After nearly 36 years on the House Banking Committee, an ailing Rep. Henry B. Gonzalez announced Thursday that he will resign from Congress at the end of the year.
The feisty and proudly liberal Texas Democrat developed a reputation as a friend of consumers-often at the banking industry's expense.
As chairman of House Banking from 1989 to 1994, Rep. Gonzalez shepherded measures that changed the face of banking such as the 1989 thrift bailout and 1994 interstate branching law.
"No one can ever fill his shoes," said Rep. John J. LaFalce, D-N.Y., who is expected to replace Rep. Gonzalez as House Banking's ranking Democrat.
"He will leave a great legacy," said Rep. Bruce Vento, D-Minn. "He and I have had our differences over the years, but I have always had a great affection for him."
Rep. Gonzalez, 81, said in a prepared statement that health problems forced his retirement. "This is a hard decision for me," he noted. "My family and my medical advisers strongly recommend that I leave office after this session of Congress, and I will honor that advice."
Rep. Gonzalez was hospitalized from July 24 to Aug. 5 after a dental infection spread through his body and damaged a valve in his heart, according to Stefanie Mullen, press secretary for House Banking's Democrats.
Rep. Gonzalez is second in seniority in the House after Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., who was first elected in 1955. The Texan is a staunch advocate of public housing programs and protecting the Community Reinvestment Act.
"We didn't always see eye to eye with him on the issues," said Edward L. Yingling, executive director for government relations at the American Bankers Association. However, he added that Rep. Gonzalez was always honorable.
"He bent over backward to have a very open mark up process," Mr. Yingling said. "Sometimes that could lead to very long mark ups, but he was being open and fair to everyone."
Rep. Gonzalez turned over his chairmanship to Rep. Jim Leach, R-Iowa, in 1995 after the Republicans won a majority in the House. In the last two years, Rep. Gonzalez has been a less active member of the committee, but he continued his campaign against concentrations of power.
For example, Rep. Gonzalez lashed out at the Federal Reserve Board, saying that the central bank has too much authority and not enough accountability.
Texas Gov. George W. Bush must call a special election to fill Rep. Gonzalez's seat for the second half of the 105th Congress.