The loss of Harlem-born General Colin Powell was felt by elected leaders across the city on Monday with all recognizing his service in the military and the first black Secretary of State.
For Mayor Bill de Blasio, the general’s upbringing was regarded as an exquisite example of what a New York City success story looks, giving a tip of the hat to Powell’s birth to immigrant parents and his ultimate rise to the world’s stage as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and National Security Advisor.
“But what we all feel as New Yorkers was, he was – he was an example of the greatness of New York City. An absolutely classic New York City story, born to Jamaican immigrants, grew up in Harlem and the Bronx, graduated Morris High School in the Bronx, a graduate of our New York City public schools, went to City College – just an absolute great example of the good, the talent, the ability that comes out of the city,” de Blasio said. “So, he’s someone we’re going to miss a lot, but we’re particularly going to miss him because he showed the world what New York City is all about, that anyone here – anyone and everyone has the opportunity to be great, and that we foster it, we respect it, we believe in each New Yorker. We’re going to miss him a lot. He made us very, very proud.”
Powell was born to Jamaican immigrants, Luther and Maud Powell, and attended public school at Morris High School before studying geology at the City College of New York. His upbringing in the South Bronx made leaders in the borough proud.
“Our borough has lost a giant today,” Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. said on Twitter. “Thank you for your years of service and never forgetting The Bronx.”
City Department of Health Commissioner Dave Chokshi said that Powell’s death from afar looks like a classic breakthrough case in which a fully vaccinated person can still come under dire attack by COVID-19, overwhelming an elderly or compromised immune system.
“Being vaccinated very significantly decreases your chances of severe illness and death. No vaccine is 100 percent effective. And while the vaccines available currently are highly effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalizations, and deaths, we do know that there will be some infrequent occasions that do result in these severe outcomes. I have no knowledge of the specific circumstances in this case,” Chokshi said during a morning press conference. “That’s one more reason why everyone needs to get vaccinated, even if they are healthy. Because it helps protect not just them, but also those who are more vulnerable.”
Brooklyn Borough President and Democratic nominee for mayor, Eric Adams stated that, “his life is a testament to the enduring power of the American dream. As a Black man who has spent my career fighting for a more just and equitable society, I am in awe of Mr. Powell’s considerable accomplishments, and his ability to overcome the bigotry he faced in order to reach the highest levels of the military.”
Speaker Carl Heastie, Congressman Jamaal Bowman, Senator Jamaal Bailey and Councilman Kevin Riley backed up the mayor’s statement by accentuating the precedent set by Powell as a leader from a community of color.
“Born in Harlem and raised in the Bronx by Jamaican parents, General Powell helped blaze a trail for men and women of color at the highest levels of government. He became the first African American to serve as national security advisor, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and secretary of state. During his time in public service, he was a highly esteemed public servant and trusted advisor.”
President Joe Biden acknowledged the example set by Powell as a public servant who treated adversaries with respect and one who put the country above party affiliations. One example of this was Powell’s defection from the Republican Party after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capital inspired by former President Donald Trump.
“Colin embodied the highest ideals of both warrior and diplomat. He was committed to our nation’s strength and security above all. Having fought in wars, he understood better than anyone that military might alone was not enough to maintain our peace and prosperity. From his front-seat view of history, advising presidents and shaping our nation’s policies, Colin led with his personal commitment to the democratic values that make our country strong.”
Powell, at 84, leaves behind his wife, Alma, their children Linda, Annemarie, and Michael as well as grandchildren.
“While we both represent two different political parties and I’ve questioned his role with regard to the Iraq War, as also he ultimately did, he was a principled statesman who loved his country,” Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, another New Yorker born to Jamaican parents, said. “We are all beneficiaries of his decades of service and his life and legacy are a testament to the greatness of this man.”
Powell’s reputation was known to suffer at times, first as President George W. Bush’s Secretary of State, a period in which he delivered an address to the United Nations on Iraq War that was known to have alienated Democrats and damaged U.S. relations with the global organization.