Rep. Joseph P. Addabbo (D-N.Y.), a fierce congressional critic of military spending, died Thursday night of cancer in Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He was 61.
Well-liked by his colleagues in both parties, Addabbo apparently kept his six-year battle with bladder cancer a secret from most of his associates despite a lengthy hospitalization last year.
He spent four months at Walter Reed in 1985 for what his office said at the time was a kidney ailment. He resumed his congressional duties in January, but on March 6 was stricken at a luncheon. His office announced March 12 that he had slipped into a coma and was not expected to live.
Addabbo was first elected to Congress in 1960 and was reelected 12 times. The representative from a district in New York’s Queens Borough was a longtime critic of gold-plated military spending habits, but he won only a few of his battles against the Pentagon despite an influential congressional position.
As chairman of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee starting in 1979, Addabbo opposed the MX missile and the B-1 bomber, among other weapons systems. Six years earlier, he gained attention by steering the first anti-Vietnam War resolution through the House.
In his thick New York City accent, Addabbo often began hearings by telling Pentagon brass to brace themselves for significant cuts in their budget. Most of the time, however, Addabbo found himself outvoted by the more hawkish majority on his subcommittee, which controls the flow of funds to the military.
Addabbo’s biggest victory came in December, 1982, when he pushed an amendment through the House blocking production of the MX missile. The House later reversed its position and work began on the missile, although echoes of the fight were heard as late as 1985.
Addabbo supported the U.S. involvement in Vietnam throughout Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidency and for some time under the Nixon Administration but changed his mind and won House passage of a resolution cutting off money for the bombing of Cambodia in 1973--the first anti-war resolution to pass the House.