• Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald died of cancer early Sunday
• President Bush: We hold her family in our prayers
• The 68-year old was in her 7th term representing a southern California district
• Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has 14 days to set a date for a special election
LOS ANGELES, California (AP) — Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald, a seven-term congresswoman from southern California, died late Saturday of cancer.
Millender-McDonald, who was 68, died at her home in Carson, California, said her chief of staff, Bandele McQueen.
McQueen could provide no details on what form of cancer Millender-McDonald had. He said she had been receiving hospice care.
The congresswoman had asked for a four- to six-week leave of absence from the House last week to deal with her illness.
“Juanita Millender-McDonald was a trailblazer, always advocating for the full participation of all Americans in the success and prosperity of our country,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. “The dignity with which she faced her illness was an indication of the determination with which she always served the people of her district.”
Millender-McDonald was in her seventh term representing a heavily Democratic Southern California district that includes Compton, Long Beach and parts of Los Angeles.
“She was a dedicated public servant who tirelessly and honorably served her country for many years,” President Bush said in a statement. “We hold Rep. Millender-McDonald’s family, friends, staff, and constituents in our thoughts and prayers.”
Millender-McDonald is the second member of Congress to die this year of cancer. Republican Rep. Charles Norwood Jr. of Georgia died in February after battling cancer and lung disease.
“She was a champion for the consumer and fought injustice wherever she saw it. She always valued public service and served her state and nation with grace and honor,” said California Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres, who served with her in the California state Legislature.
The congresswoman’s son, R. Keith McDonald, had received “temporary emergency release” from a 41-month prison term after his mother had surgery in May 2005, according to the Los Angeles Times. The former Los Angeles water district official was convicted of extortion in a contracts case. Millender-McDonald was never implicated.
The congresswoman, a native of Birmingham, Alabama, worked on former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley’s unsuccessful 1982 gubernatorial campaign and other local races as a volunteer before getting elected to the Carson City Council in 1990.
She went on to serve in the California state Assembly, and in 1996 sought a U.S. House seat during a special election to replace Rep. Walter Tucker III, who had been convicted of taking bribes while mayor of Compton, California, and of cheating on his taxes.
She won the special election, and in March beat out Tucker’s wife, Robin, in a primary that featured nine Democrats. She won a full House term in November 1996 and has subsequently won re-election easily.
Millender-McDonald has recently worked on issues including election reform and opposing the genocide in Darfur.
She drew national attention in 1996 when she took then-CIA director John Deutch to Watts to address the community following a newspaper report alleging that profits from domestic sales of crack-cocaine were funneled to the CIA-backed Contras in Nicaragua.
This year Millender-McDonald became chair of the Committee on House Administration, which oversees operations of the House and federal election procedures.
She is survived by her husband, James McDonald, Jr., and five adult children.
Under California election procedures, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has 14 days to set a date for a special election to fill the seat.
Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald is survived by her husband and five adult children.