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James P. Keane, former deputy county executive, dies

James P. Keane, former South Council member, deputy Erie County executive and Democratic candidate for Congress and county executive, died unexpectedly Monday in Mercy Hospital in Buffalo following surgery, sources told The Buffalo News on Monday evening.

Mr. Keane, a resident of Orchard Park and a member of one of Western New York's most prominent political families, was 70.

He was the brother of the late Assemblyman Richard Keane and retired Buffalo Fire Commissioner Cornelius Keane. His wife, Margaret, was the first woman Buffalo firefighter and later became a deputy fire commissioner. Two of his children are Buffalo firefighters and another currently has a position in City Hall.

One of 16 children, Mr. Keane served in the Air Force in Thailand during the Vietnam War and returned to Buffalo to become a city firefighter. After serving in the Common Council in the 1980s, he lost to Dennis Gorski in a Democratic primary for Erie County executive, then became Gorski's deputy after serving as the county's commissioner of emergency services.

James P. Keane stands with then-Senator Hillary Clinton as she cut the ribbon on her office in the Guaranty Building in 2001. (Buffalo News file photo)

He ran unsuccessfully against Chris Collins for county executive in 2007.

"Jim was Mr. Democrat," former Erie County Democratic chairman Leonard Lenihan said Monday night. "He just ate, slept and lived Democratic politics. And he was a great candidate. One of his greatest races was against Jack Kemp in 1986 and he almost beat him, just to show you what an amazing campaigner he was. His whole life was connecting with working people. We lost one of our best."

Mr. Keane also served as the first regional manager in Hillary Clinton's Buffalo office after she was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2000.

"He was the prototype of a politician, always happy, always smiling," said Sam Hoyt, regional president of the Empire State Economic Development Corp. and a former assemblyman. "He was the go-to guy because he had the fire in the belly, he had the energy and the enthusiasm. He always stepped up for the cause."

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