By Reid Wilson - 10/14/09 02:44 PM EDT
Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) will resign from Congress in order to head a Middle East think tank, he told reporters at a news conference Wednesday in Boca Raton.
The seven-term Democrat, who was once considered a potential candidate for a post in the Obama administration, told party officials of his plans late Tuesday in advance of a formal announcement Wednesday morning.
“Those who know me and those who have followed my career know that one of my overriding passions has been my work on the Foreign Affairs Committee helping to strengthen and preserve the unbreakable bond between the United States and Israel, and working toward a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East between Israelis and Palestinians and between Israel and the Arab world,” Wexler said Wednesday morning.
A member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and an orthodox Jew, Wexler is known as an Israel defender. In 2002, he drew attention by calling for the U.S. to force then-Palestinian Authority chief Yasser Arafat out of office, labeling Arafat a terrorist.
“Taking over as president of the Center for Middle East Peace offers me an unparalleled opportunity to work on behalf of Middle East peace for an important and influential nonprofit institute,” he added. “After much discussion with my family, I have decided that I cannot pass up on this opportunity.”
“This is a great day for the Center and for those who work to achieve Middle East peace. Robert will hit the ground running and employ his skill and vision to help us achieve the peace that Israelis and Arabs seek,” Abraham said in a statement posted on the group’s website.
An early supporter of President Barack Obama’s, Wexler served as a leading surrogate before Jewish groups around the country during the primary campaign. When the Democratic National Committee’s Rules and Bylaws Committee debated what to do about primary results in Florida and Michigan, Wexler testified before the committee on behalf of the Obama campaign.
Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R) will call a special election to fill Wexler’s seat once he actually resigns. State Sen. Jeremy Ring (D) told The Miami Herald he will consider running for the seat, while state Sen. Ted Deutch (D), West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel (D) and Broward County Mayor Stacy Ritter (D) are among others mentioned as possible candidates.
Ben Graber, the former Broward County Commissioner who has twice challenged Wexler in the Democratic primary, may run as well.