WASHINGTON – Ron Dellums, a former Democratic congressman and one of the founders of the Congressional Black Caucus, died early Monday. He was 82.
Dellums, a liberal from California, was one of 13 black lawmakers to form the Congressional Black Caucus in 1971. He served in Congress from 1971 to 1999.
Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., who is serving in Dellums' old seat, said the congressman's contributions to the district, the nation and the world are "too innumerable to count."
"I feel blessed to have called Congressman Dellums my dear friend, predecessor, and mentor," said Lee, a former chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Dellums led the caucus from 1989 to 1991 and was a fierce advocate for minorities, poor people and social justice. The caucus now has a record 48 members.
"His work for his community and his work for the caucus will be missed,'' the Congressional Black Caucus tweeted Monday. "Thank you for your contributions and selfless service."
Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Democrat from Mississippi and a caucus member, called Dellums a "true statesman."
Thompson, who worked with Dellums on the push to end apartheid in South Africa, said the former congressman also worked to focus attention on issues in Africa in general. Dellums proposed legislation to impose sanctions against South Africa and urge the U.S. to divest. It eventually passed.
"He was not one to shun an issue because it was controversial," Thompson said in an interview Monday. "He was clearly a very, very progressive member of Congress and on those issues ."
Dellums, an outspoken anti-war critic, was the first African-American to serve as chairman of the powerful Armed Services Committee.
"He could be against war. He could also serve as champion and chairman of the military," said Thompson. "He saw peace as the option versus war, but nonetheless as an elected official he would be just as much a champion for our military."
Dan Lindheim, a former policy adviser to Dellums, said he proposed alternate military budgets.
“Instead of having 14 carrier groups, it had only 11," Lindheim, a professor at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, said Monday. “It wasn’t like he was decimating national security … He believed in a reasoned policy."
Lindheim said Dellums worked with his Republican counterparts in the House like Jack Kemp of New York, Newt Gingrich of Georgia and John Kasich of Ohio. He said Dellums worked with Kasich to roll back the B-2 bomber program “because it made no sense."
“He would listen to everybody and he would internalize what they had to say," Lindheim said of Dellums. “So the virtue for him to listening to these right-wing guys was they were sort of the best Republican argument.”
He noted that Kasich repeatedly talked about working across the aisle during his presidential bid in 2016.
“He was talking about working with Ron Dellums,’’ Lindheim said.
Kasich posted a video on Twitter Monday mourning the passing of Dellums, whom he called a "really good pal."
“We built a very close relationship and in fact a friendship,'' Kasich said of their work on the B-2. "He was just a great awesome guy. He was charismatic. He was bold."
Not everyone supported Dellums' positions. He received lots of death threats.
“Initially he got a lot of crap for opposing the war in Vietnam," Lindheim said. “Can’t say it was the popular point of view at the time… He was on Nixon’s enemies list. The full brunt of the federal government was aimed at him from the top ... (But) nothing deterred him."
At the age of 70, Dellums was elected mayor of Oakland, Calif., where he served from 2007 to 2011.
Dellums, who had been living in Washington, D.C., had cancer.
Lindheim, who visited Dellums recently, said the congressman didn't shy away from controversial issues even in the earlier decades.
“He was big in terms of gays in the military before that was fashionable. Gay marriage before that was fashionable," said Lindeim, who was Oakland's city manager under Dellums. "He was an honorary member of the women’s caucus before that was fashionable."
Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., called Dellums a "peaceful warrior in the struggle to realize true democracy in America."
Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, a fellow Californian, called Dellums a "progressive hero and outstanding leader."
"Ron was driven by an unwavering commitment to progress and opportunity for all throughout his life and career," Pelosi said in a statement.