Maurice Hinchey was elected to represent what used to be New York’s 22nd Congressional District for the first time in 1992. (Gerrymandering shifted Gardiner to the new 19th Congressional District in 2012.)
With his funny name, distinctive pompadour, natural elegance and a resume that included NY State Thruway toll collector and boxer, “Big Mo” pretty much had us at “hello.” He easily won every subsequent election, for nine more terms in office.
Articulate, impassioned and worthy of voters’ trust, Maurice became a hero of the Hudson Valley; our happy warrior on behalf of the environment, justice, the local economy and universal health care.
One of the most vivid civic moments in Gardiner’s history is the now-legendary speech he made at Wallkill High School when the anticipated crowd of 500 people was too large for our Town Hall to accommodate.
Maurice brought a roaring crowd to its feet with his full-throated support for Saving the Ridge from a controversial 2500 acre mega-development. That land was ultimately transferred to New York State and is now part of Minnewaska State Park.
Maurice helped the Ridge retain its designation by the Nature Conservancy as one of earth’s Last Great Places.
This June, the Hinchey family went public with the sad news that Maurice had been diagnosed with Frontotemporal Degeneration, a terminal brain disease with no known cure.
I last saw him at one of the many tributes arranged after his retirement – a choice dictated by failing health but resisted nonetheless by his devoted constituents, including me. The early signs of his now-known medical diagnosis were achingly apparent, his fluency and benevolent force field diminished. But still he remained every inch the consummate politician, beaming and grasping each proffered hand in both of his own.
We’ve all heard disgruntled neighbors speak derisively of someone as “just a damn politician.” Sometimes I try to engage that scornful citizen, and mention Maurice, and the noble intent and capacious heart that just might be behind the handshake.
Maurice Hinchey made politics an honorable calling.