A celebration is planned Sunday of the life of Chris Chandler, an aide to Mayor Harold Washington who was a crusading journalist before becoming deputy press secretary to the first African-American elected mayor of Chicago.
Mr. Chandler, 80, died last month of prostate cancer at his home in Bucktown. His memorial will be held at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Irish American Heritage Center, 4626 N. Knox Ave.
In 1983, when Washington appeared to have won the Democratic mayoral primary over incumbent Jane Byrne and then-Cook County State’s Attorney Richard M. Daley, it was Mr. Chandler who emerged to speak with reporters, saying Washington wasn’t rushing to declare victory because he didn’t want to seem “ungentlemanly.”
He “wrote one of the best books on Harold’s mayoralty,” said former Ald. Dick Simpson, a University of Illinois at Chicago political science professor who wrote the foreword to Mr. Chandler’s 2017 “Harold Washington and the Civil Rights Legacy.”
“It fills out the story not only of Harold Washington but the ragtag, heroic and eccentric folks who transformed the movement into a government,” Simpson wrote. “He is a radical journalist who helped elect Harold but could still be critical of his shortcomings.”
“Chris was dead smart,” said Brian Boyer, a former Chicago Sun-Times reporter and speechwriter for Washington. “He was a passionate worker, a fine reporter, a fine writer.”
“Chris was a great and committed journalist, particularly as it relates to social justice,” said Conrad Worrill, a professor emeritus at Northeastern Illinois University’s Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies.
“He didn’t go along with a whole lot of conservative bull—-,” said civil rights attorney James Montgomery, who was City Hall’s top lawyer under Washington. “He felt free to speak his mind in situations where so many people were afraid to talk.”
Mr. Chandler’s dedication to his principles led some to see him as hardheaded. He spent the last several years of his working life as a cab driver. Still, he continued to crusade, criticizing ride-sharing services for hurting cabbies. He helped publish a newsletter for the United Taxidrivers Community Council and talked about “getting the field level in the cab industry,” said Comey Dilanjian of City Service Taxi Association, which Dilanjian said represents about 300 independent taxi medallion owners.
Around 2012, Mr. Chandler stopped driving because his back was bothering him, according to his family.
Christopher Norris Chandler was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts and spent some of his early years in France and Switzerland because his father, Rev. Edgar Chandler, an early ally of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., was a director of refugee resettlement for the World Council of Churches.
After graduating from Bowdoin College in Maine, Mr. Chandler served in the Army from 1960 to 1963.
When his father landed a job with the Church Federation of Greater Chicago, Mr. Chandler went to work as a reporter for the storied City News Bureau of Chicago. From about 1965 to 1969, he worked for the Sun-Times, taking a leave of absence to work on the 1968 presidential bid of Robert F. Kennedy, his son Chris said.
Later, he helped start the Chicago Journalism Review, the Chicago Free Press and the Daily Planet, his son said. He worked on exposes of the 1969 police raid that resulted in the killings of Black Panthers leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark.
In 1974, Mr. Chandler and Paula Kane co-wrote the book “Sex Objects in the Sky” about the second-class status of flight attendants in an era when airlines promoted slogans like “Fly Me” and “We really move our tail for you.”
From 1976 to 1980, he worked on investigations at WBBM-TV and won an Emmy Award for his writing and research on a look back at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
After Washington shook up his press office, Chandler shifted to media relations chief for the Chicago Public Library. Later, he was press secretary for U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush and did science writing for Northwestern University, according to his son. From 1997 to 2001, Mr. Chandler worked in media relations for the Government Accountability Project, a Washington, D.C., group that assists whistleblowers.
In addition to his son, he is survived by his daughter Lara Blumstein; sons Bob, Travis and Jonathan Chandler and Andrew Diamond; sister Marjorie Chandler; brothers Hugh and David Chandler, four grandchildren and ex-wives Marthe Atwater Chandler, Denise DeClue and Janet Bremer Chandler.
Mr. Chandler’s children plan to take his ashes to a family farm in New Hampshire.