WASHINGTON (AP) – Thomas Manton, a former congressman who for years wielded his influence to shape New York City’s political landscape, has died. He was 73.

The seven-term congressman died Saturday, said Rep. Joseph Crowley, who took Manton’s Queens congressional seat when he retired.

Crowley declined to discuss the cause of death but Michael Reich, the Queens Democratic Party’s executive secretary and Manton’s spokesman, told the (new York) Daily News that Manton died of an undisclosed and lengthy illness.

Elected 20 years ago to his post as Queens Democratic Party chair, Manton was known as a behind-the-scenes politician who fostered the careers of City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and other local political figures.

When he announced his retirement from Congress in 1998, he successfully hand-picked Crowley, then a state assemblyman, as his successor, and he played a role in the selection of the two most recent City Council speakers.

“He was a great man and a great friend and he’ll be terribly missed,” Crowley said Sunday. “He’s left the Queens Democratic party in a very strong position.”

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he had reached out to Manton when he first began considering entering politics.

“He was a classy guy. It’s a sad day,” said the Republican mayor, a former Democrat. “We really did lose someone who made a difference.”

Manton served 15 years on the New York City Council before taking over Geraldine Ferraro’s congressional seat when she ran for vice president in 1984. As a congressman, he had little problem getting re-elected, winning with 87 percent of the vote in 1994.

He said his years as a city councilman made him sensitive to the needs of constituent service and set the tone for his congressional career, which was focused on local concerns and New York City politics.

As the head of the county party, he helped choose the city’s leaders and, Crowley said, helped open up the party leadership to minority groups.

“He was a steady rudder of the ship who brought the Queens party back from its lowest ebb. He diversified the leadership of the county, welcoming minority leaders,” said Crowley.

Born in 1932 to Irish immigrant parents in Manhattan, Manton carved a colorful career path, serving as a New York City police officer, an IBM salesman and a flight navigator for the U.S. Marine Corps. He worked as a lawyer for decades, reportedly retiring just months before his death.

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