HUNTINGTON STATION, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — New York Assemblyman James Conte, who used the bully pulpit in the Republican minority to push for a better system of organ and tissue donations and to improve education and Long Island’s environment, has died. He was 53.

Assembly Republican leader Brian Kolb praised Conte for two decades of leading Republican causes. Conte announced his retirement this year as he received cancer treatments after being diagnosed with T-cell lymphoma in 2011.

Conte was the GOP floor leader, responsible for making sure the Republican views on bills and spending were heard. He often did it with humor and always with respect for Democratic colleagues.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo called him a man of integrity and character.

“Throughout his career, Jim was an outspoken advocate on important issues facing not just his constituents and community, but all New Yorkers,” Cuomo said in a statement. “Jim will be remembered for his kindness and genuine concern for the wellbeing of others, and with his passing, our state has lost a true public servant and a man of integrity and character.”

Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver called Conte a friend and esteemed colleague.

Conte was elected to represent Suffolk County in 1988. He lived in Huntington Station with his wife and three children.

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