Herman Badillo, who served as Bronx borough president from 1966 to 1970, was a trailblazing Puerto Rican and Latino elected official for decades. He was elected to Congress for four terms, starting in the 1970s, from a district that included a portion of the southern Bronx.
He was the first native Puerto Rican to be elected to the U.S. Congress. He was a candidate for mayor, for city and state comptroller, and was a certified public accountant.
In his later career he moved his liberal political leanings more to the right, and became a close ally of former Mayor Giulani in the 1990s.
He served as board chairman of the City University of New York, as well as a chairman for BronxNet public access television.
Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., who honored Badillo with an induction onto the Bronx Walk of Fame in 2010, saw the elder statesman as a role model.
“I am deeply saddened by the passing of a man whom I looked up to as a role model and who represented Latinos, Bronxites and all New Yorkers as an exemplary public servant,” stated the borough president, when news of Badillo’s passing broke on Wednesday, December 3.
“As the first Puerto Rican to be elected as Bronx borough president, as a 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 Diaz.
“He was a true Bronxite and the epitome of a passionate leader who truly cared for his community. Herman Badillo worked assiduously throughout his career to make a difference in the lives of countless individuals across our borough and city,” he added.
The borough president said that, most importantly, Badillo was a close mentor and a personal friend.
“Herman was always there to listen to questions and offer advice,” he said. “He was a guiding voice early in my career, and he remained a rock throughout my time in elected office.”
Former borough president Fernando Ferrer said that the Herman Badillo he met in the late 1960s and early 1970s was quite a man.
“He believed in all the things that I think made huge contributions to our community, as well as to New York,” said Ferrer. “His advocacy was even inspiring, And I think those are things that will make history ultimately be very kind to him.”
However, Ferrer said that the Badillo he encountered in the 1990s confused him.
“He became a different guy in the 1990s, but I prefer to remember the early Herman,” he said.
Senator Jeff Klein called Badillo a pioneer who was an outstanding voice for Bronx residents and the entire Hispanic community.
“As the first Puerto Rican leader to be elected as borough president and then to Congress, he paved the way for so many others that would later follow in his footsteps,” said Klein.
Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said she was saddening to hear of the trailblazing Badillo’s passing.
“Herman rose as a leader in the 1950s and 60s, an era in which he defended a community that was openly branded as ‘a problem’ for this city,” she said.
According to published reports, Badillo’s death was attributed to congestive heart failure.