Born in Queens, New York to Irish parents, he graduated from the Monsignor McClancy Memorial High School and attended Iona College. He served on the New York City Council as a Democrat from 1985 to 2001. He served as a lobbyist and consultant in his business, The McCaffrey Group.
McCaffrey died at age 64, two months after sustaining injuries in a car crash in Manhattan. On May 8, 2014, the corner of 61st Street and Woodside Avenue in Woodside, Queens, New York, was renamed "Walter McCaffery Place".
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