Civic leaders, family members and fellow politicians are remembering Coral Springs Mayor Walter “Skip” Cambell, a “monumental warrior for justice,” who died Tuesday night.
Campbell was 69.
He died at the hospital about 9 p.m., family members said.
A staunch Democrat, Campbell was a state senator from 1996 to 2006, when term limits forced him out of office. He was well-regarded in the Republican-dominated Legislature.
When he ran for the mayor’s seat in Coral Springs, it was his political comeback.
"I‘m trying to stay engaged, trying to stay informed and trying to stay involved," Campbell told the South Florida Sun Sentinel at the time. “I‘m an Irishman. Politics is in our blood.”
Campbell became mayor of Coral Springs in November 2014 and was re-elected in November 2016.
Campbell, a hobbyist pilot, lived in the city for 36 years.
“He was the ultimate statesman,” said Coral Springs Commissioner Larry Vignola. “When people were upset, he always found a nice way to help find compromise. It’s a big loss for the city. It’s a tough day in the city of Coral Springs.”
In a statement Wednesday morning, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, called Campbell a “giant” of justice and public service.
“He was my seat mate in the Florida Senate and was quick-witted, fun-loving, and always ready to reach across the aisle or bridge a divide to solve problems,” Wasserman Schultz said.
Campbell was born in Rockaway Beach, New York. He graduated from the University of Florida in 1970 and its Law School in 1973. He has been president of the Broward County Bar Association, president of the Broward County Young Lawyers Association and president of the Federal Bar Association of Broward County.
Campbell co-founded the law firm Krupnick & Campbell in 1975. It is now known as Krupnick Campbell Malone Buser Slama Hancock Liberman.
His law firm issued a statement Wednesday: “Skip has been a monumental warrior for justice in our community, state and country. His relentless commitment to helping others began in the courtroom and continued into the State Senate, Coral Springs City Hall, the Florida Bar, and innumerable religious, philanthropic, professional, and community organizations. Skip made an indelible mark on this world and leaves it far better off than he found it. We sincerely hope that the millions of people Senator Campbell helped and touched will continue his legacy of making our world a better place.”
And he had plans: Angry about the 17 people killed in six minutes at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine‘s Day, Campbell planned to circulate petitions to put an assault weapon ban on the 2020 ballot if neither the state’s Constitution Revision Commission nor the Legislature responds adequately by then.
“We‘re going to win this thing,” he said in February.
Campbell was the Democratic nominee for Florida attorney general in 2006, losing to Republican Bill McCollum, who publicly sparred with him over the Terri Schiavo right-to-die case. Campbell voted against state intervention while he was a Senator, but said during the attorney general campaign that, as a Roman Catholic and as a moderate Democrat, he was “desperate” to find a way to intervene in the case, but that any law would be unconstitutional.
Campbell was home Tuesday when he had a “sudden cardiac event” and was rushed to the hospital by city paramedics, according to officials. He had been home recovering from hip replacement surgery, and was fielding phone calls Tuesday from city staff as well as newspaper reporters.
His family suspects it may have been an embolism given that his death happened about two weeks after the surgery.
City officials are expecting to have a special election for his seat in March 2019, but details have not been finalized Wednesday. The mayor’s seat is for two years, and Campbell was elected automatically without opposition for another term that was supposed to start in November.
“The city of Coral Springs lost a great mayor and an even better man,” said John “J.J.” Hearn, the city’s attorney.
“He truly was just a nice guy.”
Campbell is survived by his wife, Lynn, and two children, son Daniel and daughter Christina, and three grandchildren, Alex, Aaron and Leo.
His sister, Maureen Campbell, of Coral Springs, said he was “the most kind, generous, thoughtful, intelligent human beings I’ve ever met in my life, he always fought for the underdog.”
The wake is scheduled for 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Friday at Coral Springs City Hall.
The funeral is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church, 1401 Coral Ridge Drive.
Instead of flowers, the family requests donations be sent to Community Foundation of Broward, 910 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, FL. 33301, earmarked for the Muriel T. Campbell Memorial Fund. The fund benefits local charities, and Skip Campbell set it up after his mother died.