Michael Bauer was instrumental in helping reshape the state’s political landscape by advising and fundraising for LGBTQ candidates, creating a cadre of political leaders that includes Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
“He was one of the first people I talked to when I thought about running for mayor,” Lightfoot said Friday.
The mayor fought back tears as she spoke of Mr. Bauer, who was chairman of her mayoral campaign.
“He was by my side every step of the way, very encouraging, introducing me to people and really sharing the benefit of his incredible political knowledge,” Lightfoot said.
Mr. Bauer died Thursday night while in hospice care at his Lincoln Park home, with his husband Roger Simon at his side and the mayor speaking live on the television.
Mr. Bauer had suffered a recurrence of melanoma, a form of skin cancer. He was 66.
“I’m still taking in the fact that he’s passed on,” Lightfoot said.
She said his lust for life, especially his “big, huge barrel laugh,” offer a measure of comfort.
Mr. Bauer thought Lightfoot was special when they first met to chat about a run.
“I remember when he came home after first talking with Lori, he just said, ‘She’s so smart. She’d be so good,’” Simon said. “He was just extremely happy she won, and I thank her for making my husband smile.”
Mr. Bauer’s accomplishments in elevating LGBTQ candidates and causes made him an icon. In 1994, he chaired the campaign of Tom Chiola for Cook County circuit judge. Chiola became the state’s first openly gay person elected to office.
“He was absolutely essential to me and a whole number of people along the way, including our present mayor,” Chiola said.
State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, who had help from Mr. Bauer in her first election and considers him a family member, said he got into politics because there was a lack of attention to the needs of the gay community, particularly in light of the AIDS epidemic.
“We were burying friends constantly because there wasn’t the infrastructure, there wasn’t research being done nor were there direct service health-care providers willing to be there for these patients,” Cassidy said.
Mr. Bauer used his network of friends, inside and outside the LGBTQ community, to raise money for political candidates.
“You don’t just get Michael’s support, you get all of Michael, and he becomes part of your life, and that’s not the way it always works,” Cassidy said.
“He’d sit down with candidates and ask, ‘What’s your campaign plan? How many votes do you need to win? How are you going to get there?’” Cassidy said.
Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), Chicago’s first openly gay alderman, said Mr. Bauer “was the key to my early success and continued successes. His legacy is seeing the empowerment of openly gay elected officials. He was especially proud of that.”
But he didn’t want credit or favors, Simon said.
“He just wanted to be in the background, never asking for anything, helping people and making progress for the causes,” Simon said.
His support and friendship extended to many figures on the national political stage as well. He was close with U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, and U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California.
In addition to championing causes in the LGBTQ community, Mr. Bauer, whose parents survived the Holocaust, was a major backer of organizations that promoted strong United States-Israel relations.
An attorney and former Bell and Howell executive, he later owned the court reporting agency Espiritu & Associates.
He also served on the board of the Lambda Legal civil rights organization and helped establish its Midwest office in Chicago.
“And he was just a fun guy,” Cassidy said. “He sucked every ounce of fun out of every single day he could.
“He and his husband used to send out the most outrageously wonderful Christmas cards,” Cassidy said. “They were usually shirtless because they were both gym guys back in the day, and whether they were in grass skirts and coconut bras or on the shoulders of musclemen on Venice Beach, they were always something people waited for in the mail each season.”
“Michael was just my Energizer bunny,” Simon said. “Going back decades, he wanted us always to be together at events — so people would know, ‘Oh, here’s a gay couple, nothing unusual about that.’”
In addition to his husband, Mr. Bauer is survived by his 103-year-old mother Tema Bauer and brother Dr. Jerry Bauer.
Funeral services will be held 10 a.m. Tuesday at Anshe Emet Synagogue, 3751 N. Broadway.