ITHACA, N.Y. — Former Unites States Congressman Maurice Hinchey, who represented the Ithaca area in the House of Representatives, has passed away at the age of 79.

The news was shared by his family Wednesday afternoon. It had been announced earlier this year that Hinchey was battling frontotemperal degeneration (FTD), a terminal neurological disorder that causes severe loss of language skills, behavioral changes, and overall cognitive function, progressing into Parkinsons-like symptoms in later stages.

Hinchey represented Ithaca in Congress when it was a part of the 26th Congressional District from 1993-2013, and when it was a part of the 22nd Congressional District from 2003-2013.

Along with his twenty years of service in Congress, Hinchey, an Ulster County resident, had served for seventeen years in the New York State Assembly. A progressive Democrat, he was well known for his environmental advocacy throughout his time as a state and congressional representative, leading the state’s investigation into the Love Canal disaster, helping to draft the first law regulating acid rain, and an ardent opponent of hydraulic fracturing (fracking). Hinchey also served on the Appropriations Committee during his years in Washington, serving as a major advocate for pro-veteran’s policies, medical marijuana, and an early, outspoken critic of the 2000s Iraq War.

A veteran of the United States Navy (1956-59), a former cement plant worker and Thruway toll collector, he had earned a bachelor of arts degree and a master of arts degree from SUNY New Paltz in 1968 and 1970 respectively. He grew up in Saugerties, and is survived by his wife Ilene Marder Hinchey, as well as their three grown children.

Hinchey’s announced retirement ahead of the 2012 elections coincided with New York’s re-allocation of congressional districts. Having lost two seats as a result of the 2010 Census, Hinchey’s former seat, the former 22nd, was carved up among the current 18th, 19th, 22nd and 23rd Districts. His retirement allowed the state to throw Ithaca and the parts of Tompkins County that Hinchey represented into Republican Tom Reed’s district to the west. In exchange for the Democratic loss, the Republicans gave up a district downstate, the 9th, which was a surprise special election pickup they won with former congressman Bob Turner in 2011.

Brian Crandall reports on housing and development for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached at