Walter McCaffrey, Longtime Councilmember, Dies At Age 64
Throngs of Queens political figures, civic leaders, friends and former constituents from Woodside, Sunnyside and Long Island City flocked to St. Sebastian R.C. Church in Woodside this past Monday morning to say a final goodbye to their former councilmember, Walter McCaffrey, who passed away last Wednesday at the age of 64.
Many more had stopped by Edward D. Lynch Funeral Home on Queens Boulevard in Sunnyside to pay their final respects to the larger-than-life 16-year city lawmaker who had dedicated himself to bettering their lives over that long period of time.
As a mark of respect to McCaffrey’s memory, Mayor Michael Bloomberg had ordered all flags lowered to half staff all day Monday—including the American flag, the New York state and city flags and the POW-MIA flags on all city buildings and stationary flag staffs throughout the five boroughs.
According to close friends, McCaffrey died after a brief illness at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan. He is widely recognized as a hardworking, astute lawmaker who stood apart from many of his contemporaries because of his quick wit and debating skills and his unbroken commitment, first and foremost to serve the interests of his district and constituents in the City Council.
Peter Vallone Sr., who served as speaker of the council throughout McCaffrey’s 16 years of service there, recalled recently that the lawmaker pushed through community and constituent-oriented laws protective of local neighborhoods.
These included barring adult entertainment businesses from middle class neighborhoods or near schools to protect children.
As chairman of the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises, he guided legislation through the council mandating security cameras at ATMs Karlingto protect customers, and also had the public in mind when he
Waltersponsored a law which regulated bank surcharge fees at ATMs.
PhotoMcCaffrey was also behind the establishment of the Borden Avenue Veterans Residence in Long Island City near the Queens Midtown Tunnel exits, operated by the Salvation Army for homeless veterans.
McCaffrey was born and grew up in Woodside, attending local schools there. He attended and graduated from Msgr. McClancy Memorial H.S. in East Elmhurst and then Iona College in New Rochelle. He started his political career working as Chief of Staff to Manhattan Borough President Andrew Stein, and after Stein moved up to the state Assembly, in 1969, McCaffrey became an aide to then Councilmember Thomas Manton.
When Manton decided to retire from Congress in 1998, he chose Joseph Crowley as his successor and timed his resignation so there would be no election. Several other pols complained about the arrangement, including McCaffrey and Assemblymember Catherine Nolan, who also eyed Manton’s seat.
When Crowley was up for election in 2000, McCaffrey announced he would also seek the seat, but dropped out later.
Once out of the council in 2001, McCaffrey became a lobbyist. His most notable campaign was against Mayor Bloomberg’s congestion pricing proposal to reduce traffic in Lower Manhattan. McCaffrey was given credit for the plan’s failure.
Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer (D–Sunnyside), who succeeded McCaffrey when term limits started in 2001, recalled him as “one of the smartest and most clever elected officials in the history of Western Queens”.
Van Bramer stated: “He was a political giant for many years working with the late Congressmember Thomas Manton (whom McCaffrey succeeded in the council)… Walter knew politics and the district better than just about anyone. He knew how to run campaigns and also navigate the hands of government.”
Van Bramer also credited McCaffrey for “one of Walter’s last legislative accomplishments in office” —the creation of the Boulevard of Bravery in Woodside, so named to honor the firefighters who died on 9/11.
Another lawmaker who remembered McCaffrey was Congressmember Carolyn Maloney (D–Queens/Manhattan), who served with McCaffrey in the city council, and after becoming a congressmember. She also worked with him as their districts overlapped in Western Queens.
“During that time,” Maloney recalled, “I enjoyed working with him on a number of issues. He was a tireless public servant, dedicated to quality of life issues in his community and focused on more comprehensive topics, like consumer protection. Walter loved his community and the city of New York. He will be greatly missed.”
Congressmember Joseph Crowley (D–Queens/The Bronx) said in a statement, he was “deeply saddened to learn of the passing” of McCaffrey.
Crowley stated, “Walter will long be remembered for his dedication to public service and his profound commitment to improving the lives of the people of Queens. 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.”
Assemblymember Catherine Nolan (D–Ridgewood) said she remembered McCaffrey as “a teacher and mentor who always gave me his support, particularly his many kindnesses when I began my own political career.”
Nolan recalled, “Walter’s service as our community board chairman and our councilman was outstanding, particularly his work on parks, and his support for Sunnyside community services and our seniors was very successful. His work for so many organizations in our neighborhood will always be a fine tribute to his memory.”
Nolan said she was “so very sad to learn” of McCaffrey’s passing, “he was a great leader in our community who shared his considerable political skills with generosity and humor…”.
State Senator Michael Gianaris (D–Western Queens) said in a statement, “Walter McCaffrey served our community with distinction for decades. His intelligence and pleasant demeanor made him both effective and a pleasure to work with. He will be sorely missed. May he rest in peace.”
Queens Borough President Helen Marshall recalled, “Walter was a veteran member of the city council. I had the pleasure of serving with him there for many years. He was an eloquent and very effective speaker. When he stood in the council chamber to speak, everyone listened. He was a very good lawmaker who left his mark on New York City government and in the communities in Queens that he loved and represented so well. He will be missed by many, may he rest in peace.”