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Sunday, February 11, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Former N.Y. Mayor Abe Beame dies at 94

New York Daily News

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NEW YORK - Former New York Mayor Abe Beame, the 5-foot-2 former bookkeeper who led New York through the dark fiscal crisis of the 1970s, died yesterday. He was 94.

Mr. Beame died at New York University Medical Center of complications from two open-heart operations, one last Aug. 15 and the other Dec. 12, said his son, Bernard Beame.

Born in 1906, Mr. Beame spent nearly 30 years climbing the ladder of New York City politics and government, only to find when he finally got to the top that he was on the bridge of a fiscal Titanic.

After a wrenching near-bankruptcy, the city remained solvent, but Beame's mayoral career had been sunk.

"He was caught up in a situation in 1975 that was unprecedented, and one that was entirely out of his control," Felix Rohatyn, former chairman of the Municipal Assistance Corp., which helped rescue the city from fiscal ruin, said yesterday. "I always felt that that wasn't sufficiently recognized."

Mr. Beame's single term, from 1974 through 1977, was dominated by the worst municipal budget crisis since the Great Depression. His mayoralty was marked by the Son of Sam killing spree and blackout of 1977, and uplifted by the 1976 bicentennial celebration.

Overruling advice not to seek a second term, Mr. Beame, the city's first Jewish mayor, lost a seven-candidate primary, finishing third behind Mario Cuomo and Ed Koch.

Koch, who served three stormy terms as mayor, once taunted Beame as being "in a little over his head," but yesterday recalled him simply as "a nice guy."

"He had the courage to do things that he thought were right, even if they were unpopular," Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said. "He served the city in a very, very dedicated way."

Mr. Beame often joked about his height - "It's that much easier for me to dodge the brickbats" - and wherever he went to speak, he would always announce that an aide had brought the "Beame Box," a wooden box that let him see over the podium.

In his own defense, Beame said he had warned for years against the accounting gimmicks that hid the city's true financial condition and allowed the use of capital funds to pay day-to-day expenses.

As mayor, he cut 60,000 city jobs, raised the transit fare from 35 to 50 cents, closed firehouses and imposed tuition on what had been a free City University.

The city was "well on the road to recovery" by the time he left office on Jan. 1, 1978, Mr. Beame insisted. "I inherited a budget gap of $1.5 billion, and when I left we had a surplus of $200 million," he said.

In addition to his son, Beame is survived by a brother, Jack; five grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

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