The Associated Press

Olga Mendez

NEW YORK (AP) - Olga Mendez, the first Puerto Rican woman elected to a state legislature in the mainland United States, died Wednesday. She was 84.

The former New York state senator died at her East Harlem home, her nephew Erick Vazquezsaid. She had been diagnosed with cancer, he said.

Mendez was a state senator for more than two decades, from 1978 to 2004. She wielded tremendous political influence in the Hispanic community.

Republican-turned-independent Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Mendez helped him see the wisdom of reaching across partisan lines.

Mendez lost her seat after switching parties, from Democrat to Republican.

She was born in 1925 in the Puerto Rican city of Mayaguez, on the west coast of the U.S. island.