Former longtime Brooklyn Rep. Major Owens, a Democrat who helped pass the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 during his 24 years in congress, died on Oct. 21 in Manhattan. He was 77.
Owens died at NYU Langone Medical Center of renal failure and heart failure, his family says.
Owens served 12 terms in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1983 to 2007. The anti-poverty activist and education advocate represented New York’s 11th District, which encompassed a diverse area of the borough that included Crown Heights, Brownsville, Flatbush, parts of Bedford-Stuyvesant, and Park Slope.
Owens, who made a classic appearance during a segment on the Colbert Report in 2005, was known as “Rappin’ Rep” because he occasionally dropped rhymes based around his political beliefs on the House floor.
He was a state Senator from Brooklyn from 1975 until 1982 — the year he won the Democratic primary for the House seat of legendary Brooklyn Rep. Shirley Chisholm, who retired.
“Congressman Major Owens was an intellectual giant in public service and a true believer that government exists to advance the quality of life for its residents,” said Borough President Markowitz. “He will be dearly missed by all Brooklynites, especially those who were fortunate enough to benefit from his leadership. Jamie and I extend our condolences to the entire Owens family.”
“New York lost a legend,” said Councilwoman Tish James (D–Fort Greene) in a statement. “Congressman Owens’ commitment to working people in our city was remarkable, as were his accomplishments on behalf of his diverse district in Brooklyn.”
The Tennessee-native, who once worked as a librarian at the Brooklyn Public Library’s Brownsville branch, retired at the end of his term in 2007 and was succeeded by Yvette Clarke (D–Prospect Heights), who still holds the seat.
Near the end of his tenure in the House, Owens was a vociferous opponent of developer Bruce Ratner’s massive Atlantic Yards mega-project. After leaving congress, Owens taught as a professor at Medgar Evers College in Crown Heights.
He is survived by his wife, Maria Owens, and five children.