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Eugene Sawyer, 1934 - 2008

By Prescott Carlson in News on Jan 20, 2008 3:57PM

sawyer.jpgFormer Chicago mayor Eugene Sawyer has died, following a long illness. Sawyer was 73 years old.

Sawyer was elected alderman of the 6th ward on the south side in 1971, and continued to serve in that position for 17 years. But of course what Sawyer is most known for is as the successor to Harold Washington following Washington's death, as well as being the last mayor to serve before the eternal reign of Richard M. Daley. Sawyer was elected not by the general public, but by the City Council. And of course, this being Chicago, it was not without controversy:

On Nov. 30, Washington's eulogy said it was "no time for power-brokering, no time for king-making, no time for ego trips, no time for self-serving agendas or hungry power grabs."

But the following day, a power struggle was in full swing in City Council chambers, nearly all through the night. Demonstrators gathered outside City Hall, shouting the late mayor's name and chanting, "Down with Sawyer!" The demonstrators swelled to the point where police shut down LaSalle Street outside City Hall.

Inside City Council chambers, the two factions went through hours of political maneuvering and parliamentary stonewalling. Unlike the Council Wars, the divisions did not break down along racial lines. Members of the mayor's own coalition were in many instances fighting amongst themselves.

Ald. Dorothy Tillman (3rd) said backing Sawyer was tantamount to backing the 29 aldermen who had fought Washington in the Council Wars.

"Those of you who have joined forces with the 29, don't do it! Don't do it!" Tillman said.

Despite only being in office for two years, Sawyer did manage to pass several pieces of legislation including the Chicago Human Rights Ordinance, which protects various groups from discrimination and is seen as an important moment in Chicago's gay and lesbian rights movement. Sawyer passed away at Hinsdale Hospital late Saturday night. [CBS2, S-T, Trib]

Sun Times photo