MOUNT VERNON, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Former Mount Vernon Mayor Ronald Blackwood, the first African-American elected mayor in New York state, has died.

Blackwood was elected mayor of the Westchester County community in 1985. In a statement, current Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Thomas said Blackwood “broke barriers and built bridges to the future showing how an immigrant can truly live the American Dream.”

“He was an example of what a public servant should be. You could always find him walking up and down the streets, connecting with residents, responding to their wants and needs,” Thomas said in a statement. “He was truly a man of the people. When he spoke to you, he made you feel as if you were the center of the universe. He was a leader not a politician, a man who worked with grace and grit.”

Blackwood was born in the country of Jamaica, according to the Mount Vernon mayor’s office.

The New York Daily News reported that moved to Mount Vernon in 1955 and served on the Westchester County Board of Supervisors beginning in 1967. He later served as a Mount Vernon city councilman, the newspaper reported. He also served as acting mayor for four months in 1976 after the death of Mount Vernon Mayor August Petrillo, the newspaper reported.

Thomas said Blackwood often spoke of the ”obstacles, disappointments and frustrations” he experienced as making his way to New York and Westchester County.

“But he persevered, making himself an example for young men and women,” Thomas said in a statement. “Everyone knows that his love for this city knew no bounds.”

Thomas said Blackwood worked to promote job opportunities, affordable housing, and crime-fighting measures.

“Mount Vernon will continue to remember his legacy of leadership and thank him and his family for their dedication to the city,” Thomas said in his statement.