Rep. Alcee Hastings, longtime South Florida congressman, dies

Congresman has represented parts of Broward, Palm Beach counties since 1993
Alcee Hastings in December 2019
Posted at 9:40 AM, Apr 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-06 19:17:09-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., a longtime congressman who represented South Florida for almost three decades, has died, Palm Beach County Commissioner Mack Bernard said Tuesday morning.

Hastings, who announced in January 2019 that he was undergoing treatment for pancreatic cancer, was 84.

"It is with deep sadness that I announce the passing of Congressman Alcee Hastings," Bernard said during a moment of silence before the start of Tuesday's commission meeting. "Congressman Hastings was a dedicated public servant and leader. We are very thankful for his service and contributions to Palm Beach County and all of the residents of Palm Beach County and the 20th congressional district."

WATCH: Palm Beach County commissioners hold moment of silence for Hastings

Palm Beach County commissioners hold moment of silence for Rep. Alcee Hastings

His family later issued a statement confirming Hastings' death:

"It is with profound sadness and the deepest sense of loss that we announce the passing of the honorable Alcee L. Hastings. He lived a life of triumph over adversity and his brilliance and compassion was felt amongst his constituents, colleagues, the nation and the world. He lived a full life with an indelible fighting spirit dedicated to equal justice. He believed that progress and change can only be achieved through recognizing and respecting the humanity of all mankind. He was never afraid to speak his mind and truly loved serving his constituents and his family. He will be dearly missed, but his legacy and fighting spirit will forever live on."

Hastings' district encompasses portions of Palm Beach and Broward counties. He had served in Congress since 1993.

"We just had that relationship that was really very special," Elvin Dowling told WPTV.

Dowling met Hastings when the West Palm Beach author was 17, having served as a congressional intern.

"Alcee Hastings meant the world -- means the world -- to me," Dowling said.

WATCH: Former intern remembers Alcee Hastings

Former intern remembers Alcee Hastings

Hastings wrote the foreward to Dowling's Pulitzer Prize-nominated book "Still Invisible? Examining America's Black Male Crisis."

"The most important thing I learned from Alcee Hastings was, 'Be quiet unless you have something to say,'" Dowling recalled. "'But if you have something to say, let her rip.'"

Born in Altamonte Springs on Sept. 5, 1936, Hastings attended Fisk University and Howard University before graduating from Florida A&M University's law school in 1963.

After practicing law in Fort Lauderdale, Hastings was appointed by then-Gov. Reubin Askew to serve as a Broward County circuit court judge in 1977. Two years later, then-President Jimmy Carter nominated Hastings to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, earning him the distinction of becoming the state's first Black federal judge.

RELATED: Community remembers congressman

However, Hastings was removed from the bench a decade later in connection with his 1981 indictment on charges of conspiring to solicit a $150,000 bribe from an FBI agent posing a racketeer in exchange for a lenient sentence. Hastings was acquitted by a jury in 1983, but he was later impeached by Congress and removed from the bench in 1989.

A year later, Hastings represented Yahweh ben Yahweh, the leader of a religious, Black separatist sect known as the Nation of Yahweh, in federal court.

Hastings made a political comeback in 1992, when he defeated current U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Fla., in a runoff and went on to easily win the general election in the heavily Democratic district.

Alcee Hastings campaigns for Kendrick Meek in 2010
Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., speaks during a rally for Florida Senate candidate, U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, Monday, Aug. 16, 2010, in Davie, Fla.

Frankel, who was elected to a congressional seat in 2012, released a statement about the death of her "colleague and friend."

"I've known Alcee for many years," she said. "He was a fierce fighter for civil rights and racial justice, and a great partner in Congress when it came to serving South Florida. He will be deeply missed. My heart goes out to his family, friends and staff as we mourn his loss."

Because of redistricting, Hastings has represented Florida's 20th district since 2013.

Hastings was known as the dean of Florida's congressional delegation, having won re-election 14 times, most recently in 2018.

It will be up to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to determine when a special election will be held to fill Hastings' vacant seat.