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Local Pols Mourn Passing of Former Congressman Herman Badillo

By Eddie Small | December 4, 2014 3:16pm
 Herman Badillo (center) with his wife Gail Badillo and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. at the 2010 Bronx Ball.
Herman Badillo (center) with his wife Gail Badillo and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. at the 2010 Bronx Ball.
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Bronx Borough President's Office

THE BRONX — Herman Badillo, the country's first Puerto Rican congressman and staple of city political life who died Wednesday, was remembered by local politicians as a trailblazer and inspiration. He was 85.

Badillo succumbed to complications caused by congestive heart failure at New York Presbyterian Hospital, according to a spokesman at George Artz Communications.

He was born in Caguas, Puerto Rico, in 1929 and moved to New York City with his aunt when he was 11, having lost both of his parents years earlier in a tuberculosis epidemic.

He became a lawyer in the city in the mid-1950s after graduating as valedictorian from Brooklyn Law School and was elected as Bronx Borough President in 1965, where he developed capital and expense budgets for all community boards and worked to increase transparency in community planning boards.

Current Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. referred to Badillo as a mentor and a friend, as well as a rock throughout his own career in politics.

"I am deeply saddened by the passing of a man whom I looked up to as a role model and who represented Latinos, Bronxites and all New Yorkers as an exemplary public servant," Diaz said in a statement.

"He was a true Bronxite," Diaz continued, "and the epitome of a passionate leader who truly cared for his community."

Badillo's tenure as Bronx Borough President included the opening of Hostos Community College, which City Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson viewed as one of his strongest achievements.

“Throughout his career, Herman helped guide the Bronx into becoming a borough that embraces the full diversity of its people," she said in an email, "and his extraordinary leadership as a driving force in the founding of Hostos Community College has opened doors of opportunity for generations of Bronxites."

In 1970, Badillo won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives to serve the people of the South Bronx, and he was reelected in 1972, 1974 and 1976.

While in Congress, he created the body's first subcommittee on urban affairs and was a strong advocate for bilingual education and voting rights.

Badillo resigned from Congress on Dec. 31, 1977 to serve as Deputy Mayor of New York City, a post he held until 1979, when he returned to practicing law.

He had his share of unsuccessful campaigns as well, including failed bids to become statewide and city comptroller in 1986 and 1993, respectively, and four fruitless attempts to become mayor of New York City.

Badillo also served the city as Mayor Rudy Giuliani's Special Counsel for the Fiscal Oversight of Education and as Chairman of CUNY's Board of Trustees from 1999 to 2001.

Rep. José Serrano remembered Badillo as a political pioneer.

“I am extremely sad that my friend and mentor, Herman Badillo, has passed away," he said in a statement. "Badillo was a Latino trailblazer who opened doors and served as a role model for many in the Hispanic community, and it was an honor and a privilege to work with him and count on his support over the years."