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New York State of Mind: After Running Family Business, Amory Houghton Serves as Renegade U.S. Representative

The Honorable U.S. Rep. Amory Houghton Jr. '50 loves Corning, New York.

He was born in the small upstate town and raised four children there after graduating from Harvard Business school in 1952.

In 1986, he retired from Corning Glass Works--the company his family founded in 1851--after serving as president, chair of the board and chief executive officer.

Then Houghton bought a motor home and set out to meet his neighbors. Lots of his neighbors. He had decided, on the spur of the moment, to run for U.S. Congress, in the 31st district of New York.

He won, and has served the mostly rural, blue- collar district ever since as their Republican Congressional representative.

"For the money Amo has, he is one of the nicest guys; he is a genuinely nice person," says Bob Rowlfe, a reporter with the Corning Leader for 30 years. "Amo wanders up and down the street and hangs out in the local coffee shop. On Sundays, he drives to pick up his paper. One of the only [millionaires] you see in that light is Amo Houghton."

Houghton, one of the wealthiest members of Congress, surprised political pundits by deciding to run for a seventh term this year. He says he is set to do battle over the upcoming re-districting that threatens to shunt off his beloved town of Corning to such uncaring districts like Rochester or Buffalo.

"I ran again because I feel strongly about the re-districting issue," Houghton says. "I hope they don't carve our district out and make it a suburb of Rochester, where we would never have any rural representation."

A 'Call' To Service

The passionately bi-partisan Houghton says he got into politics 13 years ago by mere chance.

"I was planning to go to Africa. And then I got a call on Memorial Day weekend, asking me if I would run. The seat was open, so I just ran," he says. "I thought I might get an appointed position, but I never expected to run."

Houghton's father was ambassador to France from 1957 to 1961, and his grandfather was an ambassador to Germany and Great Britain after two terms in the House of Representatives.

Rowlfe says he was skeptical of Houghton's candidacy at first.

"It was the biggest political shock story--no one had ever dreamt of it," he says. "But [Amo] was ready to do something entirely different."

And once he won his seat, Houghton has been a renegade Republican in Congress--more than willing to vote against the party platform--and he was one of four Republicans to vote against impeachment in 1999.

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