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Badillo, first Puerto Rico-born congressman, dies

December 4, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) — Herman Badillo, a New York City 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 military draft but couldn’t get many federal social benefits.

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

Badillo 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. 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. It was one of several failed runs by Badillo to become New York City mayor.

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.

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

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Associated Press writers George M. Walsh and Michael Hill in Albany, New York, contributed to this report.

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