Antonio Pagan, former city councilmember, 50


By Lincoln Anderson

Antonio Pagan, the former East Village city councilmember, died at Beth Israel Hospital at 2:45 a.m. on Sunday. He was 50 years old. According to friends, the cause of death was kidney failure, although another friend said it might have been a stroke.

Pagan, who lived on E. Third St., was reportedly in bad health in recent years. He had become extremely overweight. During the last year and a half, he had been in and out of the hospital four times.

Pagan was councilmember from 1991 to 1997, and was one of the first openly gay members of the City Council.

After an unsuccessful run for Manhattan borough president in ’97, he landed a job in the Giuliani administration as commissioner of the Department of Employment.

After Giuliani left office, Pagan attended culinary school, and more recently reportedly was working as either a consultant or an employee at Lower East Side Coalition Housing, the group where he got his start.

Zulma Zayas, head of Coalition Housing, declined to comment, but said the organization “will send a statement to community agencies” shortly and is planning a memorial in the near future.

Roberto Caballero, a former Democratic district leader and early ally of Pagan’s, said he heard plans are for Pagan to be cremated.

Pagan was a proverbial lightning rod for controversy during his tenure as the neighborhood’s councilmember, as a conservative Democrat in a traditionally politically progressive area. His positions on housing, squatters, community gardens and the homeless “Tent City” in Tompkins Square Park were at odds with those of many people in the neighborhood. Yet his supporters credited him with helping “clean up” the East Village.

When Downtown Express called former City Councilmember Margarita Lopez — who over the years battled frequently with Pagan, then succeeded him in the council — on Tuesday, it was the first she had heard of the news.

“Oh, my God,” she said. “He was so young. I hope that he is in peace.”