Representative Louise Slaughter Was a Champion for Healthy Housing
The healthy housing community has lost a loyal friend and fierce advocate with the passing of Representative Louise Slaughter (NY-25), who died Friday morning, two days after falling at her Washington, DC, residence. She was 88.
She was born Dorothy Louise McIntosh on August 14, 1929, in Lynch, Kentucky, the daughter of a blacksmith. The premature death of her sister, Virginia, from pneumonia inspired her to earn a degree in microbiology from the University of Kentucky; she later earned a master’s degree in public health. She and her husband moved to New York in the Fifties. By 1971, after years of community involvement and activism, she had formally entered politics, campaigning for a seat on the Monroe County Legislature, which she won in 1975. This led to a position working for Mario Cuomo, then the New York Secretary of State, and, in 1982, to the New York State Assembly. Four years later, she became the first Democrat to represent New York’s 30th District since 1910 as well as the first woman to represent western New York. The district was renumbered, but Ms. Slaughter continued to represent her constituents ably until her death and had even announced her intention to run for re-election. In an age where many have called for term limits for members of Congress, Ms. Slaughter’s record as a lawmaker consistently provided a strong opposition argument to the belief that a legislator’s service should be limited to a set number of years.
According to The Washington Post, Jane Danowitz, then-executive director of the Women’s Campaign Fund, once described Representative Slaughter’s demeanor as “sort of a combination of Southern charm and backroom politics, a Southern belle with a cigar in her mouth.”
Representative Slaughter was perhaps best known for her advocacy for women’s rights, safety, and health—she was a co-sponsor of the National Institutes of Health Revitalization Act (1993), fighting to ensure that legislative language guaranteed that women and minorities were included in all future federal health clinical trials; she helped to establish the Office of Research on Women’s Health (ORWH), for which she received NIH’s “Visionary for Women’s Health Research” award; she co-authored the Violence Against Women Act in 1994; and she helped to establish the Women’s Progress Commemorative Commission in 1998.
But her tireless work was not limited to improving only women’s health. At the National Center for Healthy Housing, we knew her as an impassioned advocate of our healthy housing work. She attached her name to every appropriations letter we and our partners at the National Safe and Healthy Housing Coalition (NSHHC) sent to her, and she was an ardent supporter of lead poisoning prevention efforts.
Just over two weeks ago, the Congresswoman authored a letter with Congresswoman Gwen Moore (WI-04) requesting full funding for efforts to prevent lead poisoning and promote healthy housing in the FY 2018 Omnibus. Their request includes $35 million for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program and $176 million in total funding for the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Office of Healthy Homes and Lead Hazard Control. “Lead poisoning remains an epidemic today. Hundreds of thousands of children nationwide have dangerously high lead levels in their blood, a toxic metal that robs brains of gray matter in the regions that enable people to pay attention, regulate emotions, and control impulses. These children will likely suffer from neurodevelopmental damage that follows them for the rest of their lives,” Representative Slaughter wrote. “In Monroe County, there are schools with elevated lead levels in water sources, homes that still have lead paint, and century-old water pipes under our feet in desperate need of replacement. The Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention play an essential role in combating lead contamination. It is vital that Congress fully fund these programs.”
In addition to her longstanding support of funding lead poisoning prevention at HUD and CDC, Representative Slaughter stood as a constant partner of the NSHHC, hosting a breakfast orientation for NSHHC’s 2016 Hill Day and meeting with attendees and families impacted by lead poisoning. Her advocacy on behalf of those fighting against unhealthy housing will be missed by many in the coalition.
As a scientist, she understood the importance of lead poisoning prevention; as a representative who had seen the damage caused by lead exposure, she fought for healthy housing.
Back in Rochester, the seat of Monroe County, New York, which Ms. Slaughter called home for over 40 years, the Coalition to Prevent Lead Poisoning (CLPP) issued this statement: “[We are] deeply saddened at the passing of the Honorable Louise McIntosh Slaughter. We grieve the loss and extend our deepest sympathies to the family, friends, and colleagues of the inimitable Congresswoman. It’s a matter of public record that Louise was a staunch advocate and an early champion to end childhood lead paint poisoning in Rochester and across the country. Our community’s success in reducing the number of children reported with lead poisoning is directly attributable to the Congresswoman’s tireless and passionate work to secure funding and create practices and policies to keep children safe—not only for her constituents, but for the entire country. She was a community champion like none other. We are extraordinarily grateful for her support, intellect, and her deep and abiding compassion.”
Dr. David Jacobs, NCHH’s chief scientist, recalled, “Representative Slaughter was a steadfast champion of the nation’s efforts to ensure healthy housing and the ongoing struggle to combat childhood lead poisoning. I had the opportunity to meet with her several times during her long career and recall that she always insisted that all levels of government and society at large do more to protect our citizens from preventable housing-related diseases and injuries. She regularly led the efforts in the House to increase funding for important lead poisoning prevention and healthy homes programs at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Environmental Protection Agency. She was an inspiration to us all.”
Sarah Goodwin, David Jacobs, Katrina Korfmacher, and Darcy Scott contributed to this article.