KELLY, Sue W.

KELLY, Sue W.
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
1936–

Biography

A small business owner, teacher, and health care advocate, Sue Kelly won election to the House in 1994 as part of the Republican tide that swept the GOP into control of the House for the first time in 40 years. Kelly eventually accrued enough seniority to chair a Financial Services subcommittee, investigating corporate scandals and terrorist financing. During her tenure in Congress, Kelly also was a leading proponent of women’s health legislation.

Sue W. Kelly was born in Lima, Ohio, on September 26, 1936. She graduated from Lima’s Central High School in 1954 and earned a BA in botany and bacteriology from Denison University in Granville, Ohio, four years later. In 1960 she married Ed Kelly, settled in suburban New York, and raised four children. Sue Kelly earned an MA in health advocacy from Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, in 1985. She first participated in electoral politics by fundraising and campaigning for several Republican candidates. In 1972 she briefly worked for Representative Hamilton Fish Jr. of New York, who represented the southern Hudson Valley, where Kelly lived.1

When Fish declined to run for re-election in 1994 after a quarter century in the House, Kelly thought, “I’ve been getting Republicans elected for decades. Why not me?”2 The diverse Nineteenth District spanned much of the lower Hudson Valley, from Poughkeepsie in the north to Westchester County in the south, and included computer corporations, dairy-based agriculture, and the Army’s U.S. Military Academy. The region had been represented by a member of the Fish family since the 1920s—one of the longer political dynasties in congressional history.3

In the Republican primary Kelly fended off a field of more conservative candidates, and defeated Democrat Hamilton Fish, the son of the retiring Congressman, by 14 percentage points in the general election that included a third-party candidate, former U.S. Representative Joseph J. DioGuardi. “I won because I outworked everybody,” Kelly recalled, adding that she had accepted “every invitation” and visited “every village in the district.”4 In 1996 she won re-election with 42 percent of the vote, again in a three-candidate race, topping her closest competitor, Democrat Richard Klein, by seven points.5 In her subsequent four re-elections, Kelly earned 60 percent of the vote or greater, aided by redistricting after the 2000 Census. In 2004 she won election to her sixth consecutive term by 67 percent of the vote.6

When Kelly joined the 104th Congress (1995–1997), she received seats on three committees: Banking and Financial Services (later renamed Financial Services); Transportation and Infrastructure; and Small Business. She remained on each panel throughout her House career. In just her second term, Kelly was named chair the Small Business Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform and Paperwork Reduction. After two terms as chair during the 105th and 106th Congresses (1997–2001), she was named chair of the Financial Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. She held that position in the 107th to the 109th Congress (2001–2007), by which time she also served as the third-ranking Member on the Small Business Committee.7

From her seat on the Financial Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, Kelly focused on corporate accountability and tracking terrorist financing. Her subcommittee conducted the first congressional hearings on the Enron and Global Crossing bankruptcies as well as the WorldCom accounting fraud. She contributed to and cosponsored the Sarbanes–Oxley Corporate Reform Bill, which aimed at stricter corporate accountability. In 2004 Kelly founded the Congressional Anti-Terrorist Financing Task Force, to better combat the financiers of terrorism and to examine federal programs already in place to break apart money laundering networks. She also advocated legislation to prevent identity theft and supported related provisions in the 2003 Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act.8

Kelly also contributed language to legislation designed to revamp insurance regulations. She worked with her colleagues to draft provisions in a 1999 financial services law that streamlined licensing for individuals and entities selling insurance policies in multiple states.9 After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Kelly helped devise the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act, which provided federal reimbursements to private insurers dealing with significant costs following a terrorist attack.10

Kelly’s seat on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee helped her steer federal dollars into her district for infrastructure projects and community organizations. She coauthored the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century in 1997, which brought more than $11 billion to New York for transit and highway improvements between 1998 and 2002. She also procured millions of dollars for Stewart International Airport, including funds to design and construct a new air traffic control tower. Kelly sought to pass legislation to protect the environment in the Hudson Valley, including the Hudson River Habitat Restoration Act and a bill that set aside a large tract of land, the Sterling Forest, near Tuxedo, New York.11

Kelly also took a legislative interest in women’s health. She backed legislation for cancer research and the prevention of domestic violence. She was the chief House sponsor of the Women’s Health and Cancer Rights Act of 1999, which required health insurance companies to provide women reconstructive surgery after a mastectomy. In the 106th Congress (1999–2001), she served as the co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Women’s Issues.12

In the fall of 2006, seeking re-election to her seventh term, Kelly faced a difficult challenge from Democrat John Hall. Hall, an activist and a founding member of the 1970s band Orleans, campaigned on his opposition to the war in Iraq and sought to link Kelly to major ethics violations in the Republican-controlled Congress and the rising federal deficit. Despite Kelly’s popularity within the district, Republicans everywhere ran against a head wind as voters soured on the George W. Bush administration. In a midterm cycle that saw Democrats capture the House majority for the first time in 12 years, Kelly lost to Hall by a margin of two percent.

Footnotes

1Melinda Henneberger, “For Congressional Candidates, Washington is a Four- Letter Word,” 23 October 1994, New York Times: A37.

2James Feron, “Weighing the Results of the Election,” 13 November 1994, New York Times: WC1.

3James Feron, “In the 19th, A Family Seat Vs. First Woman,” 18 September 1994, New York Times: WC13.

4“The Honorable Sue W. Kelly Oral History Interview,” Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives (23 June 2016): 12. The interview transcript is available online.

5Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives, “Election Statistics, 1920 to Present.”

6Politics in America, 2004 (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 2003): 718.

7Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives, "Women Chairs of Subcommittees of Standing Committees in the U.S. House, 1947–Present."

8“Biography,” official website of Representative Sue Kelly, 5 December 2004, https://web.archive.org/web/20041205004112/http://suekelly.house.gov/Biography.asp; Joint hearing before the House Committee on Financial Services, Subcommittee on Capital Markets, Insurance, and Government Sponsored Enterprises and the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, The Enron Collapse: Impact on Investors and Financial Markets, 107th Cong., 1st sess. (2001); Hearing before the House Financial Services Committee, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, The Effects of the Global Crossing Bankruptcy on Investors, Markets, and Employees, 107th Cong., 2nd sess. (2002); Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, H.R. 3763, 107th Cong. (2002); John Machacek, “Kelly Calls For Investigation Into Legality of Anti-Terror Procedures,” 17 July 2006, Poughkeepsie Journal (NY): A1; Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003, H.R. 2622, 108th Cong. (2003); Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003, PL 108-159, 117 Stat. 1952 (2003).

9“Kelly Oral History Interview,” Office of the Historian: 37–38; Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act, S. 900, 106th Cong. (1999); Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act, PL 106-102, 113 Stat. 1338 (1999).

10“Kelly Oral History Interview,” Office of the Historian: 62; Terrorism Risk Insurance Act of 2002, H.R. 3210, 107th Cong. (2001); Terrorism Risk Insurance Act of 2002, PL 107-297, 116 Stat. 2322 (2002); Baird Webel, “The Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA),” Report IF11090, 1 February 2019, Congressional Research Service: 1–2.

11Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, H.R. 2400, 105th Cong. (1997); Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, PL 105-178, 112 Stat. 107 (1998); Devlin Barrett, “Report Says Bill Would Endanger NYC Transit Funding,” 29 May 2003, Associated Press; Michelle Carter, “Stewart Gets Tower Money,” 28 June 2001, Poughkeepsie Journal: B5; Hudson River Habitat Restoration Act of 1996, H.R. 3471, 104th Cong. (1996); Sterling Forest Protection Act of 1995, H.R. 1256, 104th Cong, (1995).

12Women’s Health and Cancer Rights Act of 1999, H.R. 383, 106th Cong. (1999); Stamp Out Domestic Violence Act of 2000, H.R. 4659, 106th Cong. (2000); Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives, "Co-Chairs of the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues, 1977–Present."

View Record in the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress

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Bibliography / Further Reading

"Sue W. Kelly" in Women in Congress, 1917-2006. Prepared under the direction of the Committee on House Administration by the Office of History & Preservation, U. S. House of Representatives. Washington: Government Printing Office, 2006.

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Committee Assignments

  • House Committee - Banking and Financial Services
  • House Committee - Financial Services
    • Oversight and Investigations - Chair
  • House Committee - Small Business
    • Regulatory Reform and Paperwork Reduction - Chair
  • House Committee - Transportation and Infrastructure
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Related Media

"There Were No Women on that Committee"

The Honorable Sue W. Kelly explains how gender could serve as an obstacle in Congress.

The Honorable Sue W. Kelly, U.S. Representative of New York
Interview recorded June 23, 2016 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

The Violence Against Women Act

The Honorable Sue W. Kelly describes the role of Republican Congresswomen, like Representatives Connie Morella of Maryland and Jennifer Dunn of Washington, in the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.

The Honorable Sue W. Kelly, U.S. Representative of New York
Interview recorded June 23, 2016 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)