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Hillary's former Senate challenger not seeking old seat in House

From Phil Hirschkorn
CNN New York

LONG ISLAND, N.Y. (CNN) -- Rick Lazio, the congressman who ran against former first lady Hillary Clinton in New York's 2000 Senate race, has decided not to seek his old seat in the House of Representatives.

Lazio, 44, had been looking at running again for New York's 2nd Congressional District, which covers the eastern half of Long Island. It is a job he previously held for four terms.

"Over the last several months, I have been flattered to receive calls from long-time friends and supporters suggesting that I consider running for the seat I held in the U.S. House of Representatives. "These calls for me to return to public service have been appreciated, and are humbling," Lazio said in a written statement.

"However, my two daughters are very young and they need a father who will help them as they grow up. My wife Patricia, the love of my life, has stood by my side through eight years in the House, as well as six successful campaigns for public office and the 2000 Senate race. Both my responsibility and my desire are to share more of life with them," Lazio said.

Lazio's two daughters, Molly, 9, and Kelsey, 7, and, are in elementary school. He and his wife, who have been married 12 years, live with the girls near Bay Shore, New York.

"One of our bright shining stars has decided he would like to say good night to his girls by kissing them on the forehead rather than saying good night on telephone," said Suffolk County Republican Chairman Tony Apollarro.

Apollarro said polling showed 75 percent of Lazio's former constituents wanted him to run, and that 65 percent of voters favored him in a matchup with the incumbent, Democrat Steve Israel, who is running for a second term.

"We are disappointed. If he were to have run for that seat, he would have won," said Patrick McCarthy, executive director of the New York Republican State Committee.

Clinton defeated Lazio in the 2000 race by winning 55 percent of the vote to his 43 percent.

Lazio was left with a $3.3 million campaign debt after spending more than $30 million in his losing Senate bid. The debt is down to $405,000, according to papers prepared for his next Federal Election Commission filing.

The congressman had been a late-season Republican replacement for then-New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who dropped out of the Senate race citing his prostate cancer diagnosis. That year, Giuliani also announced his separation from his second wife.

Last year, Lazio had been considered for secretary of Housing and Urban Development in President Bush's cabinet, but Bush appointed Mel Martinez instead. At the time, Lazio was said to have turned down the number-two job at HUD.

Lazio is currently the president of The Financial Services Forum, a firm representing financial institutions and working to shape banking policy.

"The people of Long Island gave me an opportunity to serve them and this trust has been a blessing and an honor. Their continued support is a source of great strength for my family and me. I love my community. It is not just a place I represented. It is my home," Lazio said.

In Congress, Lazio was particularly active in public housing reform and expanding access to breast and cervical cancer treatment.

"I will continue to stay active in the public debate in New York and in the nation's capital on issues that have always been important to us," he said.




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