Acceptance Speech of Acting Mayor Eugene Sawyer
December 2, 1987
I come to you at this time bearing a heavy heart. Chicago has lost one of its great sons and Black Chicago has lost one of its greatest leaders. Yet, the wave of progress ushered in by our late Mayor’s two successive victories cannot be rolled back because of his death. Fate has made a different choice for our great city. I humbly accept your choice of me to guide our city and I promise you that I will continue the programs and policies of our late Mayor. I thank all of my colleagues who voted for me and extend my hand in friendship to those who did not support me. You have heard questions about my support of the reform movement. Let me end all speculation now. The reform movement initiated by Harold Washington shall remain intact and go forward. It will continue, untainted by special interests for the rich and powerful. This city government will be an open city government-open to all of the people, all of the time. Our city’s elected officials will be responsible to the people. There shall be no cronyism or favoritism. When Harold proclaimed “the machine” is dead, he was speaking the absolute truth. I will continue to ensure that the old politics of who you know and what’s in it for me shall forever be put to rest. Harold’s victories symbolized a new sun shinning on our city and my administration will fight to keep the clouds from coming over it. I shall continue to unite Black, White and Hispanic; Slav and Jew; Christian and Asian; White Ethnics and New Immigrants. Yes, this will be difficult work, but I know that with the help of the people of Chicago, their elected officials, their ministers, priest and rabbis, we can overcome our differences and heal those wounds that have kept us from coming together to build an even greater city. Finally, I pledge to you that the sacrifices of our late Mayor will not be in vain.
Since we have much to do, let me be brief and to the point. I want my colleagues and the community at large to know who Gene Sawyer really is.
When I was at Alabama State University, I had the privilege of meeting and knowing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. My fraternity provided security for Dr. King and I was a member of that security team. I came to know Dr. King well.
Like Harold Washington, I joined the Regular Democratic Organization in Chicago. I was elected Democratic Committeeman of the 6th ward in 1968 and Alderman in 1971. Until my election today as Acting Mayor, I was the Senior Black Alderman of the City Council.
I have not forgotten the lessons taught by Dr. King. When Congressman Harold Washington announced his candidacy for Mayor in the Democratic Primary of 1983, I was the first Democratic Committeeman to support him. The 6th ward, under my leadership as Committeeman, gave Harold Washington the largest vote of any ward in both primary and general elections in 1983, and again for his re-election in 1987. I was a supporter of Harold Washington from the very beginning.
I am honored to say that the Mayor trusted me. When I was elected as President Pro Tem. of the City Council in 1983, the Mayor knew that the gavel was being placed in capable hands upon his absence.
During the days of the council wars, there were those who wanted me to be less than loyal to the Mayor, but I was absolutely supportive of the Mayor’s policies. During Mayor Washington’s administration, I was a staunch supporter of the Mayor, not a critic, to the very end. I will continue to support and advance the Mayor’s progressive reform agenda. I will continue his efforts to reform our educational system to provide decent education for our children. I will continue his program to provide decent affordable housing for those who need shelter, including the homeless. I will continue his program to create jobs and opportunities for all our people. I will continue the Mayor’s affirmative action programs in hiring, purchasing and contracts for Blacks, Hispanics and Women. I will continue his programs to provide effective health programs and to reduce infant mortality, which is so prevalent in some of our communities. I will support our Police Department, as our Mayor did, in providing safety for our seniors and our citizens generally. I will support the Mayor’s Economic Development Programs. In short, I will continue the Mayor’s programs and develop new ones where needed.
As a result of Harold Washington’s great leadership, Chicago will never be the same. As he stated so emphatically, patronage as we once knew it, is dead, dead, dead! Moreover, I will support the Mayor’s effort to create open, accountable, ethical government, with fairness and justice for all.
In addition, I will support the Mayor’s national urban agenda, to reorder our national priorities in order to bring the funds and resources back to our cities to create jobs, education, housing, health, and other vital programs.
I shall put my administration at the disposal of all of the people to build an even greater Chicago: a wealthier Chicago; a Chicago where everyone has a place. This, I feel, would certainly be a fitting legacy to our fallen leader.
And last, but certainly not least, to my friend, Mayor Harold Washington, who left his gavel in my hand each time he left this Council Chamber, I pledge to you my friend … I will never let you down. I will never violate the trust you vested in me, for you were the greatest. I say, farewell to you my buddy … I will never, never, never let you down … “God Bless.”
- Chicago City Council. Journal of the Proceedings, December 1, 1987, p. 6526–27.