John Daniels, New Haven’s first black mayor, died Saturday at the age of 78.

Daniels was a New Haven native, playing football at James Hillhouse High School in his youth and later working in the administrations of several mayors. He had a long history in both New Haven and Connecticut electoral politics, serving as a seven-term alderman and a five-term state senator from New Haven before defeating John DeStefano Jr. in the Democratic Primary to win the 1989 mayoral election. Daniels remained mayor for two terms before stepping down, thus paving the way for DeStefano’s twenty years in office.

“From the Board of Aldermen, to the State Senate, to the Mayor’s office, he was a trailblazer,” said Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman in a statement. “He broke barriers, and truly personified progress. Respected by leaders across Connecticut, he encapsulated what it means to serve the public.”

The New Haven that Daniels governed faced several issues: Violent crime posed serious problems, the homeless population was larger than ever and the city’s finances looked bleak. As a result, Daniels’ terms were marked by transition for the city, and saw the hiring of Police Chief Nicholas Pastore, who brought community policing strategies to New Haven for the first time — strategies the NHPD still uses today under Chief Dean Esserman.

In recognition of his service to his community, New Haven named a magnet school after the former mayor: the John C. Daniels School of International Communication.

“[Daniels] touched countless lives in his drive to expand opportunity,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 in a statement. “He gave of himself unceasingly in service and friendship.”

The city’s second black mayor is its sitting chief executive, Toni Harp, who took office last year.