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Bess Myerson, First Jewish Miss America, Passes At 90

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Bess Myerson

Bess Myerson, 90, the first Jewish Miss America and a frequent companion of the late New York Mayor Ed Koch who later fell from grace in a city scandal, has died after a long battle with dementia.

The Bronx-born Myerson, who served as Koch’s commissioner of cultural affairs and often appeared with him holding his hand, died on December 14, 2014 at her Santa Monica, California, residence, Los Angeles County assistant chief coroner Ed Winter said on Monday.

His office did not have information on the cause of death.

In 1945 Myerson became the first Miss New York to win the title of Miss America. She also was the first - and so far only - Jewish Miss America.

The following year she married Allan Wayne, a Navy captain, and gave birth to her only child, Barbara, before the marriage broke up a decade later.

Her varied career included such jobs as a panelist for the television game show “I’ve Got a Secret,” commercial pitch woman and New York City’s first consumer affairs commissioner, appointed by Mayor John Lindsay.

Her political career included advising three presidents. She served on Lyndon Johnson’s White House conference on crime and violence, Gerald Ford’s board focusing on workplace issues and Jimmy Carter’s commissions on mental health and world hunger.

Myerson made an unsuccessful bid for a New York U.S. Senate seat in 1980 but lost the Democratic nomination to U.S. Representative Elizabeth Holtzman.

In the years afterward, Myerson became entangled in a scandal the tabloids called “The Bess Mess,” in which she was indicted in a bribery scandal involving her boyfriend, sewer contractor Carl Andrew Capasso, who was accused of bribing a judge by offering the jurist’s daughter a job in Myerson’s city department. Myerson was ultimately acquitted after resigning her city posts.

Amid the scandal, she also faced charges of shoplifting $44.07 worth of merchandise in a small town in Pennsylvania in 1988.

 

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Rani Molla

is a multimedia journalist focusing on the Highbridge neighborhood of South Bronx. She has worked at a variety of publications, most recently serving as the culture manager and art critic at the Santa Fe Reporter, an award-winning alternative weekly in New Mexico.