MINEOLA, N.Y. (AP) — U.S. Rep Carolyn McCarthy had been thinking about retirement for several years but worried her exit would create a void in the national discussion about gun control, she said Wednesday after announcing she will not seek a 10th term.
The suburban New York congresswoman, who was elected after her husband was killed and son wounded in the 1993 Long Island Rail Road massacre, said she became convinced others would take up the cause after the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
"I always worried about who will speak for the victims," McCarthy told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from her Mineola home. "But so many colleagues have started speaking up and are taking an active role that I don't have to be the only face to talk about gun violence."
McCarthy, who turned 70 on Sunday, said she is recovering well after being diagnosed last year with lung cancer. She has made few public appearances in recent months as she has undergone chemotherapy and radiation treatments, which she described Wednesday as "waning."
McCarthy did attend a brief memorial service on Dec. 7, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the LIRR massacre in which a gunman opened fire inside a railroad car filled with commuters, killing six and wounding 19.
"I'm still getting my energy back," she said. "I'm not in any pain and I am gradually cutting down on my medications and the doctors say I have gained back some weight."
McCarthy's announcement came on the third anniversary of the shooting of her former House colleague and friend, Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona. She said the timing of her retirement announcement was a coincidence.
Rep. Steve Israel, a fellow Long Island congressman who heads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, called McCarthy "a shining example of how one can translate tragedy into meaningful public service. Carolyn leaves a legacy of standing up for Long Island families, advocating for the safety of our children and fighting for critical gun safety legislation. She will be deeply missed."
McCarthy, a lifelong smoker, has sued dozens of asbestos manufacturers, claiming she may have been exposed to the material as a young woman. That suit is pending.
The nurse and housewife who became a spokeswoman for the victims in the LIRR massacre, was a registered Republican who switched parties in 1996 to challenge an incumbent who had opposed an assault weapons ban. Her surprise victory later inspired a Barbra Streisand-produced TV movie about her saga.
Eventually she became known as the "gun lady" on Capitol Hill.
"I've come to peace with the fact that that will be in my obituary," McCarthy once told an interviewer of her stance on gun control.