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And then there were two—Political pioneer Basil Paterson, passes at 87

Herb Boyd | 4/17/2014, 11:45 a.m.
Attorney Basil Alexander Paterson, one of the legendary “Gang of Four” from Harlem, was as warm and gregarious as he ...
"Gang of Four"

Attorney Basil Alexander Paterson, one of the legendary “Gang of Four” from Harlem, was as warm and gregarious as he was astute and generous with his time and praise for those he deemed equals and to Mr. and Mrs. Nobody just wanting a chance to shake his hand.

That hand is no longer available. Paterson, 87, died Wednesday evening, eleven days before his birthday, April 27, at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Manhattan. No cause was given for his death, though it was reported of a lingering illness.

“Basil was well known throughout the community as a man of action, as someone who set his mind to accomplishments and always met those goals,” his son, former Governor David Paterson said in a statement. “He was a selfless leader and he dedicated his life to making sure others’ lives were better. Throughout his life, he was known as a pillar of strength by so many throughout New York. For that, we know he was grateful.”

Paterson was indeed a remarkable personality and his political acumen and influence reached well beyond Harlem and New York City. But it resonated with distinct clarity and passion among his associates and constituents, all of whom have begun forwarding their condolences and precious memories of him.

“The Gang of 4 is no more,” former Mayor David Dinkins stated in an email. “Basil Paterson was not only the smartest among us; he was one of the most decent human beings and sharpest political minds around. As Deputy Mayor, Secretary of State, or labor lawyer, he counseled generations—from Presidents to shop stewards in his dignified and brilliantly incisive manner. He was also one of the greatest friends anyone could hope for. My heart goes out to Portia [his wife], David, Daniel [his son], and his grandchildren.”

Congressman Charles Rangel, who with Dinkins remains of the Gang of Four, (Percy Sutton joined the ancestors in 2009, at 89), said, “I am deeply saddened that my friend and brother, Basil Paterson, has passed away. No one has ever had an unkind thing to say about Basil—he was a man of great integrity, justice, and courage to do what is right. I am honored and grateful to have known and worked with Basil.” Rangel recalled the splendid working relationship he had with all the members of the “gang” and noted that in “everything he did in and out of office, Basil was a pioneer who blazed the trail for a generation of leaders in Harlem….”

Among the current crop of leaders is City Comptroller Scott Stringer who said “New York has lost a true giant and trailblazer with the passing of Basil Paterson. Over decades in public service, Basil was a mentor to many in politics and a tireless fighter for civil rights. He will always be remembered by thousands of New Yorkers as a man who should have been mayor. My thoughts and prayers go out to Governor Paterson and the entire Paterson family.”

As the patriarch of the Paterson family, Basil was a true son of Harlem where he was born in 1926 and matriculated, though he earned his high school diploma from De Witt Clinton in the Bronx in 1942. His mother, Evangeline Rondon, was a secretary for Marcus Garvey, just one of the amazing facts he used to regale reporters and admirers.