Former Congressman Richard Hanna, remembered as 'unafraid' and 'a giant of upstate,' dead at 69

Congressman Richard Hanna, at right, is pictured in 2015 with Mexico Deputy Mayor James Hotchkiss and Oswego County Health Department Public Health Educator Sonia Robinson. Hanna passed away Sunday at the age of 69 after serving Oswego County for four years in Congress.

BARNEVELD — Former U.S. Rep. Richard Hanna, who represented Oswego County in Congress for four years, passed away Sunday at the age of 69.

First elected in 2010 then re-districted in 2012 to absorb parts of Oswego County, Hanna was known as a moderate Republican who frequently broke ranks with his party while staying true to his compassionate, results-driven values.

"I work for 700,000 people, and the customer rules," Hanna told The Palladium-Times in 2015, referring to the population of the district. "I realize people are never going to agree on everything but the point is to listen and understand – if you want peace and forward motion, you have to work together."

In a statement, the Hanna family said he died "with his loving family by his side after a private and courageous battle with cancer."

"His life and work will remain an inspiration for generations to come – from the structures he built through Hanna Construction to his charitable works that continue to benefit the lives of many in our community, and the indelible mark he left on the U.S. House of Representatives standing for tolerance, personal freedom, and equal rights for all," the Hanna family said. "Richard was honorable, he led by example, and always stood for what he believed was right. His passing leaves an enormous hole in the hearts of those who loved him."

Hanna retired from the House of Representatives in 2015, declining to seek a fourth term. The 22nd District, which includes the eastern half of Oswego County and sprawls farther down the Thruway to Utica then all the way to Binghamton, was represented after Hanna for one term by Republican Claudia Tenney then changed hands again in 2018 to Democrat Anthony Brindisi.

Brindisi said he was “deeply saddened” by the news, and called Hanna a “personal friend and professional mentor”

“The congressman was a giant of upstate New York, a public servant who talked the talk and walked the walk in his bipartisan service to this community,” Brindisi said in a statement. “He put people before politics, our hometown above all else and he led with true heart. Our community is better for his service and he will be dearly missed.”

Hanna was part of a central New York congressional delegation that helped secure $1.2 million for dredging at the Port of Oswego and led a series of efforts to fight Lyme disease and EEE. He loudly supported the continued operation of the James A. FitzPatrick Nuclear Power Plant when the facility was threatened with closure in 2016, and collaborated with U.S. Rep. John Katko on the push to make Fort Ontario part of the National Park System.

Katko, R-Camillus, called Hanna a “strong and independent voice.”

“When I was first elected to represent central New York in Congress, I looked to Congressman Hanna for guidance,” Katko said. “Together, we were able to fight through gridlock and pursue policies to make central New York a better place to live.  He will be dearly missed. My wife, Robin, and I send our love to Kim, their children, loved ones, and everyone throughout upstate New York who knew, respected, and admired Congressman Hanna.”

When announcing his retirement in 2015, Hanna named names when asked for his preferred successor: Oswego County Clerk Michael Backus would make a fine congressman, Hanna told The Palladium-Times. While Backus would eventually decline to pursue the seat, the two-term county official said word of Hanna’s passing shocked him.

“Rep. Hanna was a friend and true representative of all people during his time in Congress,” Backus said Tuesday. “He was unafraid and a person of great independence and courage. Those are all qualities I admire in a public servant. My heart goes out to his family.”

While he always staked out a position as an independent voice and mind in Washington, Hanna toward the end of his time in office broke regularly with national Republicans on issues like reproductive choice and same-sex marriage. He decried what he saw as his party bowing to the “authoritarian fundamentalist right” and refused to soil love with politics.

“They call that conservative — I don’t think it’s conservative,” he said in 2015. “My record has been that of someone who doesn’t want the government in people’s bedrooms.”

Tenney is set to challenge Brindisi again in November for office and the former congresswoman said she was saddened to hear of Hanna passing was praying for his family.

“Richard was a successful businessman and true public servant who endeavored to always give back to our community,” Tenney said.

Richard Hanna is survived by his wife, Kim, and their two children.

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