LANSING (WWJ/AP) – The longest-serving member of Congress in American history has announced he will retire when his current term ends in December.

Democratic Michigan Congressman John Dingell, 87, has been in the House of Representatives since wining his late father’s seat in a special election in 1955.

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His plans were first reported Monday morning by The Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press. “I’m not going to be carried out feet first,” Dingell told The News. “I don’t want people to say I stayed too long.”

Speaking later in the day at in Southgate at Southern Wayne Chamber Meeting, Dingell said believes his sunset years should be spent among family and friends; and not front and center in politics.

“Debbie and I are leaving the Congress,” Dingell said, referring to his wife. “We are leaving it for quite a different reason, and that is we want to enjoy a little bit of peace.”

Lon Johnson, chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party, says John Dingell has been a “lion” in Congress.

“For many years, Congressman Dingell’s worked tirelessly … fighting to protect autoworkers and automakers, including the fight for historic environmental projects,” Johnson said.

Johnson said every piece of significant legislation over the past 50 years has Dingell’s fingerprint on it, including the Civil Rights Act, the Chrysler bailout of the 1980s, and the American with Disabilities Act.

Ronna Abbas, with the Arab American human services organization ACCESS in Dearborn, says Dingell has had a huge hand in prohibiting profiling of Arab Americans, especially after 9/11.

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“Congressman Dingell has been so much more than just a congressman,” Abbas said. “He’s been a friend to a number of members of the community for years. You know, for many, you can’t even think of Southeast Michigan without thinking of Congressman Dingell.”

In a statement, Gov. Rick Snyder said Dingell has devoted his life to public service and he is proud to call himself one of his constituents. Snyder said Dingell “has shown the unique ability to put politics aside and work across party lines to help improve the quality of life for those he represents.”

Said President Barack Obama in a statement, Obama also said, “Today, the people of Michigan – and the American people – are better off because of John Dingell’s service to this country.”

Some within the Democratic Party are encouraging Dingell’s wife, 60-year-0ld Debbie Dingell, to run for his seat. Debbie Dingell is one of Michigan’s longtime representatives on the Democratic National Committee and a former president of the General Motors Foundation.

“I had a source tell me this morning, quote, ‘She has a clear path towards the nomination and perhaps the job itself’,” reported WWJ’s Lansing Bureau Chief Tim Skubick.

“She would clearly be the front-runner at the time; but, you know, when you have an open seat in Congress, lots of people who have been waiting patiently to run decide to get in, so I don’t think it’s a walk through the park for her, but she certainly would start out with the right name,” Skubick said. “Whether she wins it, of course, the voters would have to decide that.”

John Dingell told reporters on Monday that if his wife does decide to run, he will support her.

John Dingell is one of just two World War Two veterans still serving in Congress. He earned his bachelor’s and law degrees from Georgetown University.

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