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Percy Sutton, Hero

Published: December 27, 2009

Percy E. Sutton, who displayed fierce intelligence and exquisite polish in becoming one of the nation’s most prominent black political and business leaders, died on Saturday, The Associated Press reported. He was 89.

Marissa Shorenstein, a spokeswoman for Gov. David A. Paterson, confirmed Mr. Sutton’s death but said she did not know the cause, according to The A.P.

Mr. Sutton stood proudly at the center of the struggle for equal rights. He was arrested as a freedom rider; represented Malcolm X as young lawyer; rescued the fabled Apollo Theater in Harlem; and became a millionaire tycoon in the communications business to give public voice to African Americans.

He was also an eminent politician in New York City, rising from the Democratic clubhouses of Harlem to become the longest serving Manhattan borough president and, for more than a decade, the highest black official in the city. In 1977, he was the first seriously regarded black candidate for mayor.

His supporters saw his loss in that mayoral race as a stinging rebuff to his campaign’s strenuous efforts to build support among whites. But David N. Dinkins, who was elected the first black mayor in 1989, called Mr. Sutton’s failed bid indispensable to his own success.

“I stand on the shoulders of Percy Ellis Sutton,” Mr. Dinkins said in an interview.

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