The Legacy of Herman Badillo

 LatinoAmericansEp4_RFKBadillo1950_tx800 Badillo Rippled NiLP Note: The death of Herman Badillo is a major milestone for Puerto Rican politic in New York and nationally. He was a unique trailblazer he was constantly referred as “the first Puerto Rican” to play so many important political roles — NYC Commissioner for Relocation, Bronx Borough President, Congressman, Deputy Mayor, a founder of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and PRLDEF, a pioneer in promoting federal legislation on bilingual education and voting right, and on and on. As word of his passing got around in the Puerto Rican community, stories emerged of his many contributions to individual political careers, his legal representation of community organizations and causes, his being an early role model for so many Puerto Ricans. His influence was such that a school named after him exists in Buffalo, New York.


Now, over the years, I had many bouts with Herman on a wide variety of issues while he was in Congress, part of the Koch and Mario Cuomo Administrations, and even when he was with the CUNY Board of Trustees. I helped organize pickets against him, wrote columns disagreeing with him and even led a campaign criticizing his book on education. But I fondly remember a few years ago when I revived a telephone call from him, out of the blue, inviting me to lunch. At the time I wondered, what’s Herman up to? Is this lunch just a ruse for him to get me in close enough proximity to choke the life out of me for making his life a nightmare at times? As I sat down to lunch with him, he went on to say nice things about the work I had been doing on behalf of the Puerto Rican community and to encourage me to continue the advocacy. As we departed he let me know that if he could be of any assistance to me, to give him a call. I walked away impressed, encouraged and unchoked. In the end, I got to know him as one classy Puerto Rican.


My friend Ramon Jimenez told me today that Herman was a complex man who he knew when he did good and did bad, but who left behind an important legacy. I can say from firsthand experience that that is certainly the case, leaving a legacy that was mostly good.


Although this is not completely confirmed, the word I got was that his funeral will be this Sunday at 11:30am at the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Home, 1076 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10028, (212) 288-3500. All Latinos in this city and beyond should be there to honor Herman Badillo’s legacy that opened so many doors and brought respect for our community at a time when it was really hard to do.  


—Angelo Falcón



* “Herman Badillo, Congressman and Fixture of New York Politics, Dies at 85” By Robert D. Mcfadden, New York Times (December 3, 2014)

* “Herman Badillo, first Puerto Rico-born U.S. congressman, dies at 85” By Celeste Katz, With Jennifer Fermino, New York Daily News (December 3, 2014)


Herman Badillo, Congressman and 

Fixture of New York Politics, Dies at 85

By Robert D. Mcfadden

New York Times (December 3, 2014)


Herman Badillo, America’s first Puerto Rican-born congressman and a fixture in New York City politics for four decades who championed civil rights, jobs, housing and education reforms, died on Wednesday in Manhattan. He was 85.


His death, at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell hospital, was caused by complications from congestive heart failure, his son, David, said.


Mr. Badillo rode many horses on New York’s political merry-go-round from 1962 to 2001. Besides being elected to four terms in Congress, he was a city commissioner, the Bronx borough president, a deputy in the administration of Mayor Edward I. Koch, a counsel to Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, a candidate for state and city comptroller, and, for many years, a trustee and then board chairman of the City University of New York.


But the prize he most coveted – to be New York’s first Puerto Rican mayor – eluded him, despite six tries, in 1969, 1973, 1977, 1985, 1993 and 2001. The 1985 and 1993 bids were so short-lived that they hardly counted, and he never actually won a major-party endorsement, although he came close in 1973, losing to the city comptroller, Abraham D. Beame, in a Democratic primary runoff. Mr. Beame went on to be elected mayor.


In retrospect, the peaks of Mr. Badillo’s career were his seven years in Congress in the 1970s, when he advocated urban renewal, antipoverty programs, voting rights and bilingual education, and his leadership of the CUNY board from 1999 to 2001, when it ended open enrollment in the system’s senior colleges and raised standards for admission, graduation and curriculums after years of academic decline.


He called himself “the first Puerto Rican everything,” and it was true in a way. He was a role model who, through persistence, overcame an impoverished orphaned boyhood and an inability to speak English to become a famous politician. He lost many elections but won respect as a fighter, as the first Puerto Rican city commissioner and borough president, and as the nation’s highest-ranking Puerto Rican officeholder.


Mr. Badillo’s political odyssey was a long arc from Kennedy-style liberalism in the 1960s to Giuliani conservatism in the 1990s. He defied party loyalties and was by turns a Reform Democrat, a Democrat, a Republican and a neoconservative. A lean, broad-shouldered man with a proud, solemn bearing, he often spoke his mind bluntly, sometimes offending ethnic sensibilities and alienating constituents.


He once called Mr. Koch “cowardly” and derided Mr. Beame as “a malicious little man” during a televised mayoral primary debate in 1973. (The next day, Mr. Badillo said he had been referring to Mr. Beame’s “pettiness of mind” and not his physical stature. Mr. Beame was 5-foot-2, Mr. Badillo 6-foot-1.)


Early on, Mr. Badillo supported bilingual education and assistance for the poor. Later, he concluded that the immigrant’s path to assimilation and prosperity lay in self-reliance, not government largess; he advocated a meritocracy of standard achievement tests, opposed bilingual education and promoted urban renewal to create jobs and housing, even when it displaced poor people.


In the 1990s he became a Republican, Mr. Giuliani’s education adviser and Gov. George E. Pataki’s CUNY chairman. His last hurrah was a 2001 challenge to Michael R. Bloomberg for the Republican mayoral nomination. Even friends called it quixotic, but it reflected the trajectory of a self-made man who had often run the New York City Marathon and always thrived on adversity.


Herman Badillo (pronounced bah-DEE-yoh) was born in Caguas, P.R., on Aug. 21, 1929, the only child of Francisco and Carmen Rivera Badillo. His father, an English teacher, died when Herman was 1 and his mother, when he was 5, both of tuberculosis. Relatives took him in and at 11 he was sent to New York. Shunted among relatives, he lived in Chicago, in California and with an aunt in East Harlem’s barrio.


Mr. Badillo ran for mayor six times. He challenged Michael Bloomberg for the Republican mayoral nomination in 2001. Credit James Estrin/The New York Times

He learned English and became an excellent student at Haaren High School in Manhattan. Working as a dishwasher, bowling pinsetter and accountant, he graduated with high honors from City College in 1951 and from Brooklyn Law School as valedictorian in 1954, then settled into law practice in New York.


He married the first of three wives, Norma Lit, in 1949, had one son, and was divorced in 1960. In 1961, he married Irma Deutsch Leibling; she had Alzheimer’s disease and died in 1996. Later that year he married Gail Roberts, who lived with him in Manhattan and East Hampton, N.Y. She and his son survive him.


Mr. Badillo founded an East Harlem Kennedy-for-President committee in 1960 and supported Mayor Robert F. Wagner Jr.’s successful antimachine campaign for re-election the next year. The mayor rewarded him, in 1962, with the new post of commissioner of housing relocation.


Mr. Badillo went on to defy Bronx Democratic bosses and win the borough presidency in 1965. He opposed the Vietnam War, backed the presidential candidacies of Robert F. Kennedy and, after Senator Kennedy’s assassination, Senator Eugene J. McCarthy, and won a seat in Congress in 1970. He was re-elected in 1972, 1974 and 1976. But while his political life would continue for 25 years, he never won another election.


He quit his safe congressional seat in 1977, a year early, to become a deputy mayor to Mr. Koch. But they had a bitter falling-out over South Bronx redevelopment, and he departed in 1979. He lost a challenge to Mr. Koch in the 1985 Democratic mayoral primary and a 1986 race as a Democrat for state comptroller.


He fared no better as a Republican. In 1993, he did so poorly in a mayoral primary campaign against Mr. Giuliani that he dropped out early and became his rival’s Republican-Liberal running mate for city comptroller. He lost again, but Mr. Giuliani won and named him an education counselor.


In his book “One Nation, One Standard: An Ex-Liberal on How Hispanics Can Succeed Just Like Other Immigrant Groups” (2006), Mr. Badillo said that Hispanic Americans undervalued education, which he called tragic for the nation’s largest ethnic minority.


He was appointed CUNY chairman in 1999, but resigned in 2001 to make his final run for mayor, challenging the billionaire Mr. Bloomberg in the Republican primary. Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Pataki, his erstwhile patrons, backed Mr. Bloomberg, the winner, and Mr. Badillo retired from politics.



Herman Badillo, first Puerto Rico-born 

U.S. congressman, dies at 85

By Celeste Katz, With Jennifer Fermino

New York Daily News (December 3, 2014)


Herman Badillo, the nation’s first Puerto Rico-born congressman and a four-time candidate for mayor, has died. He was 85.


The pioneering Badillo, who represented the South Bronx in the House from 1971 to 1977, also served as Bronx borough president and ran for mayor as both a Democrat and later as a Republican.


Badillo died at New York Presbyterian Weill Cornell of complications of congestive heart failure, according to a spokesman, George Arzt.


“As the first Puerto Rican to be elected as Bronx Borough President, as U.S. Representative and to be a mayoral candidate in our city, Herman Badillo was one of my inspirations as a young man of Puerto Rican descent who was born and raised in the Bronx and pursuing a career in politics,” said Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. in a Wednesday statement announcing Badillo’s passing.


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

“Herman Badillo worked assiduously throughout his career to make a difference in the lives of countless individuals across our borough and city.”


Herman Badillo was born August 21, 1929 in Caguas, Puerto Rico. Orphaned by a tuberculosis epidemic, he moved to the United States as a boy with his aunt.


Badillo attended public schools, earned degrees from City College and Brooklyn Law School and also became a certified public accountant. He worked consistently during his schooling — setting up pins at a bowling alley and stocking food at an automat.


After his initial foray into politics via his work with local political clubs, Badillo went to work for then-Mayor Robert Wagner, serving as Commissioner of the Department of Relocation until his election as Bronx borough president in 1965.


Badillo made his first run for the Democratic nomination for mayor in 1969, and tried again in 1973.


Per the Library of Congress, “During his first term in the U.S. House of Representatives he gained a seat on the Committee on Education and Labor, where he worked on legislation on behalf of his district, where at the time forty-eight percent of the people spoke English as a second language. Through his efforts, job training for unemployed non-English-speaking citizens was included in the Comprehensive Manpower Act of 1973.”


Improving education — particularly for minorities — remained a lifelong passion of Badillo’s.


“I got the highest marks at Haaren [High School]. I graduated magna cum laude from City College, and in law school, I was first in my class,” he recalled in a 2001 Daily News profile.


“And what still gets me mad is that were it left to the Board of Education, I would have ended up in a job nobody holds anymore, shunted off as so many Puerto Rican kids were then, and now.”


Badillo left Congress to serve as deputy to then-Mayor Ed Koch, handling labor relations, but the two eventually had a falling out that led Badillo to leave City Hall to practice law — and later to support Koch’s rival, Mario Cuomo, in the 1982 gubernatorial primary.


The victorious Cuomo appointed Badillo head of the state Mortgage Agency.


In 1986, Badillo won the Democratic nomination for state controller, falling to the GOP’s Edward Regan.


Then in 1993, Badillo ran for city controller on a fusion ticket topped by Republican mayoral candidate Rudy Giuliani. Badillo lost to Alan Hevesi in the Democratic primary but remained a candidate on the GOP and Liberal Party tickets.


Badillo went on to work for the Giuliani Administration and became chairman of the Board of Trustees of the City University of New York.


In 1998, as the Daily News reported at the time, Badillo switched to the Republican Party, “pledging to crisscross the country in a marathon effort to lure armies of Hispanics into the GOP’s big tent. Minutes after bolting the Democratic Party, Badillo also opened the door to a possible race for mayor in 2001 despite his five flopped attempts to capture City Hall over two decades.”


The Republicans welcomed Badillo — who named Thomas Jefferson as his political idol — enthusiastically: “Herman Badillo is truly a crown jewel among the 370 elected and formerly elected Democrat office-holders who’ve joined us,” said GOP National Chairman Jim Nicholson.


He threw his hat in the ring for the mayoralty once again, losing to the ultimate victor, Michael Bloomberg, who had also ditched the Democratic Party for the GOP.


In 2011, Badillo returned to the Democratic Party, saying he did so to further his goal of improving education opportunities for minority students.


“As many know, a burning passion of mine and something I have been trying to accomplish for many years, in different capacities, has been to improve the educational system in New York City. More particularly to seek ways to close the educational gap between Hispanics and Blacks and other ethnic groups,” he wrote at the time.


“This is the particular area that I want to address in the future and I believe that my involvement can best be accomplished by returning to the Democratic Party.”


In keeping with his return to the fold, Badillo endorsed former city Controller Bill Thompson for mayor in 2013 after having supported Bloomberg four years earlier.


In the last decade, Badillo worked in the city office of two law firms, Sullivan Papain Block McGrath & Cannavo and Parker Waichman Alonso, and also served as a fellow of the Manhattan Institute.


The trailbreaking Badillo published his first book, “One Nation, One Standard: An Ex-Liberal on How Hispanics Can Succeed Just Like Other Immigrant Groups,” in 2006.


Said Gov. Cuomo in a condolence statement, “Today, New York lost one of its most cherished and revered citizens. Herman Badillo was a longtime public servant who dedicated himself to improving the lives of others. From his tenure as Bronx Borough President to his work leading the CUNY Board of Trustees, Herman was a shining example of how a dedication to civil service can make a difference in the world around us. As the Bronx’s first Puerto Rican Borough President, Herman also embodied the spirit of diversity that defines New York today, and his legacy will live on for years to come.


“On behalf of all New Yorkers, I offer my condolences to his friends and family. He will be greatly missed.”


Badillo, who lived on the upper East Side of Manhattan and in East Hampton, L.I., is survived by his wife, Gail, and son, David.


Private services will be held Sunday at the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Home, with eulogies delivered by Giuliani and former Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.


Update: Said Giuliani of Badillo in a statement, “He was a champion for civil rights, housing, jobs and safety, but for me his key contributions were in education. He was the first to point out the dangers of social promotion. He also pointed out that bi-lingual education, originally intended as a temporary criteria to learn English, had become, in many cases, permanent and therefore harmful to the development of young people. He wrote a report on the failures of the City University system that led to major reform – much of which he presided over as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the City University of New York.


“He was also a good friend whose counsel on all matters was always of great value. Judith and I will miss him greatly.


“Our good friend Gail gave him much love and attention to the very end and we are sure his last years and days were happy ones.


“Herman Badillo is in the pantheon of truly great New Yorkers.”

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