Working as a nurse, businesswoman, attorney, and activist, Ann Marie Buerkle brought a myriad of experiences to her short but busy career as a Congresswoman. Though she entered politics as an avid pro-life activist, she broadened her policy interests to include economic policy, health care, and foreign affairs. When asked how she planned to build upon her prior activism, she responded, “Life is an evolution. You never stay in the same place. I have a pretty consistent record of public service. And that’s why I’m running now. I see a lack of representation for people who live here.”1
Ann Marie Colella was born on May 8, 1951, in Auburn, New York, to Alfred and Sadie Colella, the middle child of five. A first generation American, Alfred Collela sold insurance and also owned and operated the Mohican Market and several roller rinks in the Syracuse area where Ann Marie worked during her teenage years. She frequently attributed her values to “living in a small town and in a traditional family where gender roles were well-defined.”2 Ann Marie graduated from Mount Carmel Catholic High School in Auburn before attending St. Joseph’s Hospital School of Nursing in Syracuse. She married August R. Buerkle two weeks after earning her nursing degree in 1972. The couple raised six children: Gus, Betsy, Tom, Amy, Christine, and Caroline.3
Buerkle specialized in trauma treatment at Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City until her family moved back to central New York in 1976. The following year, she earned a B.S. from Le Moyne College in Syracuse. Buerkle worked as a teaching nurse at St. Joseph’s Hospital until leaving the job to care for her family, occasionally substituting as a school nurse in the Syracuse area. During this period, she also became involved with the pro-life movement and helped found a Friends for Life chapter in Syracuse. She served as local spokeswoman for the chapter and the anti-abortion organization Operation Rescue before leading the Syracuse Right-to-Life Group.
Throwing herself into politics fully in the late 1980s, Buerkle ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the Onondaga County legislature in 1987 and again in 1989. In 1988, she won the Onondaga County Conservative Party’s nomination for Congress but dropped out of the race.4 While earning her law degree at Syracuse University in 1994, Buerkle was appointed by the mayor and city common council to fill a vacant seat on the council. At the time, she described herself as an “across-the-board conservative.”5 She lost the ensuing election to retain the seat in late 1994. After graduating from law school that year, Buerkle worked for a medical malpractice firm until 1997 when then New York attorney general Dennis Vacco appointed her as assistant attorney general, representing Upstate Medical University in Syracuse.6 That same year, she and her husband divorced after 25 years. While serving as assistant attorney general, she continued to own and operate a small commercial real estate business in the Syracuse area. Returning to her background in health care, Buerkle joined the Surrogate Decision-making Committee for the New York State Commission on Quality of Care in 2009. She also volunteered legal services and counseled victims of domestic abuse.7
Buerkle’s interest in running for a U.S. House seat was sparked during congressional debate over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) in the 111th Congress (2009–2011). She won the Republican nomination to challenge incumbent Democratic Representative Dan Maffei on March 3, 2010, followed by the Conservative Party’s endorsement. The district stretched from Buerkle’s home in Syracuse to the southern border of Lake Ontario and had a history as a swing district. After passage of the PPACA, Buerkle visited the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) in Washington, D.C., to discuss her candidacy and to highlight Representative Maffei’s support of the health care legislation. To her advantage, the NRCC marked her opponent as a prime target for the tiered “Young Guns” program, from which Buerkle sought heavy support.8 She also sought to portray herself as more than a one-issue candidate, noting that “I want to be really careful not to make this a referendum on abortion. People here are concerned about jobs and the economy.”9
Unofficial election results showed the race too close to call on Election Day. Increased turn-out from the oft-overlooked western region of the district around Wayne County buoyed Buerkle’s numbers. On November 4, she held a lead of 659 votes; both campaigns rushed to impound voting machines and launch a recount. “We’ve got to review every eligible vote. We are confident at the end of this process that we will be victorious,” Buerkle said in an interview.10 County commissioners reviewed votes and tabulated absentee ballots. Maffei called Buerkle to concede on November 23, three weeks after the election. She won by less than three-tenths of one percent.11
Once seated in the 112th Congress (2011–2013), Buerkle served on three committees: Oversight and Government Reform; Foreign Affairs; and Veterans’ Affairs, chairing the latter’s Subcommittee on Health. Buerkle co-sponsored a bill to end federal funding for abortion services and took staunch conservative stances on issues ranging from climate change to welfare programs.12 An active freshman, Representative Buerkle sponsored 17 bills, three of which became law including a measure to tax civil service employees’ savings plans. Following reports of sexual assaults at the U.S. Marine Corps base at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina, she engineered a military sexual assault prevention bill in collaboration with Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller of Florida. Defending the first version of the bill on the House Floor, she cited her experiences as a nurse and counselor, adding, “It is an experience I wish on no one, much less one of our Nation’s heroes or hardworking medical professionals.”13
Shortly after the 2010 election was decided, Representative Maffei announced his desire to challenge Buerkle to a rematch in 2012.14 Buerkle also struggled with a bipartisan state redistricting plan that proposed adding portions of heavily Democratic Ithaca into her moderate district. She briefly entertained the idea of switching districts before the final redistricting plan was approved, keeping her renumbered district largely intact.15 After an uncontested primary, Buerkle faced Maffei in the general election, losing 48 to 43 percent.16 Upon leaving office, Buerkle began hosting a weekly radio show and was subsequently appointed by President Barack Obama to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.17
1Mark Weiner, “Ann Marie Buerkle Starts Early in Her Challenge to Rep. Dan Maffei,” 29 March 2010, Syracuse.com, http://www.syracuse.com/news/index.ssf/2010/03/ann_marie_buerkle_starts_early.html (accessed 9 July 2013).
2Adele DelSavio, “Getting Into Politics at 59,” 13 June 2010, 55 Plus, http://cny55.com/issues/2010/06/getting-into-politics-at-59/ (accessed 9 July 2013).
3DelSavio, “Getting Into Politics at 59.”
4Weiner, “Ann Marie Buerkle Starts Early in Her Challenge to Rep. Dan Maffei.”
5Patrick Lakamp, “Abortion Opponent Selected to Council Ann Marie Buerkle Expected to be Named on Monday,” The Post-Standard: G2.
6John Gizzi, “John Gizzi’s Races of the Week,” 30 April 2010, Human Events Online, http://www.humanevents.com/2010/05/02/john-gizzis-races-of-the-week/ (accessed 29 July 2013).
7DelSavio, “Getting Into Politics at 59.”
8Organized by prominent House Republicans Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy, and Paul Ryan during the 2007–2008 election cycle, the Young Guns program has since become an official NRCC operation. Dedicated to GOP expansion in the U.S. House of Representatives, the program creates a model for grassroots campaigning, recruits fresh conservative voices for Congressional campaigns, and offers funding based on tiered levels of support.
9Weiner, “Ann Marie Buerkle Starts Early in Her Challenge to Rep. Dan Maffei.”
10Mark Weiner, “Wayne County Boosts Buerkle Ahead of Maffei,” 4 November 2010, The Post Standard: A1.
11Michelle Breidenbach, “Three Weeks Later, Buerkle Prevails, Maffei Concedes,” 24 November 2010, The Post Standard: A1.
12Elise Viebeck, “New Member of the Week: Rep. Buerkle Gets to Work as ’12 Looms,” 23 May 2011, The Hill, http://thehill.com/capital-living/new-member-of-the-week/162559-buerkle-gets-to-work-as-12-looms (accessed 23 July 2013).
13Congressional Record, House, 112th Cong., 1st sess. (11 October 2011): 6691.
14Viebeck, “New Member of the Week: Rep. Buerkle Gets to Work as ’12 Looms.”
15Mark Weiner, “Redistricting Boundaries Final; U.S. Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle Says She’s ‘Very Pleased’ with the Reconfiguration,” 20 March 2012, The Post Standard: A3.
16Paul Riede, Mark Weiner, and Michelle Breidenbach, “How Maffei Won Back Congressional Seat,” 11 November 2012, The Post Standard: A1.
17Mark Weiner, “It’s Official: President Obama Nominates Ann Marie Buerkle to $155,000 Per Year Post,” 24 May 2013, Syracuse.com, http://www.syracuse.com/news/index.ssf/2013/05/its_official_president_obama_n_1.html (accessed 10 July 2013).