Matthew P. Sapolin, the Bloomberg administration’s disabilities commissioner, died of cancer on Tuesday. He was 41.
Mr. Sapolin, whose death was confirmed by the mayor’s office, had served as commissioner for theMayor’s Office for People With Disabilities since the post was created in 2006. In that role, he pushed to make New York City’s building code more accommodating to people with disabilities, created a mentoring program and led an effort to freeze rents for some disabled New Yorkers.
Mr. Sapolin was also blind. Friends and colleagues said that while Mr. Sapolin’s blindness informed his life, it did not narrow it. He was an accomplished wrestler, a versatile musician, a formidable chess player and an occasional skier.
“His mother told him, you go to school and you’ll learn, and that’s it,” said Carol Robles-Román, deputy mayor for legal affairs. “You’re going to school with everybody else, and they’re going to treat you like everybody else.”
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg appointed Mr. Sapolin executive director of the Office for People With Disabilities in 2002. Four years later, Mr. Bloomberg decided to elevate the job to the level of commissioner, and Mr. Sapolin rose with it.
At age 5, Mr. Sapolin lost his sight to bilateral retinoblastoma, a cancer that affects the optic nerve. Mr. Bloomberg’s office said he had battled cancer ever since, and it was that disease that killed him, a rare form called leiomyosarcoma.
Mr. Sapolin was the captain of his high school wrestling team in Islip, N.Y., the town where he was born. He went on to be co-captain of the wrestling team at New York University. In 1992, he was profiled in Sports Illustrated when he had the Division III nationals within reach, competing against sighted wrestlers.
“I think what strikes me is what a fighter he was,” Ms. Robles-Román said. “He was tenacious and he was an advocate to the nth degree, but he was always professional, collaborative and collegial. Those words don’t necessarily go together, but in Matt’s case, they really did.”
Mr. Sapolin continued to go to work for Mr. Bloomberg — who would sometimes joke that Mr. Sapolin’s golden retriever guide dog had a habit of shedding on his suits — as recently as last week, said Jason Mischel, his deputy and general counsel.
“Between the office and his apartment on the Upper West Side,” Mr. Mischel said, “he would run into three or four people who would come up to him and say ‘Hey, commissioner, do you remember me?’ And he would know them by the sound of their voice.”
Mr. Sapolin is survived by his wife, Candra, and their two children, Trevor and Toscany.