Former Bronx Congressman Biaggi dies at 97

Former Bronx Congressman Biaggi dies at 97
A former NYC police officer, Bronx Congressman Mario Biaggi, served as a U.S. Representative from New York for 19 years until resigning in 1988.
Photo courtesy of the Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives

Well-known for his go-to reputation and direct involvement in his constituents’ affairs, former Bronx Congressman Mario Biaggi died last Wednesday, June 24 at his Riverdale apartment. He was 97.

Born to Italian immigrants on October 26, 1917 in East Harlem, Biaggi would go on to lead a life filled with both triumphs and tribulations.

A graduate of P.S. 171, Harren High School, Biaggi joined the NYPD in 1942 to protect and serve the community for 23 years before retiring in 1965 with the rank of Detective Lieutenant.

A highly decorated officer, Biaggi’s heroism is remembered when he saved a woman on a runaway horse, which resulted in him having a permanent limp.

During his law enforcement career, Biaggi was wounded 10 times and killed two suspects in self-defense and was awarded the police department’s Medal of Honor and the National Police Officers Association of America’s Medal of Valor in addition to 27 other decorations.

Despite lacking a college education, Biaggi attended New York Law School on a full scholarship after its dean Daniel Gutman heard him speak at a public event.

Biaggi earned his law degree in 1963 and a few years later founded the New York law firm Biaggi, Enrich and Lang.

Bob Nolan, Ancient Order of the Hibernians Bronx County Board president and friend of both the late congressman and his family, first met Biaggi in 1968 when he ran for Congress in the East Bronx.

This same year, Biaggi was elected to the 91st Congressional District as a Democrat in a landslide victory earning 60.5% of the vote.

“He set a standard for better response times for his constituents and preferably got involved in their affairs,” Nolan said. “He worked very hard and developed a reputation as a ‘go-to-guy’ to get things done.”

Biaggi was committed to serving the various ethic groups throughout his district and made a conscious effort to fully understand their cultures.

Nolan shared the time when he found a copy of the book, ‘The Joys of Jiddiah’ in Biaggi’s car.

When asked about it, Biaggi told his friend he was reading the book between trips to learn more about the people he represented.

True to his word, Biaggi established the Ad Hoc Committee on Irish Affairs in Congress and fought hard on behalf of the Irish-Catholic minority in Northern Ireland arguing for their basic human rights to be recognized and for a united Irish republic.

In 1973, Biaggi declared his candidacy for mayor of New York City, but finished in fourth place receiving 10.96% of the vote.

On August 5, 1988, Biaggi resigned from Congress after being convicted in two separate corruption trials and was sentenced to eight years in prison. He was released in 1991 due to declining health.

The following year, Biaggi attempted a political comeback by challenging Representative Eliot Engel for his former seat in the Democratic primary, but lost.

In 2011, Biaggi was honored by the Ancient Order of Hibernians with the ‘Friend of the Irish’ award recognizing his many contributions to the Irish community. His son Mario, Jr. accepted the award on his father’s behalf due to health issues.

A memorial service for the late former congressman was held on Monday, June 27 and Tuesday, June 28 at Riverdale on the Hudson Funeral Home.

The AOH gathered Tuesday to offer prayers to Biaggi and his family which according to Nolan is the first time the group has done this for someone non-Irish.

A funeral Mass was held at St. Phillip Neri Church on Wednesday, July 1 and Biaggi will be laid to rest at Gate of Heaven Cemetery.

Biaggi is survived by his four children Jacqueline, Barbara, Richard and Mario, Jr., his 11 grandchildren, and his four great-grandchildren.

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