Herman Badillo, a Bronx politician who became the first person born in Puerto Rico to become a U.S. congressman, died Wednesday morning. He was 85.
The office of Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. confirmed the death. Badillo died of complications of congestive heart disease at a hospital in Manhattan on Wednesday morning, according to George Arzt, a political consultant and longtime friend.
"He was a true pioneer of the city. He was the first major Latino to be elected," Arzt said.
In Congress, Badillo concentrated on the problems of inner cities and urged federal help for poor members of minority groups, according to his congressional biography. He also championed the rights of Puerto Ricans, noting in 1971 that they were subject to the draft but couldn't get federal benefits under the food stamp and school milk programs or parts of Social Security.
"I represent the original immigrant," Badillo said. "Everybody says that their parents and grandparents came here and couldn't speak English and they were poor. And in my case it wasn't my parents and grandparents. It was me."
He served in the House of Representatives from 1971 to 1977, when he resigned to become a deputy mayor during New York City Mayor Edward Koch's first term.
"Herman Badillo worked assiduously throughout his career to make a difference in the lives of countless individuals across our borough and city," said Diaz, the Bronx borough president. "He was a true Bronxite and the epitome of a passionate leader who truly cared for his community."
Badillo was born on Aug. 21, 1929, in Caguas, Puerto Rico. His parents died in a 1934 tuberculosis epidemic and he first came to New York with an aunt in 1941. He attended public schools, City College of New York and earned a law degree at Brooklyn Law School.
He started work as a city official in 1962 and his first elected position was Bronx borough president from 1965 to 1969.
He was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1968 and made repeated unsuccessful runs to become New York City mayor.
Badillo sought the Democratic nomination for mayor in 1969, 1973 and 1977. He also mounted brief runs in 1985 and 1993 but withdrew.
In 2001, he waged a bitter primary election campaign against Michael Bloomberg for the Republican mayoral nomination. Like Bloomberg, Badillo was by then a former Democrat, having run unsuccessfully for city comptroller on the Republican-Liberal Fusion line in 1993.
Former mayor Rudolph Giuliani and former police commissioner Ray Kelly will speak at his private funeral on Sunday, Arzt said.
Badillo lived in Manhattan and is survived by his wife, Gail, and his son by a previous marriage, David.
Associated Press writers George M. Walsh and Michael Hill in Albany contributed to this report.