NPR logo Flashback Friday: On This Day In 1972, Rep. Bill Ryan (D-N.Y.) Dies At 50

Flashback Friday: On This Day In 1972, Rep. Bill Ryan (D-N.Y.) Dies At 50

Sept. 17, 1972:

Bill Ryan

Rep. William Ryan, a Democrat from Manhattan's Upper West Side who was a staunch liberal, dies of cancer.  He was 50 years old and all but assured of a seventh term in Congress.

Less than three months earlier, Ryan had soundly defeated a fellow Democratic member of the House, Bella Abzug, in a primary.  Abzug's district had been eliminated by the Republican state legislature, and as she shopped around looking for somewhere to run, she picked the district held by Ryan, whose health had been suspect for two years.

But by targeting Ryan, Abzug incurred the wrath of many liberals, who long supported Ryan for his lifetime support for civil rights and other liberal causes.  First elected to the House in 1960, he was the first member of Congress to speak out against the Vietnam War in 1963.  In the primary he beat Abzug by a 2-1 margin.

Following Ryan's death, his widow, Priscilla, sought to get the Democratic nomination.  But she lost out at a party convention to Abzug, who went on to win the seat in November and again in 1974, before giving it up in '76 to make an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic Senate nomination.

Flashback Friday is a weekly feature on Political Junkie.

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