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Democratic Rep. Tom Lantos of California, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, yesterday said he will not seek re-election this year because he has cancer of the esophagus.
The Hungarian-born Jewish congressman, the only Nazi concentration camp survivor elected to Congress, was considered a shoo-in for a 15th term in the heavily Democratic 12th District that first sent him to Washington in 1980. He won re-election last year with 76 percent of the vote.
Mr. Lantos, 79, who has been raising campaign money, was widely expected to run for another term, but he said in a statement that recent “routine medical tests” had revealed his cancer.
“It is only in the United States that a penniless survivor of the Holocaust and a fighter in the anti-Nazi underground could have received an education, raised a family and had the privilege of serving the last three decades of his life as a member of Congress,” he said. “I will never be able to express fully my profoundly felt gratitude to this great country.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement that she had learned of Mr. Lantos‘ illness with “great personal sadness and deep appreciation for his outstanding leadership.”
Born in Budapest, he was sent to a German labor camp as a teenager in 1944, but eventually escaped, emigrating to the U.S. three years later on an academic scholarship. After graduating from the University of Washington, he earned a doctoral degree in economics from the University of California at Berkeley, made money investing as an economist with Bank of America and became a professor, TV commentator and noted foreign policy analyst and adviser.
A leader in human rights causes and issues throughout his congressional career, he led a move in the House to provide U.S. assistance to the new democracies of Eastern Europe. He has been a severe critic of China’s human rights abuses, and opposed normalizing trade with China or allowing it to host the 2008 Summer Olympics.
“Tom is a man of enormous integrity, energy and substance, whose deepest convictions were born in epic struggles against tyranny, fascism and genocide,” said Florida Rep. Illeana Ros-Lehtinen, the ranking Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee.
“I am deeply saddened to learn of Chairman Lantos‘ illness. His knowledge and understanding of the complex nature of international issues has earned him the respect and admiration of his colleagues on both sides of the aisle,” said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland.
Mr. Lantos‘ seat is expected to remain in Democratic hands, election analysts said yesterday.
“Senator John Kerry got 72 percent of the vote in his district in 2004. This is not a Republican opportunity,” said Nathan Gonzales, political analyst at the Rothenberg Political Report.
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