Peter A. Peyser

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Peter A. Peyser
Peter A. Peyser.jpg
Member of the
U.S. House of Representatives
from New York
In office
January 3, 1971 – January 3, 1977
Preceded byRichard Ottinger
Succeeded byBruce F. Caputo
Constituency25th district (1971–1973)
23rd district (1973–1977)
In office
January 3, 1979 – January 3, 1983
Preceded byBruce F. Caputo
Succeeded bySamuel S. Stratton
Constituency23rd district
Personal details
Born(1921-09-07)September 7, 1921
Cedarhurst, New York
DiedOctober 9, 2014(2014-10-09) (aged 93)
Irvington, New York
Political partyRepublican (until 1977)
Democratic (1977–2014)
SpouseMarguerite Richards
Children5, including Penny
Alma materColgate University

Peter A. Peyser (September 7, 1921 – October 9, 2014) was a United States representative from New York, serving from 1971 to 1977 as a Republican and from 1979 to 1983 as a Democrat.[citation needed]

Political career[edit]

Peyser's political career began in 1962 when he ran for Mayor of Irvington, New York. A community of 5,000 people, Irvington was governed by a part-time Board of Trustees and Mayor. The Mayor was paid $100 a month for his efforts.

In 1969, Peyser announced a dark-horse candidacy for Congress as a Republican. At the time of his announcement, the incumbent Congressman from the area was Richard L. Ottinger, a popular Democrat. Later in 1969, Ottinger announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate, seeking to oust Republican Sen. Charles Goodell, who had been appointed by Governor Nelson Rockefeller to fill Robert F. Kennedy's seat after the latter's assassination in 1968. After Ottinger's announcement, three other Republicans, all with higher public profiles than Peyser, joined the race for the GOP nomination. Peyser won the June primary and went on to win the general election against William Dretzin. Peyser's slogan was "Nixon Picks Him."

For the 1972 election, the district was redrawn because of the 1970 census. Now labeled the 23rd, it was 1/3 the northern Bronx, 1/3 the City of Yonkers, and 1/3 suburban communities along the Hudson River. That year, while Nixon carried the district comfortably, Peyser eked out a 1,200 vote margin over former Rep. Richard L. Ottinger who sought to return to Congress after his defeat for the Senate in 1970.

During his three terms in the House as a Republican, Peyser made a name for himself as a consumer activist on the Committee on Agriculture, as assignment usually not sought by New York Members. He played an important role on the "ERISA Task Force" set up by House leaders to develop the landmark legislation that governs employee benefit and retirement plans. Peyser was a staunch Nixon supporter and backed his Vietnam War policies. He was one of the last Members of the New York Congressional delegation to call for the President's impeachment, doing so only days before Nixon announced his resignation.

In 1976, Peyser launched an ill-fated attempt to wrest the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate away from incumbent Senator James Buckley. Buckley had won a three-way 1970 Senate race on the Conservative Party line, but aligned himself with the Republican caucus in the Senate. Buckley gained an agreement with then-Vice President Nelson Rockefeller that in exchange for Buckley not endorsing Ronald Reagan's challenge to President Gerald Ford for the GOP nomination, Rockefeller would send a signal to New York Republicans to deny Peyser the resources to conduct his campaign.[dubious ] The GOP state committee sued the Peyser campaign to keep it off the September primary ballot, but the petition signatures gained by the Congressman withstood the test. However, Buckley won the primary in a landslide. He went on to defeat in the general election at the hands of Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

Change of party[edit]

Jilted by his party, Peyser announced in early 1977 that he was becoming a Democrat. Shortly thereafter, his former congressional colleague, Governor Hugh Carey, nominated Peyser to be Chairman of the New York Public Service Commission, perhaps the most powerful regulatory position in New York State at the time. The Republican-controlled State Senate, from which confirmation was required, immediately objected to the nomination as an example of cronyism, citing Peyser's lack of experience in utility regulation. Peyser mounted an effort to gain confirmation, but after the New York Times editorialized against his nomination, he withdrew.

In 1978 the popular young Republican Congressman who replaced Peyser, Bruce Caputo, left his seat to run for Lieutenant Governor of New York. Peyser entered the Democratic primary and easily defeated a young county legislator and future Assemblyman named Richard Brodsky. Peyser easily gained election in 1978 and again in 1980.

During his four years in Congress as a Democrat, Peyser aligned himself closely with the leadership of Speaker Tip O'Neill.

The 1980 census brought on another round of redistricting in New York and the loss of three congressional seats. The Republican Senate in Albany exacted its revenge on the "turncoat" congressman, carving his district into three pieces and leaving him only one realistic option aside from retirement: A campaign against his popular friend, Republican Rep. Benjamin Gilman. The new 20th district was far from the compact urban/suburban district Peyser had represented. It extended almost 200 miles in length and covered territory from suburban Westchester and Rockland counties to rural counties like Orange and Sullivan counties in the Catskills. Only 20% of the voters in the new district had been in Peyser's congressional district. Gilman won comfortably.

Peyser made an attempt at a comeback in 1984, running in a Democratic primary in an adjacent district in which he did not live. He finished third.

Personal life[edit]

Peyser was born in Cedarhurst, New York, the son of Rubye Bentley (Hoeflich) and Percy Asher Peyser.[1][2] On December 23, 1949, Peyser married Marguerite Richards, a native of Monroe, Louisiana and Baltimore, Maryland. She had moved to New York City to attend the Parsons School of Design. In 1951, the Peysers moved to Irvington, New York. The Peysers had five children: Penelope (born 1951), Safi[3] (née Carolyn, born 1952) a poet,[4] Peter (born 1954), James (born 1956) and Thomas (born 1962). Penelope Peyser, known as Penny, became an actress.[5] (Her uncle, John Peyser, was a Hollywood television and movie director.[6])

On October 9, 2014, Peyser died of Parkinson's disease. He was 93.[7] His widow Marguerite Peyser died on May 11, 2020, at age 89 from COVID-19.[3]



  1. ^ Who's who in Government. November 1977. ISBN 9780837912035.
  2. ^ "Peyser Peter A".
  3. ^ a b "Marguerite Peyser, 89" The Hudson Independent
  4. ^ Algarin, Miguel; Holman, Bob (1994-08-15). Aloud: Voices from the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. Macmillan. p. 506. ISBN 9780805032574. Carolyn peyser poet.
  5. ^ "Penny Peyser". IMDb.
  6. ^ "John Peyser". IMDb.
  7. ^ Martin, Douglas (October 9, 2014). "Peter Peyser, Legislator Who Defied the G.O.P., Dies at 93". The New York Times.

External links[edit]

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 25th congressional district

Succeeded by
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 23rd congressional district

Succeeded by
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 23rd congressional district

Succeeded by