James H. Scheuer, 85, a combative New York Democrat who served 13 terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and was known as an activist on housing, consumer and environmental concerns, died Aug. 30 at his home in Washington. He had coronary disease and kidney failure.
Rep. Scheuer (pronounced SHOY-er) was a millionaire real-estate developer before he was elected to the U.S. House in 1964, representing a district that included much of the Bronx. His win marked the end of the Tammany Hall political machine, which he once rebuked for the "bondage of perpetual shakedown" in which it ruled the city.
In the House, he supported and helped sponsor Great Society programs affecting civil rights, education and antipoverty legislation. He was a leader in establishing neighborhood centers to address joblessness and crime, as well as in finding ways to lure investment to blighted sections of his district.
He had a disastrous run for New York mayor in 1969, placing last of the five Democratic primary candidates. He lost his House seat in 1972.
He gained another seat in 1974 and retained a spot in the House through many redistricting changes until retiring in 1993, when his district included the east Bronx and parts of Queens.
Despite being one of the House's wealthiest members, he was a scrappy street campaigner, trying to master Spanish to greet his changing constituency and regularly hailing voters at subway stops. As the 1932 New York City harmonica champion, he also launched into an impressive repertoire of mouth-organ favorites to attract crowds.
Despite this affable side, he entered a bruising and losing feud with Rep. John D. Dingell Jr. (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Rep. Scheuer's often-furious defense of antipollution efforts and the push for air bags in cars was reported to have irked the bullish Dingell, whose district included carmakers opposed to such requirements.
Rep. Scheuer claimed that Dingell, out of spite, then abolished the consumer protection subcommittee, of which the New York Democrat was chairman. "He goes absolutely berserk with anger at legislation dealing with the automobile," he said of Dingell.
On the Science, Space and Technology Committee, Rep. Scheuer led a subcommittee on natural resources, agriculture research and environment. He used this post, once described as sleepy, to investigate personnel disputes at the Environmental Protection Agency. He played a key role in the dismissal of Rita Lavelle, then head of the agency's toxic-waste cleanup fund, who was jailed for lying to Congress.
James Haas Scheuer was born in New York on Feb. 6, 1920, the son of a prosperous real estate man. He graduated from the private Ethical Culture Fieldston School, in the Riverdale section of the Bronx.
He was a 1942 graduate of Swarthmore College and a 1948 graduate of Columbia University's law school. He also did graduate work in industrial administration at Harvard University's business administration school.
After service as an Army Air Force flight instructor during World War II, he developed symptoms of polio and used a cane for the rest of his life.
Starting in 1952, he began his real estate career as president of the Renewal and Development Corp., which worked with urban renewal efforts nationwide to replace slums with housing projects. Among the projects was the middle-income Capital Park housing complex in Southwest Washington.
Known for promoting racially nondiscriminatory housing policies and preserving rent controls, he accepted appointments to federal and New York state housing and city planning commissions. He also began to consider ways to topple Tammany Hall.
In 1962, he unsuccessfully challenged incumbent Rep. James C. Healey (D-N.Y.) despite a forceful campaign directed at Healey's connections to a Tammany leader, Rep. Charles A. Buckley (D-N.Y.), a 30-year House member.
He prepared vigorously for the 1964 election and beat Healey, with another Reform Democrat, Jonathan Bingham, defeating Buckley.
After Rep. Scheuer retired from the House, he served briefly as U.S. director of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in London.
Survivors include his wife of 57 years, Emily Malino Scheuer of Washington; four children; and 10 grandchildren.