Herman Badillo dies at 85; first native Puerto Rican in U.S. House

Herman Badillo, the first U.S. congressman born in Puerto Rico, has died. He was 85

Herman Badillo, a Bronx politician who was the first person born in Puerto Rico to become a U.S. congressman, has died in New York. He was 85.

Badillo died Wednesday of complications of congestive heart disease at a hospital in Manhattan, 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.

Puerto Rico has been a U.S. territory for 115 years, and its people have been U.S. citizens since 1917. However, residents are barred from voting in U.S. presidential elections and have no representation in the Senate and only limited representation in the House of Representatives.

"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.

Badillo was born on Aug. 21, 1929, in Caguas, Puerto Rico. His parents died in a 1934 tuberculosis epidemic, and he came to New York with an aunt in 1941. He attended public schools and the 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.

Badillo was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1968 and made repeated unsuccessful runs to become New York City mayor. He 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.

Badillo lived in Manhattan and is survived by his wife, Gail, and his son by a previous marriage, David.

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