Eugene Sawyer, the former Mayor of Chicago passes. This is the second big local politician this week to pass.Posted by Third Generation Chicago Native at 1/21/2008
Eugene Sawyer, who Daley defeated to start his reign
Eugene Sawyer was elected Chicago Mayor by the City Council. Eugene Sawyer was the Alderman of the 6th Ward while serving under Mayor Harold Washington. Little did Eugene Sawyer know he would replace Mayor Washington, after his sudden and unexpected passing. Alderman Dorothy Tillman of the 3rd Ward, and her big hat fought Sawyer. It was an all night election that had Dick Mell, father-in-law of Governor Blagojevich and Alderman of the 33rd Ward jumped up on the desk at the City Council chambers. That night in the City Council was better than any reality TV, it was Chicago politics. Then night ended, or rather early morning at 4 AM a very tired Eugene Sawyer was elected by the City Council the next Mayor of Chicago. Almost passing out and being held up to accept his new position.
Former Chicago Mayor Eugene Sawyer, who served only briefly but during a deeply divisive period in city politics in the late 1980s, has died. He was 73.
Mr. Sawyer, the city's second black mayor, served for just 16 months after the sudden death of Chicago's first black mayor, Harold Washington. Mr. Sawyer died Saturday after several recent strokes, his family said.
"He guided Chicago through one of its most turbulent times," the Rev. Jesse Jackson said Sunday. "He served without rancor. ... He was a bridge, a man of calm demeanor and dignity."
Immediately after the death of the popular Washington, the quiet, soft-spoken Mr. Sawyer, then alderman for Chicago's 6th Ward, found himself in the midst of a political maelstrom.
Many blacks opposed him, accusing him of being a figurehead for white powerbrokers who had bitterly opposed Washington during his four years in office.
"There was a lot of hostility directed toward him," said Gary Rivlin, author of a Washington biography "Fire on the Prairie." "He was portrayed as getting the backing of the old machine."
The city council session held to elect Mr. Sawyer as acting mayor was highly contentious, with many blacks angrily accusing the Greensboro, Ala., native of selling out, Rivlin said.
"Sawyer's election wasn't joyous. He had a resigned posture, like, 'OK, I'll be mayor, but I have to survive this night,' " Rivlin said. "You couldn't help feeling sorry for him. I always saw Sawyer as a tragic figure. ... He was caught in the middle."
Mayor Richard Daley defeated Mr. Sawyer in the Democratic primary in 1989 and went on to win the mayoral election. After his defeat, Mr. Sawyer left public life and became involved in several business ventures.
Mr. Sawyer never sought to get back at his critics after he became mayor, his brother said.
"His major concern was to be a healer, to ensure the city continued to function," John Sawyer said Sunday. "He didn't want to contribute to any strife - be it racial or economic."
Among Mr. Sawyer's proudest accomplishments was helping to ensure minorities had a fair chance to bid on city contracts, his brother said.
The Chicago Cubs fan also was proud that the installation of lighting at Wrigley Field, allowing for night games at the famed baseball park, happened during his term, his brother said.
"He was proud of Chicago. He loved Chicago," John Sawyer said.
Mr. Sawyer died at Adventist Hinsdale Hospital about 11 p.m Saturday; he had suffered a series of recent strokes, the most recent in November, and he was hospitalized Friday with heart problems, his brother said.
Mr. Sawyer is survived by his wife; three children; and four grandchildren.