Having worked as a nurse, businesswoman, attorney, and activist, Ann Marie Buerkle brought a myriad of experiences to her one term in the United States House of Representatives. Though she entered politics as an avid anti-abortion activist, she also worked on 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 Buerkle was born Ann Marie Colella on May 8, 1951, in Auburn, New York, to Alfred and Sadie Colella, the middle child of five. A first-generation American, Alfred sold insurance and owned and operated the Mohican Market, as well as several roller rinks in the Syracuse area where Buerkle 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 Buerkle 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. The marriage ended in a divorce in 1997.3
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 bachelor’s degree 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 movement against abortion rights 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.4
In 1987 and 1989, Buerkle ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the Onondaga County legislature. In 1988 she won the Onondaga County Conservative Party’s nomination for Congress but dropped out of the race.5 While earning a law degree at Syracuse University in 1994, Buerkle was appointed to a vacant seat on the city council. At the time, she described herself as an “across-the-board conservative.”6 She lost the ensuing election for the seat in late 1994. After graduating from law school that year, Buerkle worked for a medical malpractice firm until 1997 when New York attorney general Dennis Vacco appointed her as assistant attorney general, representing Upstate Medical University in Syracuse.7 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 Decisionmaking Committee for the New York State Commission on Quality of Care in 2009. She also volunteered legal services and counseled victims of domestic abuse.8
Buerkle’s interest in running for a U.S. House seat was sparked during congressional debate over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in the 111th Congress (2009–2011). She won the Republican nomination to challenge incumbent Democratic Representative Daniel B. 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 Affordable Care Act, Buerkle visited the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) in Washington, DC, to discuss her candidacy and to highlight Maffei’s support of the health care legislation. The NRCC invested resources in her candidacy, and she worked to portray herself as more than a one-issue candidate. “I want to be really careful not to make this a referendum on abortion,” she said. “People here are concerned about jobs and the economy.”9
The race was initially too close to call. On November 4, Buerkle held a lead of 659 votes, and state officials began 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 Three weeks later, on November 23, Maffei called Buerkle to concede. She won by less than three-tenths of one percent.11
In the 112th Congress (2011–2013), Buerkle served on three committees: Oversight and Government Reform; Foreign Affairs; and Veterans’ Affairs, where she chaired the Health Subcommittee. Buerkle cosponsored a bill to end federal funding for abortion services and took conservative stances on issues ranging from climate change to welfare programs.12 An active freshman, 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 United States Marine Corps base at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina, Buerkle sponsored 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, Maffei announced he would challenge Buerkle in 2012.14 A statewide redistricting process that year renumbered her district but left it largely intact.15 After an uncontested primary, Buerkle faced Maffei in the general election, losing 48 to 43 percent.16
After 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, serving from 2013 to 2019. She served as acting head of the commission from 2017 to 2019 while awaiting formal Senate confirmation. In June 2019, she withdrew her nomination as chair and stepped down at the end of her term in October.17
1Mark Weiner, “Ann Marie Buerkle Starts Early in Her Challenge to Rep. Dan Maffei,” 29 March 2010, Syracuse.com, https://www.syracuse.com/news/2010/03/ann_marie_buerkle_starts_early.html.
2Adele DelSavio, “Getting Into Politics at 59,” 13 June 2010, 55 Plus, http://cny55.com/issues/2010/06/getting-into-politics-at-59 (link discontinued).
3DelSavio, “Getting Into Politics at 59.”
4Weiner, “Ann Marie Buerkle Starts Early in Her Challenge to Rep. Dan Maffei.”
5Weiner, “Ann Marie Buerkle Starts Early in Her Challenge to Rep. Dan Maffei.”
6Patrick Lakamp, “Abortion Opponent Selected to Council; Ann Marie Buerkle Expected to be Named on Monday,” 30 January 1994, Post-Standard (Syracuse, NY): G2.
7John Gizzi, “John Gizzi’s Races of the Week,” 25 April 2010, Human Events Online, https://humanevents.com/2010/04/25/john-gizzis-races-of-the-week/.
8DelSavio, “Getting Into Politics at 59.”
9Quotation from Weiner, “Ann Marie Buerkle Starts Early in Her Challenge to Rep. Dan Maffei.” See also Mark Weiner, “Upstate Tea Party Rethinks Its Support for Hoffman,” 26 September 2010, Post Standard: A10.
10Weiner, “Ann Marie Buerkle Starts Early in Her Challenge to Rep. Dan Maffei.”
11Michelle Breidenbach, “Three Weeks Later, Buerkle Prevails, Maffei Concedes,” 24 November 2010, Post Standard: A1; Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives, “Election Statistics, 1920 to Present.”
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.
13Congressional Record, House, 112th Cong., 1st sess. (11 October 2011): H6691.
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, Post Standard: A3.
16Paul Riede, Mark Weiner, and Michelle Breidenbach, “How Maffei Won Back Congressional Seat,” 11 November 2012, Post Standard: A1; “Election Statistics, 1920 to Present.”
17Mark Weiner, “It’s Official: President Obama Nominates Ann Marie Buerkle to $155,000 Per Year Post,” 24 May 2013, Syracuse.com, https://www.syracuse.com/news/2013/05/its_official_president_obama_n_1.html; “Ann Marie Buerkle,” United States Consumer Product Safety Commission, accessed 8 November 2019, https://www.cpsc.gov/About-CPSC/Commissioners/Buerkle-Biography; Todd C. Frankel, “Consumer Product Safety Commission’s Acting Chairwoman Plans to Step Down,” 18 June 2019, Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/head-of-product-safety-agency-to-step-down/2019/06/18/5421c818-91eb-11e9-b72d-d56510fa753e_story.html.