Former City Councilman Walter McCaffrey, who represented Sunnyside, Woodside and Long Island City for nearly two decades, died Wednesday. He was in his mid-60s.
McCaffrey died early in the morning and had been suffering from complications after a recent car accident several weeks ago, according to Liz Goff, a friend for many years. McCaffrey, a longtime Woodside resident, represented the 26th Council District and lost his seat due to term limits in 2001.
The news came as a major shock to a number of elected officials, including Borough President Helen Marshall, who said his death was a huge loss for Queens. Marshall said it was an honor to work with him.
“When he stood in the Council chamber to speak, everyone listened,” she said. “He was a very good lawmaker who left his mark on New York City government and the communities in Queens that he loved and represented so well. He has left us too soon.”
Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), who knew McCaffrey for nearly 20 years, described him as “one of the smartest and most clever elected officials in the history of western Queens.”
“Walter knew politics and the district better than just about anyone,” he said. “He knew how to run campaigns and also navigate the hands of government with great intelligence and deftness.”
Bramer added that he was “enormously proud” to have celebrated the Boulevard of Bravery in Woodside, which he said was one of McCaffrey’s last legislative accomplishments in office.
“Together we renamed that portion of Queens Boulevard in honor of firefighters who died on 9/11,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) said he was also saddened to learn of the passing of McCaffrey.
“Walter will long be remembered for his dedication to public service and his profound commitment to improving the lives of the people of Queens,” he said. “My thoughts and prayers are with Walter’s family during this difficult time and I join the entire community in mourning the loss of a true champion who fought tirelessly to build a better, stronger Queens.”
Goff, who knew McCaffrey for more than 30 years, said he was incredibly active as a councilman and that he served as chairman of Community Board 2 before being elected to public office.
“If someone said to him, ‘What’s happening with this or that? he never said ‘I have to get back to you’. He always had the answer,” she said. “He was totally in touch with everything that was going on.”
Goff said McCaffrey spearheaded a program in 1991 to combat prostitution in Long Island City, and he worked with several police precincts to ensure the program was effective.
“Long Island City was a sewer when Walter came in,” she said. “I worked on the project with him. I kept records of prostitutes who were arrested.”
McCaffrey was involved in a number of efforts in Dutch Kills, an area within Long Island City. Between 1995 and 1998, he helped to fund four major capital projects for $1,859 to improve the Dutch Kills Playground area. According to the city’s Parks and Recreation website, its asphalt ballfield was renovated between 1995 and 1997, a roller rink was established between 1996 and 1997 and the playground underwent an overall reconstruction in 1997 and 1998. He also funded a $678,780 renovation of Lou Lodati Park in Sunnyside in 1995.
Goff, as well as elected officials, said that McCaffrey left an indelible mark in the communities he served and will never be forgotten.
“Nobody worked harder and was more hands-on and honestly concerned about people than Walter,” she said.
Reach reporter Chris Engelhardt by e-mail at cengelhard
©2013 Community News Group
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