Maurice D. Hinchey, a former United States representative from New York who built a reputation as a champion of the environment and blue-collar workers over a political career that spanned nearly four decades, died Wednesday at his home in Saugerties. He was 79.
The cause was frontotemporal degeneration, a rare, terminal neurological disorder, his family said.
Mr. Hinchey, a Democrat who retired from Congress in 2013 after 10 terms, began his political career as a state assemblyman in Albany in 1975. Within four years, he became the chairman of its Environmental Conservation Committee and served there until 1992, when he was elected to Congress.
During his time on the State Assembly’s conservation committee, he led an investigation into Love Canal, an unfinished waterway in upstate New York that became one of the nation’s first major toxic dumpsites. The saga that emerged would force hundreds of families to evacuate and elevate concerns over toxic waste to the national spotlight.
As a state lawmaker, Mr. Hinchey also aided in the preservation and cleanup of the Hudson River and helped pass the nation’s first law to control acid rain. He also spent 10 years leading a separate investigation into organized crime’s control of the waste-hauling industry.
During his two decades in Congress, Mr. Hinchey served a district that spanned eight counties — from the Hudson Valley to the Finger Lakes region — and included both troubled industrial cities and tourist resorts. To serve his diverse constituents, he pursued an agenda that prioritized the environment and positioned him as an advocate for economic development.
He became a fierce critic of hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, and an equally strong proponent of renewable energy — a sector that he saw as critical to the economy and that he hoped could build a hub in upstate New York.
Although he had an unassuming demeanor and kept a relatively low profile, Mr. Hinchey came to be known as a reliable Democratic vote and wielded influence with a seat on the powerful Appropriations Committee, where he routinely inserted money for his district and state into federal spending bills.
Born on Oct. 27, 1938, in New York City, Mr. Hinchey moved to Saugerties with his family as a boy. He enlisted in the Navy after high school and later worked as a laborer at a Hudson Valley cement plant for two years.
A biography provided by his family said that Mr. Hinchey put himself through the State University of New York at New Paltz working as a night-shift toll collector on the New York State Thruway. He also earned a master’s degree at the university and did advanced graduate work in public administration and economics at the State University of New York at Albany.
Mr. Hinchey is survived by his wife, Ilene Marder Hinchey; his children, Michelle, Joseph and Reese; his sister, Patricia, and his brothers, Michael and John; and four grandchildren.
Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, said in a statement on Wednesday that he had known Mr. Hinchey since the two served together in the State Assembly in the 1970s.
“‘Mighty Moe’ as I used to call him was a man of great conviction, principle, endless energy and rare legislative ability,” Mr. Schumer said. “He cut a unique figure throughout the Hudson Valley and the Southern Tier, and was passionately committed to the environment and to preserving that region’s priceless open and wild spaces. He will be sorely missed.”
Speaking in 2000 to The Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y., about his career in public service, Mr. Hinchey said, “I know that I’m a better fighter than most people, and I’m happy to employ those skills on their behalf.”