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People Talk: Louise Slaughter

Rep. Louise Slaughter was a stranger to many Western New Yorkers until 2002, when her congressional district was remapped. Now, the 77-year-old Kentucky native is a familiar sight on the East Side, in Niagara Falls - as well as on her home turf of Rochester. In her new post as chair of the House Rules Committee, Slaughter will become one of Washington's most powerful figures - southern charm and all.

PT: You are a descendant of Daniel Boone?

LS: He's in our family tree. My family is direct descendants. Also, his first cousin married the great uncle of President Lincoln, so he's in our family tree, too. I had a brother who was the spitting image of Pat Boone, the entertainer.

PT: You're a southern lady.

LS: I don't know about that. My father worked in U.S. Steel, so we escaped from there. I think mountain people, for the most part, endured or survived. I know I was eligible for the DAR, but I wouldn't touch it. They wouldn't let Marian Anderson sing, and I thought that was awful.

PT: What have you learned as a legislator?

LS: You're not beaten until you give up. The vote may be on Tuesday and you lose it, but you can start over again on Wednesday. If you improve your lot in every race, keep at it.

PT: What one word describes the level of corruption in Washington?

LS: Fearless. There's a sad thing that's happened in public life. Somewhere it's changed from public service to "What can I do for myself while I'm here?" They had no fear of any retribution.

PT: You have a masters in microbiology. Has that helped you?

LS: Enormously. Just think about stem cell research. I've headed the Women's Health Initiative. Not a dime was ever spent on breast cancer on women. All the studies were done on white men. We worked very hard to try to clean that up.

PT: You're a Barbra Streisand fan?

LS: I'm everybody's fan. Do you know Richard Gere came here and campaigned for me? He's been my buddy.

PT: What tops your agenda for Buffalo?

LS: We've brought in millions of dollars to the Fruit Belt. We were working on the (Broadway) market, but that fell apart. I'm still hoping that someday we can get that back in shape. I'm not going after federal money to build an outlet store when Kmart has gone out of business across the street. And the churches are astonishingly beautiful, and I even thought they should have church tours and include the Central Terminal. And I thought I could persuade Corning to put a little place in the Central Terminal and blow glass for people. They didn't say no. And I talked to the art gallery director suggesting he could use some space over there.

PT: What's Buffalo doing right?

LS: There's so much energy here. I think the school district is working hard to straighten itself out. At the University at Buffalo, there's something called the BioBlower, and we put some money into it because we believe it has the potential of going into a hospital room and within seconds kill any pathogen in it.

PT: That microbiology again.

LS: I do believe we can help health care. I was so angry today, I've never been so put out. I had to reorder some prescriptions, and when I called the doctor's office there was this voice telling me to call the drugstore. I was on the line for 35 minutes, and I finally got in the car and drove to the drugstore. They don't care a thing about consumers anymore. These machines have just taken over and they're as happy as a clam. Good grief, what they're putting people through.

PT: What has been your most satisfying accomplishment?

LS: Oh, it doesn't have to be a big thing. When I was in the county legislature, I put sidewalks on a little street that had none. And a woman called me up and said she was in a wheelchair and had lived in her house for 15 years. It was the first time she could visit her neighbors. Something like that is priceless.

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