Longtime Democratic Congress member and political giant Tom Lantos stunned colleagues and constituents Wednesday by announcing he has been diagnosed with esophageal cancer and will not seek a 15th term in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Lantos received the diagnosis a few days before Christmas, according to his spokeswoman, Lynne Weil. After consulting with doctors and his family, the veteran lawmaker decided he would focus on treatment for the disease, Weil said.
Lantos has represented California’s 12th congressional district, which includes southwestern San Francisco and northern San Mateo County, since 1981. The 79-year-old, who was born in Hungary and twice escaped Nazi labor camps, is the only Holocaust survivor ever elected to Congress.
He expects to be healthy enough to finish his term in December.
In a statement Wednesday, Lantos expressed gratitude to both his family and his country and vowed to continue to be a voice for human rights and civil liberties.
“It is only in the United States that a penniless survivor of the Holocaust and a fighter in the anti-Nazi underground could have received an education, raised a family, and had the privilege of serving the last three decades of his life as a member of Congress.” he said.
In his congressional career, Lantos was outspoken against human-rights abuses around the globe. In April 2006, he was arrested for blocking the front entrance at the Sudanese Embassy in Washington, D.C., to protest genocide in that nation.
Locally, he fought to secure federal transportation funds — including $750 million for Bay Area Rapid Transit’s San FranciscoInternational Airport Extension, the Devil’s Slide tunnel, the Route 92-101 interchange in San Mateo and widening of the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge. He also led the effort to expand the Golden Gate National Recreation Area to include thousands of additional acres.
U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., on Wednesday called Lantos “one of the most distinguished Americans I know.”
Mike Nevin, a former San Mateo County supervisor, said Lantos’ “international scope, his sense of justice and his sense of civil rights were his greatest contributions. Tom Lantos is a jewel. He is the best the Peninsula has to offer.”
Tom Lantos facts
» Born: Budapest, Hungary, on Feb. 1, 1928
» Age: 79
» Family: Wife, Annette; two daughters, Annette and Katrina; 17 grandchildren; two great-grandchildren
» Education: Bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in economics from the University of Washington; doctorate in economics from UC Berkeley
» Political career: First elected to the House in 1980, took office in 1981. He is serving his 14th term in the House for California’s 12th Congressional District.
» Important positions: Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs; member on the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform; co-chairman and founder of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus; member of the U.S. Congressional Delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly; co-chairman of the U.S. Congressional Delegation for the Transatlantic Legislative Dialogue; member of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council; co-chairman of the Congressional Task Force Against Anti-Semitism