Congressman Gary Ackerman is presently serving his ninth term in the U.S. House of Representatives. Ackerman represents the Fifth Congressional District of New York, encompassing the North Shore of Queens and Long Island, including Northeast Queens, Northern Nassau County and Northwestern Suffolk County.
Congressman Ackerman is a senior member of the House International Relations Committee where he continues to play major leadership roles in flash point areas of the world. Often, these involve national security, nuclear proliferation and terrorism issues in areas such as Israel and the Middle East, Northern Ireland, Asia and Latin America.
Ackerman is the Ranking Democrat of the International Relations Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere which has oversight on U.S. policy toward countries in Latin America, the Caribbean and Canada. He is also a member and the most recent Democrat to have chaired the Subcommittee on Asia which has jurisdiction over U.S. policy toward countries in Asia. In this capacity, Ackerman made history in October 1993 by traveling to North Korea to discuss with Kim Il Sung, then the country's leader, the framework under which North Korea would agree to cease building nuclear weapons. Upon his return to South Korea, Ackerman became the first person since the Korean War to cross the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone). In addition, the Clinton Administration has consulted with Ackerman in formulating its trade policies toward many Asian nations including China, Japan and Vietnam.
Ackerman also serves on the Banking and Financial Services Committee where he sits on two Subcommittees; Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit as well as Capital Markets, Securities and Government Sponsored Enterprises. He is a champion of consumer rights and a fighter for financial community reform. The Banking Committee has jurisdiction over financial institutions, housing programs and monetary policy--issues that are critical for New York City and Long Island. In addition, Ackerman serves as Co-Chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans.
Ackerman is also well known for his efforts to feed the starving people of Ethiopia and for playing a leading role in the rescue of Ethiopian Jews and their emigration to Israel. In January 1996, Ackerman ventured to India, enduring sub-freezing temperatures in an attempt to secure the release of four western hostages. He also traveled with President Clinton to Israel for the funeral of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Among Congressman Ackerman's most significant legislative accomplishments, was the passage of his Baby AIDS legislation, which became law in May 1996. The measure requires mandatory HIV testing of newborns and disclosure of the results to the mother. It also forbids insurance companies from terminating the health insurance of anybody who undergoes an AIDS test, regardless of the results.
Ackerman championed the issue of newborn testing after discovering that 45 states (including New York) tested babies for HIV but did not disclose the results to the mothers, using the data for mere statistical purposes. As a result, thousands of mothers brought their infants home from the hospital, never aware that their child was HIV positive. This legislation, which became the subject of profound debate nationwide, garnered such support that it was the only bill that session of Congress to have a majority of all Democrats as well as all Republicans in the House as cosponsors. In addition, Ackerman stopped the anonyms testing from being reinstated in 1997.
Congressman Ackerman also helped to force the State of Hawaii to change its discriminatory law that forbid blind individuals from bringing their guide dogs with them to the island. He convinced the German government to establish a $110 million fund to compensate 18,000 Holocaust survivors and to investigate whether 3300 former Nazi soldiers collecting German pensions in the U.S. are war criminals. He was also successful in getting Medicare to cover testing for prostate cancer.
Congressman Ackerman's recent accomplishments in the Fifth Congressional District include helping local defense industries convert to peaceful applications in the post Cold War era. Ackerman also persuaded the National Cancer Institute to fund and undertake the nation's first ever study of environmental factors causing breast cancer. This study is taking place on Long Island where the rate of breast cancer is among the highest in the nation.
Congressman Ackerman has obtained millions of dollars for environmental projects in Queens and Long Island including funds for flood relief projects, road repairs, beach erosion and cleanup of polluted areas. He has helped to preserve the U.S. service academies as tuition free institutions including the Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, in Great Neck, Long Island (as well as the Military Academy at West Point, Naval Academy at Annapolis and Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs). Ackerman has also been instrumental in improving mail delivery throughout the district and he convinced the Postal Service to recognize each Queens community by their respective Zip code. Previously, they considered each Queens neighborhood as being either Flushing, Jamaica or Long Island City regardless of the Zip code. In addition, he helped ensure that the recently closed Fort Totten Army base in Bayside, Queens remained as public parkland and he saved the Eatons Neck Coast Guard Station in Huntington, Long Island from closing down.
Ackerman prevented nightmare traffic delays in Queens and L.I. by forcing changes in the closing of the Throgs Neck Bridge access ramps of the Cross Island Parkway; reducing the reconstruction time from 18 months to 6 months. Ackerman has also championed the resurgence of business in the area by leading trade missions to Asia with several high tech leaders of the Long Island and Queens corporate communities.
In addition, Ackerman worked with New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani to improve the city's emergency 911 response time after he witnessed a tragic shootout in a Queens Chinese restaurant. Ackerman also maintains what is arguably the best Congressional constituent service in the nation, handling thousands of cases per year in three Counties, with offices in Bayside, Queens; Huntington, Long Island and Washington, D.C.
Born on western Long Island in a place called Brooklyn on November 19, 1942, Ackerman was raised in the Fifth Congressional District. He grew up in Flushing, Queens where he attended local public schools. He then attended Brooklyn Technical High School and was graduated from Queens College in 1965. After college, Ackerman became a New York City Junior High School teacher in social studies and math.
Following the birth of his first child in 1969, Ackerman petitioned the New York City Board of Education for an unpaid leave of absence to spend time with his newborn daughter. His request was denied under then existing policy which reserved unpaid "maternity-child care" leave to women only.
In what was to be a forerunner of the Federal Family Leave Act, then teacher Ackerman successfully sued the Board in a landmark case which established the right of either parent to receive unpaid leave for child care. A quarter of a century later, Ackerman, in the House-Senate Conference Committee, signed the report of the Family and Medical Leave Act which became the law of the land.
Ackerman's second career move occurred in 1970, when he left his teaching position to start a weekly community newspaper in Queens. "The Flushing Tribune" soon became "The Queens Tribune," covering local news events throughout Queens. That venture, which Ackerman sold in 1989, is now part of the largest community news group in the New York Metropolitan area.
Ackerman was first elected to public office in 1978 as a member of the New York State Senate. State Senator Ackerman was then elected to Congress in 1983 in a special election. Ackerman represented the central Queens area until 1992, when redistricting moved his district to the current configuration in Northeast Queens and Northern Long Island.
Ackerman, who sports a white carnation boutonniere each day and lives on a Houseboat while in Washington, D.C. (which he named the Unsinkable II after the Unsinkable I sank), resides with his wife Rita in Jamaica Estates, Queens. The Ackermans have three children; Lauren, Corey and Ari. He is a very amateur photographer, an avid stamp collector and a boating enthusiast.