CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- After U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller announced Friday that he won't run for re-election in 2014, political, union and business leaders lined up to praise him.
"Saying 'thank you' does not go far enough to express the gratitude we have for Jay Rockefeller," said Larry Puccio, chairman of the West Virginia Democratic Party. "Many children in West Virginia are living better lives because of Jay, our veterans are getting the respect they so deserve because of Jay, and our seniors feel more secure because of Jay."
Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers union, said, "This is a sad day. It's been about 40 years since I first met Jay.
"I have a picture of Jay and my son on a Cabin Creek ball field when he was 8. He is now 43," said Roberts, who attended Rockefeller's announcement at the Culture Center on Friday. "Jay was governor and he helped renovate our ball field,"
Roberts singled out Rockefeller's central efforts to pass the 1992 Coal Act to restore and guarantee health-care benefits to "people who worked for companies that went out of business, along with their wives and widows. My mother was one of them.
"I am here today representing my mother and thousands of other people who benefit from Jay's accomplishment in 1992," Roberts said.
President Obama issued a statement about Rockefeller, "For more than four decades, he has continued to fight tirelessly on [working families'] behalf."
Obama also noted Rockefeller's strong support for health-care reform. "A longtime champion of health-care reform, Jay was also instrumental in the fight to make sure that nobody in America has to go broke because they get sick," the president stated. "Michelle and I join the people of West Virginia in thanking Senator Rockefeller for a lifetime of service, and I look forward to continuing to work with him over the next two years."
Ken Hall, general secretary-treasurer of the Teamsters union, also attended Friday's event.
"I think Jay Rockefeller is one of the last statesmen in the U.S. Senate," Hall said. "He's been a friend of ours, but he has always been balanced when it come to labor and management issues."
Hall cited Rockefeller's involvement in the push to keep a Rite-Aid warehouse in Poca open. The company announced that the Putnam County warehouse would close in 1999, then decided to keep it open several months later.
"Rockefeller got involved. He held a meeting with Rite Aid's CEO, brought me in, and Senator Byrd was also there," Hall said. "By May 2000, Rockefeller convinced them to keep the warehouse in West Virginia. It is still open today.
"A lot of politicians tell you things to get re-elected. Jay Rockefeller tells you things he thinks are best for West Virginia."
Kent Carper, president of the Kanawha County Commission, called Rockefeller "a workhorse for Kanawha County.
"He is solely responsible for NGK coming to Kanawha County, which brought in hundreds of new jobs, and had a key role in the opening of the Kureha manufacturing facility in Belle," Carper said.