Former Westchester Democratic Chairman Reginald LaFayette, one of the leading Democrats in the county, died early Saturday. He was 69.
A cause of death was not immediately known.
LaFayette, who was still serving as the county’s Democratic elections commissioner at the Board of Elections, had a long and distinguished career not only in political circles but in municipal government in his home community of Mount Vernon. He had served as comptroller and deputy comptroller as well as city clerk in Mount Vernon before he moved up to White Plains to become elections commissioner.
“I can’t believe he’s gone,” said County Executive George Latimer who was friends with LaFayette for 45 years since they both worked in Mount Vernon City Hall and coaching a Little League team together. “It’s a shock to the system to think about it. Some of it is because we’re complete contemporaries.”
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins tweeted late Saturday afternoon that LaFayette was “an iconic trailblazer” and paved the way for many Democrats to run for office throughout Westchester.
“He was a proud leader in our county and in our state,” Stewart-Cousins said. “Reggie played a huge role in my life as he did with so many Democrats through his decades of service. I owe a tremendous debt to him for where I am today. He will be incredibly missed, but always remembered.”
For 16 years he was chair of the county Democratic Committee, the longest tenure of anyone who led the party. He announced in 2020 that he would not seek another term and was replaced by Suzanne Berger of Greenburgh.
He had also served as president of the Mount Vernon Lions Club and was an executive vice president of the city’s chapter of the NAACP.
Politicos in Mount Vernon and elsewhere in Westchester had repeatedly leaned on LaFayette to run for office, Latimer said. Specifically, he remembered him being asked to consider runs for city council and mayor but never did.
Latimer credited him with diversifying the county’s judiciary by convincing many women and people of color to run for the bench and providing opportunities for others to run for elected office. LaFayette rose to prominence as Democrats transitioned from being the minority party to the majority party in Westchester.
“He understood, certainly in the African American community over these years, the striving of African Americans to gain greater equality in the county, certainly in Mount Vernon first and then later,” Latimer said. “He was in the forefront of that in the political world…but it began with his humanity.”
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