Paterson died at 10 p.m. at Mount Sinai Hospital, according to a family statement that did not state the cause of death, ABC News reported. He served as a state senator, deputy New York City mayor and New York's first black secretary of state.
He was one of four members of the "Gang of Four," which included David Dinkins, New York City's first black mayor, civil rights activist Percy Sutton and United States Representative Charles Rangel.
"Basil Paterson, Percy Sutton, David Dinkins, and I were inseparable and indefatigable in our continuous efforts to make Dr. King's Dream a reality for all," Congressman Charlie Rangel said in a statement. "Each step of the way as he championed Dr. King's legacy as the state senator, deputy mayor of New York City, and then the Secretary of State of New York, Basil helped pave the path in which anybody, regardless of race, could not only vote, but also hold any public office in the nation."
Born on April 27, 1926 in Harlem, Paterson graduated from the Dewitt Clinton High School in the Bronx in 1942. He received his bachelor's of science degree in biology from St. John's College in 1948 after his studies were interrupted by a two-year stint in the army. He received his J.D. from St. John's Law School in 1951.
He started his career as a lawyer in Harlem, where he became partners with Dinkins and Ivan A. Michael. In 1965, he was elected to the New York State Senate, representing the Upper West Side and Harlem. He gave up his seat in 1970 to run for lieutenant governor, but he lost the race.
He served as deputy mayor in the Ed Koch administration in 1978 and New York's secretary of state from 1979 to 1983. He also served as commissioner of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey from 1989 to 1995.
Paterson later worked at the law firm of Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klein and taught at the State University of New York at New Paltz, Fordham University and Hunter College.
"Today, New York City has lost a progressive giant who committed his life to lifting up others," de Blasio said in a statement. "Like so many in this city, I often sought Basil's advice and gained from his wisdom throughout the more than 20 years I had the honor of working with him. He helped to shape the thinking of so many of today's leaders in our city and state."
"His legacy inspired a new generation of talented public leadership, a legacy his son Governor David Paterson carried on as Governor," New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. "Basil's spirit will forever be felt in the neighborhoods of Harlem, a community he loved, fought tirelessly for, and called home."
He would have turned 88 on April 27. His family has not made any announcements about funeral arrangements yet.