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Never The Top Dog, Political Animal Quits


January 18, 2004
Copyright ©2004 THE NEW YORK TIMES. All rights reserved.

That's it, Herman Badillo says – no more political campaigns for him. Absolutely, he promises.

For nearly four decades, Mr. Badillo has been a prominent warhorse of New York City politics, from his 1965 election as Bronx borough president through his losing race for mayor in 2001.

That was his fourth unsuccessful run for City Hall, and there were two aborted bids as well.

But an election that he did win made him an ethnic pioneer nationally. Capturing a seat in the House of Representatives in 1970, in a district comprising parts of the Bronx, Manhattan and Queens, he became the first person of Puerto Rican descent elected to Congress from any state. He was re-elected three times, but gave up the seat after seven years when Edward I. Koch appointed him a deputy mayor.

But being elected the top dog at City Hall proved elusive, as Mr. Badillo failed to win four mayoral primary contests – as a Democrat in 1969, '73 and '77, and as a Republican in 2001, when Michael R. Bloomberg trounced him. Many politicians saw Mr. Badillo's effort that year as quixotic, noting that he had little money, was facing a billionaire opponent and had little backing in the Republican Party for his bid.

Last week, Mr. Badillo, 74, said he had "no intention of running again for mayor or any office."

"I think that's enough for me," he said. "I never said that before."

Speaking by telephone, he stressed that purging the campaign bug from his blood did not mean he was ceasing his efforts to influence public policy. "I find I can change policies without being in elective office," he said.

Indeed, as the appointed vice chairman and then chairman of the City University of New York from 1997 to 2001, Mr. Badillo successfully spearheaded a bitterly controversial effort to tighten admission and graduation requirements at CUNY and remove remedial courses from its senior colleges.

He is currently an adviser to Gov. George E. Pataki on reforming the state's Medicaid program. And he continues to practice law at his firm, Fischbein Badillo Wagner Harding, which is considered one of the most politically connected law firms in the city and where Mr. Badillo handles matters including real estate, banking and medical malpractice.

"I don't intend to retire," Mr. Badillo said.

He also has another goal. Family history has it that "my great-grandfather in Puerto Rico lived till 108," he said, and "I hope to tie that record."

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