SOUTHWEST MIAMI-DADE, FLA. (WSVN) - U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen further expounded on her decision to retire from Congress at a news conference held Monday.
Meanwhile, Sunday’s announcement that the Florida lawmaker, the first Cuban-American elected to Congress, would end her decades-long tenure next year triggered an outpouring of praise from both sides of the political aisle.
Speaking with reporters, Ros-Lehtinen made her decision official. “With the support of my husband Dexter, and our children, I have decided that I will not seek reelection in 2018,” she said.
The Havana-born public official, a Republican, said representing her constituents has been the best part of her 38 years of public service. “I am so honored and so blessed and so humbled to have served our South Florida community for almost four decades,” she said.
City of Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado said she has always remembered the city she fled to from Cuba as a little girl. “She has been the voice for Miami. She has been the godmother of the Miami River, and she has been a fighter for human rights,” he said.
Ros-Lehtinen said that to everything there is a season, and for her, this one is over, but not before making history as the first Hispanic woman elected to Congress.
“From helping everyday people with constituent cases to standing up to dictators around the world, I’m proud of the work that we have accomplished over the years,” she said.
Ros-Lehtinen has been a fierce critic of the Castro regime, a personal battle from which she has never backed down.
As Ros-Lehtinen reflects on all the work over those years, there is something that stands out. “My work in the state legislature to pass Florida prepaid tuition, I think, is the best legacy that anybody could have,” she said.
“Just think about what she has done for our state. She’s been a complete advocate for Florida,” said Florida Gov. Rick Scott. “Also a complete advocate for making sure we have freedom of liberty in Cuba.”
The question on a lot of minds, though, is why, and why now? It is a question the congresswoman had been anticipating.
“Even though this is a wonderful life, and even though I’m doing what I love to do, there are so many other wonderful things,” she said.
Ros-Lehtinen was elected last November to Florida’s redrawn 27th District. A portion of it is heavily Democratic, meaning her retirement could give Democrats the opportunity to pick up a South Florida congressional seat.
But such concerns are not a priority for U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., who singled out Ros-Lehtinen’s ability to work with both Republicans and Democrats. “She has always reached across the aisle, has been someone who embodies the spirit of public service and bipartisan cooperation,” she said.
Speaking with reporters on Monday, Wasserman Schultz joined other Florida lawmakers as they referred to Ros-Lehtinen, not only as a great colleague but also as a dear friend.
“She’s an incredibly energetic person,” said U.S. Sen. Ted Deutch. “She’s a great person to have on your side.”
“Sometimes you don’t understand how the friendships take over everything else that tries to pull us apart and divide us,” said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, “and she will be missed.”
As Ros-Lehtinen thanked her constituents, staffers and family, a question came up about her parents. In Spanish, she replied, “For me, my parents are very special and they keep being special.”
She then switched back to English. “Thank you. We’re not going to talk about my mom and dad,” she added.
Ros-Lehtinen said there is no one reason for her decision, stressing it is not the political climate or disagreements with President Donald Trump’s policies. “There was no eureka moment. There was no moment of epiphany,” she said.
She did say being away from her family so often is a challenge. “If they moved the capital, to Miami, maybe I’d be doing this for a longer and longer time,” she said.
News of Ros-Lehtinen’s retirement was a hot topic of conversation outside of Versailles Restaurant in Little Havana. “She cares for the people, and she listens,” said one man.
“Ileana has been with us in South Florida forever. She’s done an excellent job, in my book,” said another customer.
As Ros-Lehtinen continues to work for the people of South Florida over the next 20 months, curiosity is growing as to who will take over her duties.
“It’s gonna be a great food fight! I can’t wait to watch it from the sidelines,” she said. “What a great honor to serve,” she said before shifting back to Spanish.
“It’s been a tremendous honor, and I will keep fighting,” she said.
And then she kissed her husband.
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