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Former Sen. Moynihan dies

New York Democrat known for intellect

Former Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan
Former Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Former Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a Democrat from New York who enjoyed a reputation as an intellectual giant among his peers, died Wednesday after battling an infection stemming from a ruptured appendix. He was 76.

His death was announced on the Senate floor by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was elected to his seat after he retired.

"We have lost a great American, an extraordinary senator, an intellectual and a man of passion and understanding about what really makes this country great," Clinton said.

Moynihan's appendix ruptured March 10 and he was taken to Washington Hospital Center for an emergency appendectomy. On March 14, he was moved to the intensive care unit, where he was treated for an infection, pneumonia and low blood pressure, a family spokesman said.

A scholarly man with the air of a rumpled professor, Moynihan had a variety of interests. He was one of the earliest proponents of welfare reform, writing an article in 1965 about the breakdown of African-American families. He was an expert on foreign affairs and was also a champion of urban redevelopment.

In his distinctive cadence, Moynihan held forth on a variety of subjects on the Senate floor. The Almanac of American Politics once described him as "the nation's best thinker among politicians since Lincoln and its best politician among thinkers since Jefferson."

He served in the Senate for four terms, from 1977 to 2001.

"Senator Moynihan was an intellectual pioneer and a trusted advisor to presidents of both parties," President Bush said in a statement.

"Representing the people of New York for 24 years, Senator Moynihan was a leader in the Senate and was recognized for his commitment to free trade, Social Security, freedom for people around the world, and equal opportunity for all Americans. He committed his life to service and will be sorely missed."

Moynihan was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but grew up in New York. He worked as a shoeshine boy, graduated from a Harlem high school, worked as a longshoreman and served in the U.S. Navy during World War II before becoming a scholar and politician.

He was a Fulbright Scholar at the London School of Economics and received a doctorate from Tufts University's Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. As a professor at Syracuse University in the 1950s he often published essays and reports about political and social issues.

New York's other senator, Democrat Charles Schumer, paid tribute to Moynihan's intelligence and eloquence.

"I know that I will be looking up to the heavens for inspiration," Schumer said.

Moynihan worked for John F. Kennedy's presidential campaign and went to work for the Labor Department in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, becoming assistant secretary for policy planning and research before leaving in 1965.

In 1965, Moynihan wrote "The Negro Family: The Case for National Action," in which he emphasized the connection between fatherless families and increased welfare rolls. Though either ignored or criticized when first published, the study led to the 1988 Welfare Reform Act, which recognized for the first time a father's duty to support his children and encouraged workfare initiatives.

Though a Democrat, he served as the U.S. ambassador to India and to the United Nations during the Nixon and Ford administrations.

In 2000, President Clinton awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor.

A funeral Mass is scheduled for Monday at St. Patrick's Church in Washington, a family spokesman said. Burial will follow at Arlington National Cemetery.

Moynihan is survived by his wife of 47 years, Elizabeth Brennan Moynihan; three children, Timothy Patrick, Maura Russell, and John McCloskey Moynihan; and two grandchildren.

"His wife Elizabeth, daughter Maura, and sons Timothy and John were with him throughout his time in the hospital," a statement from the family said.

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