Former Rep. Ed Pastor, Arizona’s first Hispanic member of Congress, dead at 75
Former U.S. Rep. Ed Pastor, Arizona's first Hispanic member of Congress, has died. He was 75. Arizona Republic
Former U.S. Rep. Ed Pastor, Arizona’s first Hispanic member of Congress whose low-key style obscured his behind-the-scenes effectiveness in directing federal money to local projects, has died. He was 75.
Pastor suffered a heart attack overnight, according to multiple family friends on Wednesday. The Phoenix resident is remembered as a hardworking lawmaker who fought to bring federal resources to his constituents and was respected on both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill.
He leaves behind his wife, Verma Pastor, two daughters, Yvonne and Laura — a Phoenix City Council member — and four grandchildren.
"The Congressman’s wife of 53 years, Verma, would like to thank the first responders from Phoenix Fire Station 9 and the doctors and nurses at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center for the care they provided Ed in the final moments of his life," Laura Pastor said in a written statement. "At this time, the Pastor family asks for privacy as they mourn the loss of their husband, father, brother, grandfather, uncle and leader."
The Democratic congressman did not seek re-election in 2014 after serving 23 years in Washington. At the time, he was the most senior member of Arizona’s House delegation and served on the powerful House Appropriations Committee.
Ronnie Lopez, Pastor’s longtime friend and campaign treasurer, confirmed Pastor’s death to The Arizona Republic on Wednesday.
"He didn't care if you were a Democrat, a Republican, an independent, rich or poor. If he could help you, he did," Lopez said. "He was a great statesman, a great Arizonan and a great treasure. He personified the best it was to be a Mexican-American."
Rep.-elect Greg Stanton, another Arizona Democrat and a former Phoenix mayor, remembered Pastor as a crucial advocate for Phoenix in Washington.
"His impact on Arizonans was as big as any other elected official that we’ve had in the history of Arizona," Stanton said. "He was responsible for light rail. Without Ed Pastor, there’s no light rail. Some of the improvements at Sky Harbor (airport), all of the work Phoenix did with Rio Salado, … all of that work was done because of Ed Pastor."
Matt Salmon, a former Republican member of Congress who served alongside Pastor, said Pastor's willingness to fight for federal money meant more in Arizona than it might have in other places.
"He was the go-to guy on basically everything because our two senators would never ever fight for earmarks," Salmon said. "So Ed was the go-to guy whenever there was any kind of major Arizona project."
"He was the consummate fighter for Arizona. If it wasn't for him, light rail would have never happened. It would have never happened. Ed went to the mat. Before any ground was broken, Ed secured all the seed money. It was over $100 million.
"He was not just a friend, he was a dear friend. I loved Ed very, very much. He was the kind of guy that made you feel like family," Salmon said.
"In fact, I caught a lot of heat when I ran for Congress again (in 2012) because I had actually made a financial contribution to his campaign. I got attacked in the primary because I had given him money."
A former longtime member of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, Pastor was sworn into Congress on Oct. 3, 1991. He had won a Sept. 24, 1991, special election for the seat that had been vacated by Rep. Morris Udall, D-Arizona, who stepped down because of declining health.
In 2014, Pastor told The Republic of several key Arizona projects that he played an instrumental role in funding. He also said he is proud of the work he has done to help people become citizens and to stop deportations, as well as other constituent-services work.
“I don’t know if there’s one great accomplishment. I don’t know if one is greater than another,” Pastor told The Republic. “But the reputation I am leaving with, I think, is when people needed something, they called on me, and the probability was that we were able to help them.”
Unlike some Arizona Republicans he served in Congress with, Pastor never hesitated to use his position to secure funding for local priorities, such as Maricopa County’s light-rail system and improvements at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
"As long as there were earmarks, he was going to fight to get Arizona's share," Lopez said.
Stanton noted Pastor’s understated style: “It’s up to others to tout his successes because he would never tout them himself.”
Pastor mentored Stanton and other younger people who entered the political field. Stanton recalled Pastor’s endorsements and advice over the course of his career as a city councilman, mayor and now, soon-to-be-member of Congress.
“He had the greatest sense of humor,” he recalled. “... He loved to take people down a few notches in a very loving way. He had such a gentle touch."
Lopez and Salmon said Pastor's humor and humility stood out.
“The people that knew him knew that the congressman was not a show horse. He was a work horse. He didn’t demand the center stage,” Lopez said.
“In Spanish we have a saying, … Tell me who you walk with and I’ll tell you who you are. I’m honored to have walked in his shadow and really proud to have called him my friend.”
Arizona Republic columnist EJ Montini and digital opinions editor Joanna Allhands discuss U.S. Rep. Ed Pastor preparing to retire in a few months and his lifetime in politics.