In a move that stunned many of her constituents and sent political reverberations through the Westside and the South Bay, Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice) announced Feb. 7 that she would resign from Congress in March.

A special election, most likely in June, will be held for Harman’s seat.

The nine-term congresswoman has represented portions of the South Bay and the Westside for several years in Congress. She won reelection in November, despite the fact that Democrats nationally lost in droves.

“The announcement caught even staff by surprise,” said a former staff member of the congresswoman, who learned of Harman’s decision on the day that the Associated Press reported the story.

Harman’s next professional venture will be as the head of the Woodrow Wilson School of International Scholars in Washington, D.C., beginning in March.

“Earlier today, I filed paperwork notifying the House of Representatives that I am in discussions to succeed former Rep. Lee Hamilton as president and CEO of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars,” the congresswoman wrote in an e-mail to her constituents. “I send this note because a decision is imminent and I wanted you to hear the news from me first.

“This is an excruciating decision because the distinction of representing the smartest constituents on earth will never be surpassed – nor will my relationships with my exceptional staff and colleagues in Congress,” she continued. “But shaping and leading the Wilson Center is a thrilling new challenge.”

Established by an act of Congress in 1968, the Wilson Center is the nation’s official living memorial to President Woodrow Wilson.

During a wide ranging interview with The Argonaut near the end of May, before her primary victory over Democratic challenger Marcy Winograd, Harman touched on a variety of topics that her Westside constituents are concerned about, including Los Angeles International Airport and the Santa Monica Airport.

The announcement of her sudden departure drew perplexed responses from some of her constituents.

“I am surprised and disappointed that Rep. Harman chose to resign after just being reelected,” Venice Neighborhood Council President Linda Lucks said. “That being said, I look forward to a vigorous campaign to choose her replacement, whom I hope will be more progressive and anti-war.”

Martin and Joan Rubin, who live near the Santa Monica Airport and are the leaders of the anti-pollution group Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution, recalled that Harman had worked with other area, state and federal legislators on safety and environmental concerns at the airport.

“We are shocked and certainly disappointed with this news,” they said in a joint statement. “Rep. Harman brought the important issue of Santa Monica Airport’s air pollution from jets to the national table, including inviting representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency to meet by the airport just a few months ago.

“We very much appreciate all her efforts on our behalf and wish her well in her new position.”

Winograd was also taken aback by her formal rival’s abrupt departure from the House of Representatives.

“I was shocked to get several messages that (Harman) was resigning midterm,” Winograd said. “Clearly, she had her eyes set elsewhere.”

Harman was mentioned as a possible replacement during her primary campaign for then National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair.

The congresswoman was introduced Feb. 8 as the Wilson Center’s new president and chief executive officer by Ambassador James Gildenhorn, the center’s chairman of the board.

“The time is right for a new challenge, and this is the right challenge,” Harman told reporters at the press conference. “The privilege of representing the people of California’s 36th Congressional District will likely never be surpassed, and I am grateful to my constituents, staff and colleagues.

“But the opportunity to lead and shape the direction of the country’s premier policy incubator – one with international reach and influence – is a thrilling step for me.”

News of Harman’s decision to step down prompted one municipal lawmaker to immediately enter the race to replace the congresswoman. Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn announced her candidacy shortly after the news about Harman was made public.

“I’m running for Congress to create new jobs, expand clean energy technologies and ensure that local small business owners get the help and opportunities they need to flourish in a global economy,” said Hahn.

“It has been an honor to work closely with Rep. Harman over the past decade on a variety of important efforts to create jobs and improve security at LAX and the port. Her leadership will be missed.”

Secretary of State Debra Bowen, who represented Marina del Rey and Venice in the Assembly and the state Senate, is also reportedly considering entering the race to succeed Harman.

Lucks said any candidate for Harman’s seat who seeks her vote must be pro-choice.

“To her credit, Ms. Harman has always been a staunch supporter of women’s issues (a woman’s right to choose, legislation to prevent violence against women), and whomever replaces her must reflect those values to get my support,” the Venice council president said.

Hahn wasted no time in laying out her campaign agenda for the upcoming special election.

“As someone who has served in local government for almost a decade, I want to bring that perspective and experience to Congress,” the councilwoman said. “It’s time we end the corporate tax giveaways to multinational corporations that send jobs overseas and invest those dollars in businesses that create jobs here at home.

“We need to invest in a clean-energy economy and there’s no better place to start than right here in the 36th Congressional District.”

Winograd said she is taking a wait-and-see position before deciding if she will run again. “I am exploring the possibility,” Winograd, a teacher at Crenshaw High School and a frequent critic of many of Harman’s positions, wrote on the website The Daily Kos. “(In the last campaign), most of (my) support came from the northern end of the district, from Venice and Mar Vista, but we enjoyed significant inroads in the working class union strongholds of Wilmington and San Pedro.”

Winograd said she has received a call from Hahn but has yet to hear from Bowen. “I am waiting to ask the tough questions – and to hear courageous answers,” she said. “Then I will decide.”

Announcing her planned departure, Harman thanked her constituents for their support over the years.

“You have elected me to nine terms in Congress – an honor without equal,” she wrote. “I hope you understand how truly grateful I am for your friendship and support.”

No date for the special election to replace Harman has been announced.

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