Former longtime Councilman and District Leader Archie Spigner died Thursday, Oct. 29. He was 92 years old.
The Guy R. Brewer United Democratic Club announced the news of Spigner’s death on its Facebook page on Friday, Oct. 30.
“It’s with great sorrow that we announce the passing of our great leader former City Councilman and District Leader ‘The Dean’ Archie Spigner,” the Facebook post reads. “We will keep everyone updated on memorial services.”
As news of his passing became public, tributes dedicated to Spigner were shared on social media.
The Queens County Democratic Party said the borough lost “an absolute giant.”
Late last night our Queens family lost an absolute giant.
From South Carolina to St. Albans, from shoe shining to City Council, from volunteer to legend– Archie "The Dean" Spigner lived an almost fabled life that personifies the #Queens story.
Rest in power, Archie. pic.twitter.com/pkx5VNUS2p
— Queens Dems (@Queens_Dems) October 30, 2020
Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Twitter that Spigner was an “absolute legend” who “will be greatly missed.”
Queens lost one of its champions today. Archie Spigner was a force, a tireless organizer and an absolute legend of South East Queens. Thinking of his family and countless friends today. He will be greatly missed.
— Mayor Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) October 30, 2020
Queens Congressman Gregory Meeks said on Twitter that southeast Queens “lost a godfather of politics.”
“New York City lost a great leader last night, and our nation lost a great man,” Meeks wrote. “Archie Spigner will be missed dearly. May god rest his soul.”
Southeast Queens lost a godfather of politics last night. New York City lost a great leader last night, and our nation lost a great man.
Archie Spigner will be missed dearly. May god rest his soul
— Rep. Gregory Meeks (@RepGregoryMeeks) October 30, 2020
State Senator Leroy Comrie, who represents southeast Queens, said Spigner was “a transformative figure in civics, government and politics, and is as responsible as anyone else alive today for making Black representation in government a reality.
“Our community and indeed our whole city lost a giant this week in the passing of the Hon. Archie Spigner. Archie Spigner forged a career in public service that spanned more than half of a century and made him a legend in his own time, and not just in Southeast Queens or New York City, but throughout our country,” Comrie said.
“To me and to so many others, Archie was not only the ‘Dean’ of southeast Queens politics, he was my friend and mentor — in fact, my political father — and my heart is heavy because of this tremendous loss,” Comrie added. “As we process and mourn his passing, we will determine how we can commemorate and memorialize him in a way befitting someone of his stature. He was one of a kind, and I and many of my colleagues in government were blessed to have been guided by his wisdom and his caring ways. May we celebrate his legacy and the incredible life he led in the service of others.”
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, a close friend of Spigner, said the “Dean of Southeast Queens” will be missed.
“He was the consummate organizer and a distinguished public servant, a man who was instrumental in advancing the welfare of our city’s Black community and uplifting its leaders into roles that made change possible,” Adams said. “Archie was a respected advisor to me for many years, dating back to my years in 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care. On behalf of Deputy Borough President Chaplain Lewis-Martin and our entire borough, my heart goes out to his wife Leslie and the entire Spigner family.”
Dr. Berenecea Eanes, the president of York College, said on Twitter that she was “saddened” to learn of Spigner’s passing.
“The ‘Dean of Southeast Queens Politics’ had a long history of service & was among several elected officials involved in establishing @ Rest In Peace to a friend of York & beloved mentor to many,” she wrote.
Saddened by the passing of former NYC Council Member Archie Spigner. The ‘Dean of Southeast Queens Politics’ had a long history of service & was among several elected officials involved in establishing @YorkCollegeCUNY Rest In Peace to a friend of York & beloved mentor to many. pic.twitter.com/h2zCVuERiw
— Dr. Berenecea Eanes (@Dr_BJEanes) October 30, 2020
Queens Assemblywoman Alicia Hydnman said on Twitter that Spigner’s legacy will “live on forever.”
The Man. The Legend. Rest In Peace Archie Spigner. Your impact on NY and Southeast Queens will live on forever. Legends never die. pic.twitter.com/dNdYbPIFq1
— Alicia Hyndman (@AliciaHyndman) October 30, 2020
Queens Congresswoman Grace Meng called Spigner a “trailblazer and titan who fought to improve the lives of those he represented.”
Saddened to hear about the passing of Archie Spigner who was the first Black NYC Councilman from #Queens. Archie was a trailblazer and titan who fought to improve the lives of those he represented. He'll be missed & my thoughts & prayers are with his family.
— Grace Meng (@RepGraceMeng) October 30, 2020
Former Borough President and current Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz said Spigner’s “legacy as a champion and tireless fighter for his community will live on forever.”
“We are so grateful to have had the pleasure of honoring Archie earlier this year in celebration of Black History Month for all the incredible work he has done for the people of this great borough,” Katz said on Twitter. “Rest in Power, Sir.”
We are so grateful to have had the pleasure of honoring Archie earlier this year in celebration of Black History Month for all the incredible work he has done for the people of this great borough.
Rest in Power, Sir. pic.twitter.com/mlSEDKOABI
— Queens DA Katz (@QueensDAKatz) October 30, 2020
Spigner was born on Aug. 27, 1928, in Orangeburg, S.C., the last of five kids. His family moved in shifts to the northeast in the late 1930s and beyond, some members living with relatives in Stamford, Conn., and others staying behind on a farm. Spigner migrated to Harlem, then to the Bronx, and finally, to southeast Queens.
Along the way, he picked up loose change shining shoes, helping out in local barber shops. He would get married, then go on to work in a shoe factory, a bakery, and as a bus driver, juggling employment with raising a family.
Spigner enrolled in Central Needle Trades High School (a “fashion high school,” he calls it) in Manhattan, graduating in 1947. He joined its co-op program and went to work in a shoe factory, no different than the average sweat shop at the time. At the suggestion of a co-worker, he enrolled in the Jefferson School of Social Science, a prominent left-wing institution where he learned parliamentary procedure — still one of the anchors of politics. He became the factory shop steward and thus began his long association with labor and organizing.
Leaving the garment trade, Spigner became a New York City bus driver and in the mid-1950s, he joined the Negro American Labor Council founded by the late great labor leader, City College alumnus A. Philip Randolph. Spigner organized the Queens Branch of the Negro American Labor Council. He had been traveling to Harlem from Queens for meetings, but there was enough of a critical mass to merit a Jamaica presence.
He held the first meetings in his living room in Queens, “even before I had furniture,” he recalled. He assumed the role of secretary or assistant secretary. “I’m a joiner,” Spigner has said. “That’s what I am: I’m a joiner, and I became a volunteer. Who’ll take the minutes? I’ll take the minutes!”
One night, Spigner met the late Kenneth N. Browne, an assistant district attorney, at Fuzzy’s on Linden Boulevard. Browne was running for the New York state Assembly. After Spigner asked, “You need some help?” Browne invited him to the local Democratic Club. There, he met legendary district leader Guy R. Brewer, who asked Spigner to help organize some new troops to gather petition signatures to help Browne qualify for the ballot. Browne won the election.
Brewer was working as the liaison to the African-American community for Queens Borough President Sidney Leviss. Subsequently, Browne became a civil court judge and Brewer won the vacated Assembly seat. Brewer was obliged to give up his district leader position because he could not hold it simultaneously with the legislative seat. He asked Archie to become district leader and Spigner moved into Borough Hall to take Brewer’s place there. The musical chairs were humming.
“When I met people like Guy Brewer and Ken Browne, I recognized that I needed some (more) education,” Spigner said.
He enrolled in classes at St. Monica’s Church in Jamaica — where York College stands today — to strengthen his academic skills. He was admitted to an associate degree program at Queens College in the mid-1960s, earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from QC in 1972 and went on to pursue graduate studies at the college.
In 1989, the New York City Council was expanded from 35 to 51 members. Tired of trekking to Albany, Brewer wanted to join the Council and have Spigner replace him in the Assembly. Spigner demurred.
The Democratic Club’s board of directors voted — by secret ballot — to resolve the dispute. Winning by one vote, Spigner went on to become a councilman and then deputy majority leader, appointed by Speaker Peter Vallone. During his 27-year tenure, Spigner chaired the Committees of Housing and Buildings, and Economic Development, and the Legislative Office of the Budget Review. A two-term limit was imposed on Council members in a 1993 referendum and, subsequently, Archie left the City Council. But his legacy lived on.
On May 6, 2005, Borough President Helen Marshall proclaimed “Archie Spigner Day” in Queens. At a ceremony that day, federal officials renamed a United States Post Office in St. Albans in his honor. Congressman Gregory Meeks authored the bill. It passed both the House of Representatives and the Senate and was signed by President George W. Bush. At the event in Queens, Senator Charles Schumer thanked Spigner and his club for strongly supporting him when he ran against Alfonse D’Amato for the United States Senate.
“All of us stand on Archie’s shoulders,” Schumer said at the time.
At another occasion, New York state Senator Leroy Comrie spoke about Spigner, his longtime mentor and close friend. He stated, in part, “Archie is a person that has a keen sense of the dynamic of a situation. He does his homework and is never underprepared. He’s willing to listen to reason. He loves to debate. He loves to write and truly loves the city. … He has worked hard for equality to ensure that all are given equal treatment. … He has never backed away from an issue in which he has believed.”
Outside the Guy R. Brewer United Democratic Club in St. Albans is a sign that Spigner as its district leader. The sign is a reminder that in Spigner’s universe, another election is always around the corner.
Editor’s note: Excerpts of this article are sourced from “Building Futures: The honorable Archie Spigner and his place in Queens history,” which was written by Jay Hershenson, Queens College’s Vice President for Communications and Marketing and Senior Advisor to the President, and published on QNS.com in January 2020.