By Ray O’Hanlon
Rep. Ben Gilman, one of the four co-chairs of the congressional Ad Hoc Committee for Irish Affairs, is not giving up on Congress.
The Orange County, N.Y.-based Republican is planning to seek reelection to the House of Representatives despite a decision by New York legislators in Albany to scrap Gilman’s congressional district and divide it among three other sitting House members.
“Congressman Gilman is going to run for Congress. He’s exploring all the options,” Gilman spokesman Brian Walsh said this week.
One of those options might be to run as a Democrat against GOP Rep. Sue Kelly, who has been awarded a big chunk of Gilman’s district in the Albany plan.
Walsh said that Gilman had been “offered all the resources” he would need by the state Democratic leadership if he decided to run as a Democrat in November.
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Such a move would be a huge step for Gilman, the dean of the New York State Republican party. He has represented his current district since 1972.
Should Gilman remain in the GOP and run for Congress, he would have to compete against fellow Republican Kelly in a September primary.
Such a runoff would take place in a revamped district that would be roughly 70 percent of Kelly’s old one.
That would mean an uphill battle for Gilman, whose present 20th district covers parts of Sullivan, Orange and Westchester and all of Rockland County, his main base of Irish-American support.
The Albany plan followed considerable delay and argument in the state legislature, so much so that a special master was appointed by a federal court to draw up new districts.
The court move prompted a quicker response from legislators and the plan that would now appear to leave Gilman out in the cold.
In the meantime, another court challenge has been launched in opposition to the Albany plan. Gilman has filed a motion with the court to intervene in the case, which names Gov. George Pataki as the defendant.
Pataki signed off on the redistricting plan that chopped up Gilman’s district.
The redistricting was forced on the state by the 2000 census, which showed New York’s population increasing at a slower rate that some other states. The New York House delegation must be cut from 31 to 29, with the GOP and Democrats each losing a seat.
Gilman, as chairman of the House International Relations Committee during the late 1990s, helped to bring the Northern Ireland situation to the fore of House deliberations.
In recent times, Gilman has been a strong supporter of the Patten Commission’s recommendations on police reform in Northern Ireland, but he has also been outspoken in his view that Sinn FTin should take a seat on the police board overseeing the new force that is replacing the RUC.
Following considerable speculation as to his views on the matter, Gilman also came out recently in opposition to Rep. Henry Hyde’s decision to hold hearings into the arrest of three Irish Republicans by the authorities in Colombia.
Hyde, a Republican from Illinois, succeeded Gilman as chairman of the House International Relations Committee.