Washington (CNN)In a surprise announcement, Rep. Steve Israel of New York, a member of House Democratic leadership, said Tuesday he won't run for re-election in 2016.
Top House Democrat announces he's retiring in 2016
"I hope to continue to be involved in public service, but it is time for me to pursue new passions and develop new interests, mainly spend more time writing my second novel," Israel said in a statement that stunned many across the U.S. Capitol.
Israel, who was elected to the House in 2000, became a close ally of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. She tapped him to chair the House Democrats' campaign arm for two election cycles. He currently heads the House Democrat's messaging shop, coordinating his party's strategy and response to the Republican agenda.
His Long Island district has always been competitive, and Israel conceded November's election would again prove to be a tough race. But he predicted it would remain in his party's control, saying, "The 2016 presidential turnout will help assure that. We've fought too hard for everyday Americans and against special interests to risk it."
Israel has been a loyal party messenger, but he broke publicly with President Barack Obama this summer over the Iran nuclear deal and voted against its implementation. His district includes many Jewish American voters skeptical of the agreement.
Republicans were eager to pounce on the news that a top Democratic leader decided to retire.
"Steve Israel was in charge of electing House Democrats for years and even he sees the writing on the wall for 2016. The extremists of his party are slowly making House Democrats extinct," Chris Pack, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee told CNN in a statement, saying the GOP expected to pick up the seat this fall.
Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, the current chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, disagreed with the GOP's prediction.
"I am fully confident that Democrats will continue to hold this reliably Democratic district, particularly in a Presidential year," he said in a statement.
Many viewed Israel as a potential candidate to move up in the leadership. Top members of his party like Pelosi, House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer and Assistant Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn -- all senior leaders in their seventies -- have had long tenures in their positions.
Israel's decision to retire will again raise questions about whether Pelosi will remain in the top spot. As her party's top fundraiser and one of their sharpest political strategist, the California Democrat has strong support inside her party, but some newer House Democrats have also expressed a desire to add younger voices to the leadership table.
There's no indication Pelosi will retire, and she has argued that Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton's candidacy will help boost turnout and the Democrats' prospects in 2016.
Pelosi praised Israel after his announcement.
"America's working families have always had a champion in Steve Israel," she said. "In his service in Congress, Steve has brought clarity and leadership to the work of reigniting the American Dream for the middle class families who are the backbone of our democracy."