Rep. Patsy Mink, 74, feisty Hawaii liberal, dies

HONOLULU — Rep. Patsy Mink, a fierce liberal who co-authored landmark gender-equity legislation and whose powerful voice during political rallies and congressional debate belied her petite frame, died yesterday. She was 74.

The Hawaii Democrat had been treated since Aug. 30 for viral pneumonia stemming from chickenpox, said her spokesman, Andy Winer. The disease usually is mild when it occurs in children, but it can lead to serious infections.

Ms. Mink had been a member of the House for 24 years over two stretches. She won re-election two years ago by a nearly 2-to-1 margin and had been considered a sure winner against Republican state Rep. Bob McDermott in the Nov. 5 general election.

Winer had issued a statement Friday saying the congresswoman's "prospects for a recovery are poor." Until then, Ms. Mink's family had said only that she was in serious but stable condition.

Her death came two days after the deadline for taking her name off the Nov. 5 ballot, and a week after she beat little-known perennial candidate Steve Tataii in the Sept. 21 primary election.

If a primary winner dies, is not replaced on the general-election ballot in time and wins, the seat is considered vacant, state Attorney General Earl Anzai said. A special election would be scheduled.

Ms. Mink was one of Hawaii's most liberal politicians, often working outside the mainstream of the Democratic Party. Her political career predated Hawaii's statehood in 1959.

"Patsy meant a lot to me personally," Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono said yesterday. "She was an inspiration to me and many, many women throughout the country."

Ms. Mink was an early opponent of the Vietnam War and accompanied fellow Rep. Bella Abzug, D-N.Y., to Paris to talk to participants in the Vietnam War peace talks. She opposed the death penalty and had as her spending priorities education, housing and health. Ms. Mink's strong liberal stands led conservative opponents to dub her "Patsy Pink."

Ms. Mink believed one of her most significant accomplishments in Congress was Title IX of the Education Act, which she helped author in 1972. The law, credited by many with changing the face of women's sports and societal attitudes about women, bans gender discrimination in federally funded schools.

After serving in the territorial and state legislatures, Ms. Mink initially was elected to Congress in 1964. She remained in the U.S. House until 1976, when she lost to fellow Rep. Spark Matsunaga in the Democratic primary for the Senate.

Matsunaga went on to win, but his death in 1990 led to Ms. Mink's return to Congress. She won a special election to fill out the term of Rep. Daniel Akaka, who was named to Matsunaga's Senate seat. She was re-elected that year and every two years since.

After losing her Senate bid, Ms. Mink remained in Washington for two years as an assistant secretary of state in the Carter administration.

She returned to elective politics in 1982, winning a four-year term on the Honolulu City Council. She gave up the seat after one term and made an unsuccessful run for governor.

Born Dec. 6, 1927, in Paia, Maui, Ms. Mink graduated from the University of Hawaii in 1948 before earning her law degree from the University of Chicago in 1951. Her survivors include her husband, John, and daughter, Wendy.