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The Passing of Basil Paterson, the Loss of a Patriarch for Harlem

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By Tony Best
Special to the NNPA from the New York Carib News

“A selfless leader” and a man of action” who “dedicated his life to making sure other lives were better.” A tribute from a son about his distinguished father, Basil Paterson, who died a few days ago at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Manhattan at the age of 87.

The words of praise came from the man who became the first Black Governor of the State of New York, David Paterson who was counseled in the latter period of his two years as Governor by his father, the advisor to mayors, governors, labor leaders and even a U.S. President or two.

Now, many of the people who sought and received his advice during his more than 60 years as a New York State Senator, Deputy Mayor of New York City, Secretary of State of New York, labor attorney, negotiator and federal mediator are showering him and his memory with tributes that speak to his sophistication, wisdom, grit, ability to get on with people and achieve goals that have made the City and state the great places they are today, even in the toughest of times.

“Basil Paterson, exemplified a model of public leadership, serving the people of New York with integrity and dedication to make the state a better place,” said Governor Andrew Cuomo, who succeeded Paterson’s son David in 2010. “From his service in the U.S. Army during World War 11 to breaking barriers to become New York’s first African-American Secretary of State, Basil Paterson put his commitment to this state and our nation first. His legacy inspired a new generation of talented public leadership, a legacy his son, David Paterson, carried on as Governor. “

A close friend, supporter and ally in many of the battles they fought to boost life in Harlem was former Mayor David Dinkins, who like Paterson and his son broke the racial barrier that had previously placed high office out of the reach of Blacks. Dinkins and Paterson had linked arms with Percy Sutton, a dedicated civil rights activist, former Manhattan Borough President and successful media owner and executive who led the way in Black owned radio stations in New York and across the country; and U.S. Congressman Charles Rangel, a former Chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. They became known as the “Gang of Four,” powerful movers and shakers in Harlem and beyond.

“The Gang of four is no more,” said Dinkins on learning of Paterson’s death. “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 one of the greatest friends anyone could hope for.”

Congressman Rangel was equally effusive in his praise. “He was a man of great integrity, justice and courage to do what is right,” said the federal lawmakers who has spent more than 40 years on Capitol Hill.

“In everything he did in and out of office, Basil was a pioneer who blazed the trail for a generation of leaders in Harlem, in our City and across the state,” Rangel said. “Basil broke so many barriers, giving voice to our community in his own special and unfortgettable way.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio put it differently. “New York City has lost a progressive giant who committed his life to lifting up others,” the new City chief executive declared. “Like so many in this City, I often sought Basil’s advice and gained from his wisdom throughout the most than 20 years I had the honor of working with him. He helped to shape the thinking of so many of today’s leaders in our city and state. And while Basil was known as a trailblazer, he was also a family man who cared deeply for his wife and children, and my thoughts are with my good friend David today.”

U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, described Paterson as “one of the ‘lions of Harlem’” and “a groundbreaking public servant. No matter your political views or what neighborhood you came from, everyone respected Basil Paterson, and that was why he successfully mediated so many seemingly intractable disputes.”

Paterson was the son of Caribbean immigrant parents – a father from Grenada and a Jamaica born mother who at one stage was the Secretary of Marcus Garvey when he led the Universal Negro Improvement Association, perhaps the greatest Black mass movement of the 20th century in the U.S.

Like Paterson and his Caribbean immigrant roots, Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, a Brooklyn Democrat, was born in New York but traced her background to Jamaica and in a statement said his “contributions to the civil society we share today were considerable – as a civil rights activist, an attorney supporting the rights of workers, as a member of the New York State Senate and a Deputy Mayor for labor relations, in which he provided critical assistance in negotiating contract that allowed New York City to avoid bankruptcy.”

Letitia James, the City’s Public Advocate, who sat as a member of the City Council when Clarke represented a Brooklyn district at City Hall, saw Paterson’s death as the “lost of a patriarch” for Harlem and the lost of a “champion” for New York City.

“Basil Paterson dedicated his life life to helping New Yorkers and inspired countless people into public service, paving the way for other leaders, particularly in the Black community,” said James.

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