WASHINGTON (WCAX) — Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy is preparing to step down in late December. The Dean of the Senate has walked the halls of the Capitol consulting with lawmakers since 1974. As he steps down from eight terms in office, he hopes Vermonters will know he did his best to make the state a better place.
Motorcades speed through the streets of Washington, escorting African dignitaries and presidents to an international summit in the city. On Capitol Hill, at the peak of his career, Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy is returning to Vermont in a few weeks.
“The polls showed I could easily win again, but it was time to come home,” Leahy said. Washington is worlds away from Middlesex, but Patrick and Marcelle Leahy cap almost 50 years of putting the state of Green Mountain in the spotlight.
“You have Vermont, you have the nation and you have the world,” said former Chief of Staff Luke Albee as he guides us through Leahy’s maze of 10 Senate offices filled with decades of memories featuring Americans of all political persuasions. “It’s about understanding the importance of relationships and understanding the importance of being able to disagree without going into a death throes,” Albee said.
At 34, the Chittenden County prosecutor won a long bid to become Vermont’s youngest and first Democratic senator, the last of the so-called “Watergate babies.”
A roller-coaster career that included a controversial vote to end the Vietnam War, was the target of an anthrax attack, and helped unfreeze relations with Cuba. “He made a mark and it’s going to be really difficult to replicate that,” Albee said.
For decades, Leahy rode the subway from his office to the Capitol, where he took his seat under a crystal chandelier in front of a gold nameplate as chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee, channeling billions into Vermont through congressional allocations and the tiny state minimum.
“I worry that our lack of seniority and the loss of Senator Leahy will have a profound impact on Vermont. Vermont is the second oldest state in the nation. We need to do a much better job of keeping our young people in the state and giving them economic opportunities,” Albee said.
By the numbers, Leahy has amassed a historic 48-year career that has spanned eight presidential administrations and more than 17,000 Senate votes, the second-highest of all time. “I never expected that, but what I loved about it — it helped me do a lot of things for Vermont and others,” Leahy said.
The senator’s legacy has also touched the White House and executive branch. Leahy has developed a close friendship with President Biden over the course of their decades of working together. The two were elected just one year apart in the 1970s.
Banning landmines, providing meals from farm to school, funding clean water, and labeling organic produce are just a few of its signature laws. His portrait hangs in the Agriculture Committee as a tribute to his work.
Leahy says his family helped guide his personal and political decisions. “Honestly, I couldn’t have done it without Marcelle and our children and grandchildren.”
“He’s always been good at including me and including me and keeping me informed and being a part of what he’s doing,” Marcelle said.
As he prepares to retire from public life, Leahy says he will miss his colleagues, staff and the Senate as an institution. But he also says he’s ready to come home. “I’ll get out of there very easily. We’re counting down the days to be home,” he said.
After leaving Washington, the Leahys plan to return to their Middlesex farm year-round.
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