley and the Southern Tier. He did so much for those regions.”
Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro said in a statement that “we’ve lost an icon and crusader for our environment.
“I was honored to share in service with him,” he said. “He helped shape and preserve the Hudson Valley as a resource, a region, a people. And, today, we are the stewards of his great works and the legacy he leaves behind.”
Rep. John Faso, R-Kinderhook, said in a statement: “I served with Maurice in the state Assembly and knew him to be an articulate and dedicated proponent of the causes he believed in and the people he served.”
In the state Assembly, Hinchey served as chairman of the Environmental Conservation Committee. He also conducted an investigation into Love Canal, the toxic waste site in western New York where people were living until the residents began complaining of miscarriages, urinary and kidney problems and mental disabilities in their children.
One of his legacies as a lawmaker was developing the nation’s first law to control acid rain.
Also, his investigation into organized crime’s control of the waste-hauling industry led to the conviction of more than 20 people.
Dan Shapley, the water quality program director at Riverkeeper, said Hinchey was “one of the most fearless and dogged advocates for the Hudson Valley both during his time in the state Legislature, and in Congress.”
Shapley said some of Hinchey’s accolades included helping to create the Empire State Trail, Hudson River Valley Greenway and the Walkway Over the Hudson.
“His legacy is huge,” he said, “and we already missed him as he had stepped down from office but will miss him all the more now.”
Scenic Hudson President Ned Sullivan, who first got to know Hinchey while working for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, said “he was courageous in confronting wrongdoing” and set a good example for any budding environmentalists.
“We will dearly, dearly miss him,” he said, “but his legacy truly lives on and will affect the environment in New York State, the Hudson Valley and the country for generations to come.”
Hinchey’s wife, Ilene Marder Hinchey, told the Journal in June that his family wanted to raise awareness about frontotemporal degeneration and long-term health care within the context of the ongoing, national discussion regarding health care.
He was being cared for in Saugerties by his wife, family and a team of caregivers.