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Exclusive: Miami icon Ileana Ros-Lehtinen announces she's retiring from Congress

Ileana and dexter@PatriciaMazzei

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the dean of the Florida legislative delegation and the first Cuban American elected to Congress, is retiring at the end of her term next year, saying it’s time to move on after 38 years in elected office.

“It's been such a delight and a high honor to serve our community for so many years and help constituents every day of the week,” the Miami Republican told the Miami Herald in an exclusive telephone interview Sunday. “We just said, ‘It's time to take a new step.’”

Her unexpected retirement marks the end of a storied career in which Ros-Lehtinen repeatedly broke political ground as a Cuban-American woman -- and gives Democrats an opportunity to pick up a South Florida congressional seat in 2018. More here.

Ros-Lehtinen, 64, was elected last November to Florida’s redrawn 27th district, a stretch of Southeast Miami-Dade County that leans so Democratic that Hillary Clinton won it over Donald Trump by 20 percentage points.

Ros-Lehtinen defeated Democratic challenger Scott Fuhrman, a first-time candidate, by 10 points. It was her closest reelection race in years and forced her to deplete her $3.4 million campaign account, but she said Sunday she wasn't worried about 2018.

“There is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that I would not only win in this election, but I would win by a greater percentage,” Ros-Lehtinen said, adding that she would have been able to raise at least $2.5 million and win in a midterm election without a Democratic presidential candidate leading the ballot.

But she said the prospect of another two or four or more years in Congress just didn’t appeal to her anymore.

“There was no epiphany. There was no moment, nothing that has happened that I've said, “I've got to move on,’” Ros-Lehtinen said. “It was just a realization that I could keep getting elected -- but it's not about getting elected.”

Photo: Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen alongside her husband Dexter Lehtinen before her acceptance speech after winning the reelection in November 2016. David Santiago dsantiago@elnuevoherald.com



 

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