New York Democrat Bill Perkins, 'giant' of Harlem, dies

May 18, 2023

Longtime New York Democratic politician Bill Perkins, who represented Harlem at the local and state level for decades, has died at the age of 74.

The former state senator and New York City councilman died at home in Harlem, his wife Pamela said. The cause of death wasn't shared.

Perkins represented the city's Harlem neighborhood for 25 years. He started in the City Council from 1998 to 2005 before rising to the state Senate, where he served from 2007 to 2017, and then returning to the council until his public career ended in 2021.

New York lawmaker dies

Some highlights of Perkins' career include advocating lead paint laws, as well as defending a group of black men, known as the Central Park Five, accused of raping a white jogger in Central Park.

"After a lifetime fighting for justice, equality and to make the voices of our community heard, my husband, former City Councilman and State Senator Perkins died at home in Harlem, the community he loved and fought for his entire life," Perkins' wife wrote. "May he rest in peace and in power.”

In 2015, Perkins was among a group of black leaders who welcomed socialist dictator Nicolaus Maduro to New York.

"We recognize that in the person of Nicolás Maduro, the president of Venezuela, we have an exceptional leader,” Perkins said.

"Giant" of Harlem

His death has led to an outpouring of tributes from the state's Democrats, all the way down from the top.

Governor Kathy Hochul called him a "fierce advocate for justice and a steadfast voice for his community throughout his career," while New York Mayor Eric Adams called Perkins a "giant."

"Bill Perkins was a legend of New York government. He was also a good friend. I will miss his company and his counsel," Adams said.

Health challenges

Born and raised by a single mom in Harlem, Perkins was educated at the Collegiate School and later, Brown University.

Toward the end of his public career, Perkins suffered health problems including colon cancer, which was treated successfully. Despite concerns about his fitness, Perkins narrowly lost a primary for his city council seat in 2021.

His successor, socialist Kristin Richardson Jordan, dropped out of seeking re-election on the same day that Perkins died.

"Thank you for seeing the true possibility for radical love in the loveless land of politics,” Richardson Jordan wrote.


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