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Longtime Harlem assemblyman Herman Farrell dead at 86


Herman Denny Farrell (Noonan Jeanne Freelance NYDN)

Famed Harlem powerbroker Herman (Denny) Farrell, the tall, trusted and trailblazing leader who spent 42 years in the halls of Albany, died early Saturday at the age of 86.

The cause of death was not immediately known for Farrell, who stepped down last September from his longtime role as head of the state Assembly's Ways and Means Committee.

Friends from across the Democrat's decades in politics fondly recalled Farrell as a mentor and role model for colleagues of all affiliations.

"He's a remarkable American story, from a court clerk to the Democratic County leader," said ex-Rep. Charles Rangel, a longtime friend. "The words that best describe him, in my 60 years in politics: He was a straight shooter.

"He was quite a guy."

Farrell's failed 1985 mayoral run against incumbent Ed Koch was often cited as paving the way for David Dinkins' successful bid to become the city's first black mayor four years later.

"I think it did, no question," Dinkins said Saturday. "It was breaking ground. He was a good friend, and we were always proud of the fact that we always supported each other.

Herman Farrell stands outside City Hall in an undated file photo.
Herman Farrell stands outside City Hall in an undated file photo.

"He was honest. Candid. And if Denny told you he was going to do something, you could count on it."

Farrell headed the powerful Ways and Means Committee for 23 years until his retirement last year, the end to an extraordinary political career.

He led the Manhattan Democratic Party from 1981-2009 — the post's longest reign ever. And he became the first African-American head of the state Democratic Committee, serving from 2001-06.

Farrell, first elected in 1975 to represent his Manhattan district, helped pass consumer-friendly banking and credit card laws.

Gov. Cuomo ordered the state's flags to fly at half-staff Tuesday to honor Farrell, who served under a half-dozen governors.

"My father once said, 'Denny is a giant in a world of little people,'" recalled the governor, invoking his dad Mario. "He was a man who stood and acted out of principle."

Herman “Denny” Farrell was a friend and mentor to Gov. Cuomo.
Herman “Denny” Farrell was a friend and mentor to Gov. Cuomo. (Howard Simmons/New York Daily News)

Like Dinkins and Rangel, Farrell came out of the "Harlem Clubhouse" that also produced prominent African-American leaders Percy Sutton and Basil Paterson.

Rangel recalled that the son of a tailor was always impeccably dressed and focused on the task at hand.

When Farrell stepped down last September, he cited health issues and his desire to spend more time with family — including his 13-year-old daughter Sophia.

His departure date of Sept. 5, 2017, was chosen to make the 51st anniversary of Farrell's first state government job, working in the Manhattan State Supreme Court.

After he retired, the Riverbank State Park overlooking the Hudson River was renamed in his honor.

"Few people gave more to NYC than Denny Farrell," tweeted Mayor de Blasio. "He showed an unwavering commitment to making New York a fairer place, no matter what side of the aisle you were on."