Republican Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, chairman of the House Science Committee, announced plans to retire Friday after nearly 24 years in Congress.

"It is time," Boehlert told a crowd of hundreds of friends, colleagues and family members at Utica's historic train station. "I feel like I've done it the right way. ... This decision was not made lightly, nor was it made in haste."

Boehlert, 69, leads a small moderate GOP faction in Congress that has clashed with President Bush over such issues as global warming and spending for social programs.

In recent years, that faction won some hard-fought legislative victories, but those battles have not endeared Boehlert to some powerful House Republicans.

Boehlert has also defended scientists when their professional opinions have drawn heat from administration policy-makers.

Last year, when Republican Rep. Joe Barton, chair of the House Energy Committee, launched a congressional investigation of three climate scientists, Boehlert accused him of trying to "intimidate scientists rather than learn from them."

Rep. John McHugh, a fellow New York Republican, called Boehlert "an honest broker who votes his conscience and core beliefs, even when that might not be, politically, the wisest choice."

Without Boehlert running, Democrats hoped to take the 24th Congressional District, which covers parts of 11 counties in central New York. It has more than 165,000 Republicans and 126,000 Democrats.

President Bush carried the district with 53 percent of the vote in 2004 and barely squeaked by Al Gore there in 2000, 48 percent to 47 percent.