Richard J. Keane Jr., a longtime power in South Buffalo politics who served 33 years in public office, died Tuesday in his winter home in Florida. He was 75.
Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, a longtime friend who considered Mr. Keane his mentor, said the former Democratic assemblyman and chairman of the Erie County Legislature collapsed early Tuesday and could not be revived.
Higgins noted that while Mr. Keane traveled in Albany's lofty political circles, he never forgot where he came from.
"His roots were Seneca Street, South Buffalo, community and family -- right up to the day he died," Higgins said. "He was a neighborhood politician in the best sense of the word."
Mr. Keane was born into a South Buffalo family of 16 children, several of whom also entered public life. He graduated from Boys Vocational High School and served in the Air Force and for 18 years was a member of the Buffalo Fire Department.
He began his political career in 1965 as a member of the old Board of Supervisors, served as the first Democratic chairman of its successor -- the County Legislature -- and was elected to the Assembly in 1976. He held several leadership posts, including chairman of the Subcommittee on Waterways, chairman of the Agriculture Committee and chairman of the Committee on Committees.
With his gravely voice and bulldog-like countenance, Mr. Keane typified an old-time Irish pol with his knowledge of every corner of his South Buffalo district. But he was also known as an effective legislator who took special pride in working with his Western New York colleagues to present a unified front in Albany.
"The one good thing we've been able to establish is that this delegation -- Republicans and Democrats -- works together," he said upon announcing his retirement in 1998.
Indeed, colleagues remembered him Tuesday for his respect of politics and government.
"He loved the institution, and he especially loved serving constituents," recalled former Assembly Majority Leader Paul A. Tokasz, D-Cheektowaga. "And his camaraderie with colleagues in the institution was really something. I cherished being part of it."
State Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo offered another tribute, calling Mr. Keane "a great friend to me and my family and an extraordinary advocate for Western New York."
"Dick's storied and decorated career of service to his community created a model to be emulated by all public officials," Cuomo said. "He understood that effective public service meant being accessible and responsive to his neighborhood and knowing his district inside and out."
Mr. Keane mostly cruised to re-election throughout his career but counted among his finest moments his 1986 primary victory against former Fire Commissioner Fred D. Langdon an ally of former Mayor James D. Griffin.
A family man with a passion for golf, the New York Yankees and all things political, he was part of a tight group of South Buffalo friends who often gathered in DiTondo's Tavern in downtown Buffalo to hash over events of the day. His Potters Road home in South Buffalo was also the scene of a community open house every Election Day.
He and his late friend Thomas V. Blake founded the annual St. Patrick's Day Luncheon in the Buffalo Irish Center, now considered a political rite of spring.
Among his many siblings are former Deputy County Executive James P., who served on the Common Council and unsuccessfully ran for county executive in 2007; and Cornelius J., retired commissioner of the Buffalo Fire Department.
Another brother, Joseph J., who was born with Down syndrome and was known throughout his neighborhood as the "mayor of South Buffalo," died last year.
He is survived by his wife, the former Mary Walsh; five sons: Richard III, Michael, Patrick, Kevin (a Buffalo city judge) and Neil; and a daughter, Kathleen Gallivan.
In addition to his brothers James and Cornelius, he is survived by seven sisters, Nancy Lafferty, Mary Alice O'Neil, Sally Prevean, Connie Smith, Margaret Ray, Maureen Sullivan and Catherine, and four brothers, Thomas, Michael, Daniel and Peter.
Funeral arrangements are incomplete.
-- Robert J. McCarthy