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Oct. 14, 1940 – Oct. 12, 2013

Retired lawyer and former Democratic leader of the Erie County Legislature James V. Arcadi, who had at least three near-death experiences during a 20-year battle with heart disease, died Saturday in Buffalo General Medical Center. He was 72.

Born in Buffalo, Mr. Arcadi was a graduate of Grover Cleveland High School and earned a law degree from the University at Buffalo. He was an Army veteran.

His roots in the local political scene dated back to the 1960s. “On the West Side he was a big political leader,” recalled Patrick J. Ruffino, a longtime friend.

An Erie County legislator in the mid-1970s, Mr. Arcadi represented the former 8th District and served as Democratic majority leader until he and a former assistant Erie County district attorney were indicted in a court-fixing case. After his misdemeanor bribery conviction was reversed, Mr. Arcadi ran unsuccessfully for Buffalo City Court judge before he joined the staff of the county Surrogate’s Court in 1999.

Mr. Arcadi had worked for Surrogate Judge Joseph S. Mattina and, later, Surrogate Judge Barbara Howe, before retiring in 2010.

Considered a major player in the downtown political scene, Mr. Arcadi enjoyed discussing the latest political rumors. A lively and spirited comedian, he often caused a commotion in downtown coffee shops.

“He was one of the few people who was proud to speak out, even though it was politically incorrect, that there is a certain amount of treachery in politics in the national arena as well as the district committee races,” said Ruffino. “He loved being in the middle of it.”

Meanwhile, friends and colleagues had come to know him as the “bionic man.”

Between 1997 and 2007, Mr. Arcadi technically died on three occasions. During that decade, he also received a heart transplant in 1998 and a kidney transplant in 2003.

Following his third near-death experience in September 2006, when he collapsed in front of the Rath Building, he told The Buffalo News:

“I heard the doctor pronounce me dead. I heard my two kids and my ex-wife talking about me ... Fortunately, they were saying good things.”

“I saw a bright light and I saw God. He told me, ‘I’m sending you back to your kids’.”

Mr. Arcadi enjoyed and supported the local arts, including theaters and galleries. He celebrated his retirement with a wake, and worked intermittently for a downtown law firm before his health worsened.

During the final few months of his life, his daughter, Jane, a resident physician at Buffalo General Medical Center, took care of him. She and her brother, John, were at his side when he died.

Survivors also include his former wife, Margaret.

Mr. Arcadi donated his body to UB’s Medical School. A memorial service will be scheduled.