Representative Serrano of the Bronx to Retire, Potentially Opening Seat for Younger Progressive

Representative José E. Serrano, who is currently the nation’s longest-tenured Hispanic congressman, said on Monday that he would not run for re-election, citing the effects of Parkinson’s disease.

Mr. Serrano, who has served in Congress since 1990 and represents the southern Bronx, one of the poorest districts in the country, has repeatedly won re-election with more than 90 percent of the vote. But with the Democratic Party seeking a younger brand of progressives, there was talk that he might have faced a serious primary challenge next year.

Two powerful members of the Bronx political establishment praised Mr. Serrano while predicting a wide open race for his seat; Ritchie Torres, a Bronx councilman often described as a rising star, said last month that he was exploring a primary challenge to Mr. Serrano.

“I’m sure there will be a lot of people who are now going to want to run for Congress,” said Carl E. Heastie, the Bronx assemblyman who serves as speaker of the State Assembly. “And I will not be one of them.”

Assemblyman Marcos A. Crespo, the borough’s party chairman who, like Mr. Serrano, was born in Puerto Rico, called the congressman “a legendary figure in Latino politics, Puerto Rican politics, Bronx politics.”

Mr. Serrano said in a written statement that he had initially planned to stay in Congress despite the disease, but that he recently changed his mind. “I’ve come to the realization that Parkinson’s will eventually take a toll and that I cannot predict its rate of advancement,” the statement said. He said that he would serve out his current term, which runs through the end of next year.

Mr. Serrano sits on the powerful Appropriations Committee and is the chairman of the Commerce, Justice, Science Subcommittee. He is also known for advocating for Puerto Rico, including a recent push to have the Trump administration improve relief efforts for the island after Hurricane Maria.

“I always tried to speak for those who are marginalized in our society, to give them a voice and a vote here in Washington,” he said, citing his efforts to bring federal funding to the Bronx, increase educational funding for minority students, clean up the polluted Bronx River and end the use of Vieques Island as a military bombing range.

Mr. Serrano, who had previously been a state assemblyman, was first elected to Congress in 1990 in a special election to fill the seat of Representative Robert Garcia, who was convicted of extorting money from Wedtech, a Bronx military contractor. Mr. Garcia’s conviction was later overturned. (Another Bronx congressman, Mario Biaggi, was also convicted in the Wedtech scandal; his granddaughter, Alessandra Biaggi, was elected last year to the New York State Senate.)

Mr. Serrano was born in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, and moved with his family to the South Bronx when he was seven years old. He said that, as a child in Puerto Rico, he learned English by singing along to Frank Sinatra records. Mr. Serrano lived in public housing in the Bronx and did not receive a college degree.

“He is an icon, not only to the Bronx but to Latinos throughout the country,” said Mr. Torres. “As a young Latino who ran for public office when I was 24 years old, I would not be where I am today were it not for trailblazers like José Serrano who paved the way.”

Mr. Torres, 31, declined to say definitively whether he would run for Mr. Serrano’s seat. “I’d rather keep the focus on his legacy,” he said. “He secured the federal funding that led to the cleanup of the Bronx River, which is an enormous legacy to leave on.”

Mr. Serrano’s son, José M. Serrano, a Democratic state senator, said he would not seek his father’s seat because he did not want to be away from his wife and two children.

The younger Mr. Serrano praised his father’s faith in their borough. “When I was a child growing up in the 1970s, the Bronx was burning,” he said. “Now it’s thriving.”

Jesse McKinley reported from Albany.

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