Former Mayor Eugene Sawyer remembered

Former Chicago Mayor Eugene Sawyer remembered
January 26, 2008 9:53:38 PM PST
Family, friends, and city leaders packed a South Side church Saturday to remember former Chicago Mayor Eugene Sawyer.

Sawyer died at a suburban hospital last weekend after suffering a series of strokes. He took office in 1987 after the death of Mayor Harold Washington.

During Saturday's service, Sawyer was remembered as a soft-spoken leader who guided the city through a tumultuous time.

Known best for his calm demeanor, Sawyer rose to prominence in the days following the death of Harold Washington. He became Washington's replacement after a bitter battle in a divided city council. At the time, many black aldermen wanted Timothy Evans, now a Cook County chief judge, to become mayor. Protesters even accused Sawyer of selling out to white politicians.

Those close to him say it was a political scuffle Sawyer never truly got over.

"He got a bum reputation. Sawyer as a quiet storm. He was a gentleman...capable of the job," said Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White.

Born in Greensboro, Alabama, Sawyer immigrated to Chicago in the late 1950s. Armed with a degree in chemistry, he worked for the city's sewer department before becoming 6th Ward alderman in 1971. Sawyer eventually became the council's president pro tempore and later mayor from 1987 until 1989, when he lost a special election to current mayor Richard M. Daley.

"We stayed on the issues. It was never person or throwing mud at each other," Mayor Daley said.

Saturday morning, the ability of Eugene Sawyer to bring people together was celebrated even though those he helped did not always return the favor.

"Suddenly, the people who were not very kind to him had nice things to say," said former Press Secretary Monroe Anderson.

Sawyer leaves behind a legacy of inclusion, honesty, and ethics. But, many who attended the service Saturday say they'll remember the former mayor as just a friend.

"I'm a little person. I'm just a resident of his ward, but every time I saw him, he said, 'Hi, Erma.' He never forgot you," said Erma Kellum.

During Sawyer's short administration, an ethics ordinance for city workers along with anti-discrimination regulations were put on the books. Admirers of the former mayor say it is a shame Sawyer never got credit for carrying out Harold Washington's agenda or creating part of the foundation on which the current administration capitalized.