Basil Paterson, Renowned Harlem Political Leader, Dies at 87

Paterson was New York’s first African-American Secretary of State and was the father of the state’s first Black governor.

Posted: 04/17/2014 12:23 PM EDT

Basil A. Paterson, a political trailblazer in New York who was an influential figure in the state as well as the father of former Gov. David A. Paterson, died on Wednesday at the age of 87.

Paterson was New York’s first African-American secretary of state and was known as a central figure in Harlem as part of the so-called “Gang of Four,” a group that included former Mayor David N. Dinkins, Congressman Charles B. Rangel and Percy E. Sutton, the former Manhattan Borough President, who died five years ago.

In addition to his active role in the politics of Harlem and the state of New York, Paterson was also an experienced and highly sought after labor lawyer.

Paterson’s political experience began when he was elected to the state senate in 1965. He gave up that seat in 1970 to run for lieutenant governor of New York as the running mate of former Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg. That Democratic ticket lost to the incumbent, Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and Lt. Gov. Malcolm Wilson.

By 1978, Paterson was named as a deputy mayor in the administration of Ed Koch and left that position in 1979 when he became New York’s secretary of state in the administration of Gov. Hugh Carey.

For years, Paterson worked as a member of the law firm of Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klein, where he was co-chairman of the firm’s labor law practice.

In 2006, his son, David, was elected lieutenant governor on a ticket with Eliot Spitzer, who resigned in 2008. David succeeded to the governor’s office, a move that the senior Paterson said might “get in the way” of his work as a lawyer and negotiator for the hospital workers and Teamsters unions.

Paterson was born in Manhattan in 1926 to Caribbean immigrants (his mother had once worked for Marcus Garvey). He grew up in Harlem and enrolled at St. John’s University. After serving in the Army, he returned to St. Johns and earned a bachelor’s degree in biology and became a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity. He earned a law degree from St. John’s in 1951.

Follow Jonathan Hicks on Twitter: @HicksJonathan

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 (Photo: AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

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