Ex-Rep. Ed Pastor, Arizona’s 1st Hispanic congressman, dies

PHOENIX — Former US representative Ed Pastor, who championed liberal causes as Arizona’s first Hispanic member of Congress but was known for his bipartisanship, died after suffering a heart attack, his family said Wednesday. He was 75.

Mr. Pastor, a Democrat, served 23 years in Congress until deciding in 2014 against running for reelection.

He won a 1991 special election for the House seat vacated by fellow Democrat Morris K. Udall and was reelected 11 times.

He had previously been a Maricopa County supervisor, aide to Arizona Governor Raul Castro in the 1970s, and a high school teacher.

Ronnie Lopez, a lifelong friend and finance chairman of all of Mr. Pastor’s congressional campaigns, said he suffered a heart attack Tuesday night while dining at a Phoenix restaurant with his wife, Verma. He died at a local hospital.


Laura Pastor, a Phoenix City Council member and one of the former congressman’s two daughters, said he ‘‘will be remembered for his commitment to his family and his legacy of service to the community that he loved, the state of Arizona, and the nation.’’

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, a Republican, called Mr. Pastor ‘‘an Arizona trailblazer and true public servant’’ and ordered that flags be lowered statewide to half-staff.

Lopez, who grew up with Mr. Pastor, said ‘‘he personified the best of what a statesman is.’’

‘‘He didn’t care if you were a Democrat or independent, Republican, rich or poor. If he could help you, he would,’’ Lopez said. ‘‘You can see his footprint throughout this state and this community.’’

Mr. Pastor was born in Claypool, Ariz., a small mining town about 100 miles east of Phoenix, where his father worked in the copper mines.

He was the first in his family to graduate from college, earning a bachelor’s degree in chemistry at Arizona State University.


He taught chemistry at North High School in Phoenix, according to a biography by the Pastor Center for Politics and Public Service at ASU. He later served as deputy director of a community nonprofit, the Guadalupe Organization, then earned a law degree at ASU.

He joined Castro’s staff after law school and focused on enforcement of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, then successfully ran for county supervisor in 1976.

After his election to Congress in 1991, he eventually rose to leadership posts, becoming chief deputy whip and serving on the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee.

‘‘There was no one more capable, hardworking, and kind,’’ Republican Senator Jeff Flake said in a Tweet. ‘‘Arizona is a far better place because of Ed Pastor.’’

Longtime Republican consultant Chuck Coughlin said people from both parties knew to go to Mr. Pastor.

‘‘Ed was the guy whether you were a Democrat or a Republican in Arizona you could go to and ask him to help you,’’ Coughlin said. ‘‘He would always try and help people regardless of your political affiliation. That’s why I loved him — you’d call and he would always say ‘what can I do for you.’’’

US Representative Ruben Gallego, a Democrat who represents Mr. Pastor’s old congressional district, said Mr. Pastor ‘‘dedicated his career to protecting the civil rights of every American and making the American Dream accessible to everyone, including the most vulnerable in our society.’’

Phoenix Mayor Thelda Williams and former mayor Greg Stanton said Mr. Pastor, who served on the House Appropriations Committee, championed transportation projects such as funding for Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport improvements and construction of the metro area’s light rail system.


‘‘I adored Ed Pastor, and Phoenix is a better city because of him,’’ Williams said.

‘‘He wasn’t a show horse, he didn’t demand the limelight, he was just a workhorse and he got things done for folks,’’ Lopez said. ‘‘He was loved. Schools, courthouses, bridges, and parks are named after him.’’

Besides his wife and daughter, Mr. Pastor leaves a daughter, Yvonne, and a sister, Eleanor.

Laura Pastor said arrangements are pending.