|42nd Mayor of Chicago|
December 2, 1987 - April 24, 1989
|David Duvall Orr (acting)|
|City of Chicago Alderman|
February 28, 1971 - December 2, 1987
|Constituency||6th Ward, Chicago|
September 3, 1934|
Greensboro, Alabama, U.S.
January 19, 2008 (aged 73)|
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
|Cause of death||Complications from a stroke|
Oak Woods Cemetery|
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Veronica E. Smith (m. 1996-2008)
|Alma mater||Alabama State University|
Eugene Sawyer Jr. (September 3, 1934 – January 19, 2008) was an American businessman, educator, and politician. Sawyer was selected as the 42nd Mayor of Chicago, Illinois after the sudden death of then-mayor Harold Washington, serving from December 2, 1987 until April 24, 1989. Sawyer was the second African-American to serve as mayor of Chicago. Sawyer was a member of the Democratic Party.
Born to Bernice and Eugene Sawyer Sr. in Greensboro, Alabama, the oldest of six children, Sawyer spent summer vacations in Chicago with his aunt during his childhood. Sawyer enrolled Alabama State University, where joined the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. During college, Sawyer served as security for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. along with his fraternity during the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955. He graduated from Alabama State in 1956 with bachelor's degree in chemistry. He had a brief stint as a chemistry and mathematics teacher in Prentiss, Mississippi, before moving to Chicago to do laboratory work in 1957. Shortly after moving to Chicago, Sawyer took a job in Chicago's Department of Water, where he worked from 1959 until 1971. While working for the city's water department, Sawyer became involved with the Six Ward Regular Democratic organization and the Young Democrats (YD) through family friends, becoming the organization president and financial secretary in October 1968.
The sudden death of Mayor Harold Washington created a vacancy at city hall. With David Duvall Orr serving as interim mayor, the city council met to select a permanent successor as mayor. Washington's supporters in the city council split, with some supporting Aldermen Sawyer, but most voting for Timothy C. Evans. The City Council elected Sawyer mayor in a tumultuous and lengthy meeting. Having received the majority of votes from the council's white aldermen, Sawyer faced accusations of "selling out" to the white community, which led to protests from Evans' supporters.
Sawyer's inauguration as mayor occurred in the parking lot of a closed restaurant at North and Bosworth Avenues at 4:01 am on December 2, 1987, in an effort to avoid public demonstration. He was soft-spoken, which led to local media to refer to him as "Mr. Mumbles", or "Mayor Mumbles". Despite the division surrounding his selection, Sawyer pushed several initiatives through the city council, including the installation of lights at Wrigley Field and the Clean Indoor Air Ordinance, which banned indoor smoking. Building on groundwork laid under Mayor Washington, Sawyer championed the Human Rights Ordinance, passed in 1988, to protect individuals against discrimination. This was the first Chicago city ordinance to assert the rights of gay and lesbian Chicagoans.
After losing the mayoral contest, Sawyer lost his reelection bid for Democratic committeeman of the 6th Ward and subsequently retired from politics. After retiring, he became involved in business again.
Sawyer was also an active member of the Vernon Park Church of God in Chicago's Pill Hill neighborhood. Sawyer died at age 73 on Saturday, January 19, 2008, at approximately 11 PM after a series of strokes and other health setbacks over the previous month. Public viewing for Sawyer took place on January 25 and his funeral took place on January 26 followed by burial at Oak Woods Cemetery, where Harold Washington is buried. Sawyer's mayoral papers are available as the Eugene Sawyer Collection at Special Collections department of the Chicago Public Library located in the Harold Washington Library.
Sawyer was married to Veronica Sawyer. They had three children together, sons Roderick and Shedrick, and a daughter, Sheryl McGill Sawyer. Roderick followed his father into politics. In 2011 he was elected as 6th ward alderman, the same post which his father had held.