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Black Caucus chairman Sawyer all but certain to face runoff

Ald. Roderick Sawyer's vote tally has dropped below the half-plus-one level he needs to avoid a runoff election in April. | Rich Hein / Sun-Times

The chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus is all-but-certain to be forced into an April 2 runoff after his vote tally on Wednesday dropped below the required 50 percent-plus-one benchmark.

The latest unofficial results show Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) with 5,050 votes — just a vote below 50 percent of the 10,102 votes cast in the South Side ward that includes parts of Chatham and Englewood. That means he’s two votes short of the 5,052 votes needed to hit the 50 percent-plus one level required to avoid a runoff against accountant Deborah Foster-Bonner, who finished second with 31.2 percent of the vote.

Vote-by-mail ballots postmarked by Feb. 26 will continue to be counted through Tuesday. But the number of qualified ballots is slowing to a trickle; literally, it’s down to one late-arriving vote-per-ward, each day, that can actually be counted.

Not helping Sawyer was a write-in vote that went to someone else.

“The deluge you get on the Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of election week is over,” said a source close to the count.

“Unless the [U.S.] Postal Service suddenly finds a batch of ballots postmarked on time, historically there are not a lot more ballots out there” for Sawyer to make up the difference.

6th Ward aldermanic candidate Deborah A. Foster-Bonner. | Provided photo
6th Ward aldermanic candidate Deborah A. Foster-Bonner. | Provided photo

Sawyer, son of former Mayor Eugene Sawyer, issued a statement Wednesday afternoon:

“In the next four weeks, we’ll work hard to do what we’ve always done — organize, mobilize and engage voters on every single block of the 6th Ward. I’m so proud of the progress we’ve made since my election in 2011, and I’m more than ready to keep a robust conversation going about the future of our community over the course of this race.”

Last fall, Sawyer purged himself of a surprise $20,000 contribution from Mayor Rahm Emanuel amid concern it might damage his chances of winning re-election.

Instead of keeping the money and putting the windfall into his campaign fund, Sawyer distributed the mayor’s check in $2,000 increments to ten community organizations and other groups in his ward that are working to stop the never-ending cycle of gang violence and train people for jobs.

The alderman said he appreciated the mayor’s gesture and meant no disrespect.

But he was concerned about how the mayoral contribution would have been perceived by voters in his South Side ward who have not forgiven Emanuel for his handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting video.

“The reality is, my ward is 98 percent black and some of my constituents don’t really have a super favorable opinion of Rahm Emanuel. We looked at that…and thought the best use of these funds were to support organizations in need of funding,” Sawyer said then.

“I talked to my community organizations and asked them, ‘What’s the best way to use this type of money?’ This is what they came up with. Are there political optics there? Sure there are. But…I’m not afraid to say I’ve worked with the mayor — not for the mayor on a number of initiatives that have gone through City Council. Sometimes, they were contentious. But what we’ve done is worked on a lot of good initiatives that benefit the city for the long run.”

Sawyer has pushed back hard against millennial activists who have accused African-American aldermen of exacerbating a cover-up by signing off on a $5 million settlement to the family of McDonald — before a lawsuit had even been filed–without asking tough enough questions or seeing the incendiary shooting video.

“If they are fortunate enough to be on the City Council, they’re gonna have to work with whoever the mayor is. They can’t let personalities dictate how they’re gonna legislate. That’s maybe a lesson they need to learn,” Sawyer has said.

“Mayor Emanuel and I did battle when I first came in. But I got to deal with him on a personal level and there became a healthy respect towards one another. We’re not going out to have beer together. But we…found a way to work collaboratively on things that will benefit the city of Chicago in the long run. These are the lessons that should be learned. You have to work with whoever is there.”

Sawyer’s partnership with Emanuel is now paying dividends for the impoverished-but-rebounding Englewood community.

Chicago’s longtime fleet maintenance facility — located on prime riverfront land in the North Branch Industrial corridor — was rebuilt on a vacant 12.5-acre site at 210 W. 69th St. that once housed Kennedy-King College.

At a Valentine’s Day groundbreaking ceremony with the mayor, Sawyer acknowledged the $28 million project will merely “relocate” jobs from the North Side to the South Side. It will not bring any new jobs to Englewood.

“Quite honestly, it was roundly criticized. A lot of people said it was just moving one problem to another area that was challenged. I said just the opposite. … These are the cornerstones that help us build our neighborhood,” Sawyer said on that day.

“As you have projects like this — capital development projects — smart businessmen follow. They know when there’s 300 people making a decent wage. They have to eat. They have to clean their clothes. They have to shop. They have to bank.”