Antonio Pagan, a contentious figure in East Village politics, has died at the age of 50. Cause of death was not revealed, though he was said to have been battling an illness.
Pagan first came to public attention in the early 1990s as an advocate for clearing Tompkins Square Park of the homeless who traditionally gathered there, and an opponent of poverty programs, though he began his political career as a developer of affordable housing. He was a co-founder of the Democratic Action Club, the manifesto for which said, “We reject the myth that poverty is cool, somehow politically correct or a way to hide from adult responsibility.”
Pagan’s antipathy to some of his poorer neighbors and his real estate machinations were controversial and he was the frequent target of tenant advocates and gay activists and local paper The Shadow. But his hard-ass stands won him significant political endorsements and national attention, and three terms in the city council, of which he and Tom Duane were the first gay members.
In 1997 Pagan vacated his seat, which was taken over by Margarita Lopez, to run unsuccessfully for borough president. That year he endorsed Rudolph Giuliani for mayor — though in Giuliani’s first term Pagan had opposed the mayor’s attempt to put a Pathmark in Harlem — and served as his commissioner of employment.
As you will see in the comments to the Times item, Pagan’s name still summons the memory of old gentrification battles — which, it must be said, Pagan largely won. For good or for ill, the East Village of today is shaped by his influence.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 27, 2009