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William Haddad, journalist, political operative and businessman, dies at 91

During his varied and sometimes adventurous career, William Haddad was a teenage sailor with the Merchant Marine, a reporter who helped expose corruption in New York’s political machine, a founding official of the Peace Corps, a newspaper publisher, and an advocate for breaking the pharmaceutical industry’s control over drug prices.

He was the author of several books, including one about his experiences as an executive for John DeLorean, a charismatic car designer who launched a once-revolutionary automotive company, only to be disgraced amid a far-reaching scandal.

Mr. Haddad, a ubiquitous and restless figure who was a friend of the Kennedy family, was once married to a granddaughter of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and managed the victorious 1982 campaign of Democratic New York Governor Mario Cuomo, died April 30 at his home in Poughquag, N.Y. He was 91.

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The cause was congestive heart failure, said his daughter Lulie Haddad.

Mr. Haddad had so many high-profile jobs in wildly divergent fields that he was sometimes likened to Zelig, the title character of a 1983 Woody Allen mock-documentary about a chameleon-like man who was present at many momentous historical events.

Mr. Haddad first gained attention in the 1950s, when he was on the staff of reform-minded Senator Estes Kefauver, a Tennessee Democrat. At the 1956 Democratic National Convention, he helped secure Kefauver’s nomination as Adlai Stevenson’s vice presidential running mate, beating out John F. Kennedy.

A year later, Mr. Haddad was working as a reporter at the New York Post, where he led efforts to expose corruption in the city’s housing program. He was among the first reporters to chip away at the formidable edifice of power surrounding Robert Moses, New York’s unelected and unchallenged master of parks, highways, urban renewal, and major building projects.

Along with other reporters, Mr. Haddad found a web of connections that linked Moses to paybacks, financial corruption, and organized crime, eventually leading to Moses’s downfall after more than 40 years as the city’s most powerful political figure.

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‘‘Haddad led the pack, for he had the gift of seeing patterns, and he saw them in the seemingly innocuous material — minutes, memos, letters, notes,’’ journalist and historian Robert A. Caro wrote in his classic 1974 study of Moses, ‘‘The Power Broker.’’ In 1959, Mr. Haddad won a George Polk Award, one of journalism’s highest honors.

Two years later, he took a leave of absence to become a top assistant to Sargent Shriver, who was Kennedy’s brother-in-law and the founding director of the Peace Corps. Mr. Haddad served as associate director of the Peace Corps and as its first inspector general.

Never one to stay in once place for long, he moved back to New York in 1963 to work at the New York Herald Tribune, a newspaper whose publisher was John Hay ‘‘Jock’’ Whitney. Whitney’s stepdaughter, Kate Roosevelt — FDR’s granddaughter — was Mr. Haddad’s first wife.

In 1964, with the blessing of Robert Kennedy, Mr. Haddad ran for the US House of Representatives, seeking to unseat Leonard Farbstein in a district representing Manhattan’s Upper West Side. In a mudslinging primary battle, fliers were distributed to voters in the heavily Jewish district.

‘‘Don’t forget Haddad is an Arab,’’ some of them said. ‘‘He is trying to make Jews of this district think he is Jewish or a friend of the Jews. Can you trust an Arab to fight for the interests of Jews and for Israel?’’

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Mr. Haddad, who was in fact Jewish, lost the primary election and never ran for office again. He returned to Washington, working as inspector general of the Office of Economic Opportunity from 1964 to 1966.

He later led a business-development enterprise in New York, then moved back into politics and journalism. He advised Robert Kennedy’s 1968 presidential campaign and, later that year, founded a weekly newspaper, the Manhattan Tribune, covering the Upper West Side and Harlem. His copublisher, Roy Innis, was national director of the Congress of Racial Equality.

‘‘We are going to try to bridge the gap between the frustrated, angry Black community and the frightened white community,’’ Mr. Haddad said at the time. ‘‘Roy, for example, thinks I’m a soft, fuzzy white liberal and we disagree 80 percent of the time, but we have to live together in this little inner city, and the only solution lies in an honest and uninhibited dialogue.’’

The paper folded in 1972.

Throughout the 1970s, Mr. Haddad bounced from one post to another: He taught at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y., chaired a state panel on education and directed the New York State Assembly’s office of legislative oversight and analysis, where he investigated corruption in banking. He even returned to the New York Post for a while.

In 1979, he joined a new venture led by DeLorean, a onetime General Motors engineer who in the 1960s had spearheaded the development of the Pontiac GTO. DeLorean left GM to launch a new company, producing a strikingly designed sports car made from stainless steel at a new factory in Northern Ireland.

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About 9,000 cars were produced, and DeLorean was seen as an automotive wizard who was turning the tables on the traditional Detroit automakers. Mr. Haddad was DeLorean’s marketing director, but the two had an acrimonious parting in 1981 after Mr. Haddad discovered evidence of DeLorean’s financial mismanagement.

The company went bankrupt, the factory was idled, and DeLorean was arrested in 1982, charged with plotting to sell $24 million worth of cocaine to finance his failing business. He was acquitted of that charge and in several other trials for fraud.

In a 1985 book about his experiences with DeLorean, ‘‘Hard Driving,’’ Mr. Haddad said DeLorean deceived him and diverted at least $17 million from the company for his own use. DeLorean accused of Mr. Haddad of being a spy for the British government, trying to undermine the auto company.

‘‘He sheds personalities as a snake sheds its skin,’’ Mr. Haddad wrote. ‘‘John never had intended to build an ethical car company. It was a scam from beginning to end.’’

William Frederick Haddad was born July 25, 1928, in Charlotte, N.C. His father was born in Cairo, his mother in present-day Ukraine. After their divorce, Mr. Haddad moved to Miami Beach with his father, a restaurant owner and businessman.

At 16, Mr. Haddad joined the Merchant Marine — adding a year to his age on his official papers — and served aboard cargo ships in the Pacific during World War II. He stayed in the Merchant Marine for several years and eventually got into politics by managing a fellow seaman’s political campaign in California.

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Financing his education with his oceangoing expeditions, Mr. Haddad graduated from what was then St. Petersburg Junior College in Florida before receiving a bachelor’s degree in 1954 from Columbia University. He joined Kefauver’s staff that year.

After managing Cuomo’s campaign in 1982, Mr. Haddad devoted much of the rest of his career to an interest inspired by Kefauver: reducing the prices of prescription drugs. In the 1980s, he became the chief executive of a Connecticut company that produced generic pharmaceutical drugs and was also chairman of the Generic Pharmaceutical Industry Association.

Mr. Haddad was instrumental in helping Congress pass the Drug Price Competition and Patent Term Restoration Act of 1984, commonly called the Hatch-Waxman Act, which streamlined the process for securing federal approval of generic drugs. Beginning in the 1990s, Mr. Haddad worked on efforts to broaden the distribution of generic drugs throughout Africa and other underserved parts of the world.

His marriages to Kate Roosevelt and Noreen Walsh ended in divorce.

He leaves three daughters from his first marriage, Laura Whitney-Thomas, Andrea Haddad, and Lulie Haddad; two children from his second marriage, Amanda Reina and Robert Haddad; a stepson, Steve Walsh; 13 grandchildren; and two great-grandsons.

Mr. Haddad, also the coauthor or editor of books on poverty and on joint custody after divorce, always thought of himself as a journalist fighting against injustice.

In ‘‘The Power Broker,’’ Caro asked Mr. Haddad what kept him and other reporters on the trail of Moses, who exerted almost absolute control over New York’s levers of power for decades.

‘‘Our motives?’’ Mr. Haddad said. ‘‘It was us against the world, us against them — the city, corruption, unmovable forces. We were young enough to breathe that kind of air then.’’