When it comes to Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, age really does appear to be just a number, and it's unfair of opponents to make disparaging remarks, even subtly, that she is too old to continue serving.
Slaughter, D-Fairport, recently had the misfortune of shattering her left thigh bone in a fall while crossing West 50th Street in Manhattan.
No sooner had the accident occurred than the political sharks started swimming around the scene. Whispers that the 82-year-old, who will be 83 before Election Day and was first elected to Congress in 1986, is perhaps too old to continue serving grew louder.
The attack came in the form of a rumor circulated in Rochester, Buffalo and Washington that Slaughter is suffering from cancer. She says it isn't true.
Moreover, she insisted, she wouldn't be running for office if she was about to die. In her words, "I never start something I don't intend to finish."
But why would she even address such rumors? Perhaps the desire to set the record straight, combined with a touch of survival instinct.
Slaughter -- who has served the Buffalo area for nearly a decade, and Rochester her entire career -- is in the fight of her political life against Republican Maggie Brooks.
Slaughter is the fifth-oldest member of the House and the oldest woman in Congress. In a youth-obsessed American culture, this isn't exactly a strong platform to campaign on, and it was made worse by photos of her in a wheelchair being pushed by her doctor. By the way, Dr. Stephen L. Kates of the University of Rochester Medical Center said she is "recovering beautifully" and is making "excellent progress so far." Slaughter expects to be back to work in Washington on May 1.
In the meantime, it might not hurt for her to stress her recent legislative activities, all of which indicate an energy level of someone half her age.
She could start with the final passage of the STOCK Act, legislation she'd championed essentially by herself for six years until help arrived in the form of a "60 Minutes" report on the subject last November. The STOCK Act bans lawmakers and other top federal officials from making stock trades based on inside information.
Slaughter's injury kept her from attending the president's signing of the bill, but it was a proud moment for her all the same.
She has won other lonely battles also, including legislation banning discrimination based on a person's genetic makeup, and requiring the Defense Department to improve the quality of its shoddy body armor.
She has been a leader in attempts to bring high-speed rail to upstate New York. A microbiologist by training, the only one in Congress, she has continued her quest to ban unnecessary use of antibiotics in farm animals.
Redistricting has changed the political landscape for Slaughter by putting her into the new Rochester-based 25th District and taking away her Western New York constituents. But she shouldn't have to go to battle amid insinuations about her age. In her case, it's just a number.