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Robert Shaw dies at 83; was Chicago alderman, member of Cook County Board of Review

He and his late brother William Shaw, a former state senator and mayor of Dolton, were a powerful political duo in city, county and state politics.

Robert Shaw was a former Chicago alderman and Cook County Board of Review commissioner.
Robert Shaw was a former Chicago alderman and Cook County Board of Review commissioner.
Sun-Times file

Robert Shaw, a former Chicago alderman from the 9th Ward and commissioner with the Cook County Board of Review, has died of cancer at 83.

He and his late twin brother, William Shaw, a former state senator and mayor of Dolton, were a powerful, controversial and entertaining duo in city, county and state politics.

Mr. Shaw overcame the coronavirus a few months ago, according to publicist Sean Howard. He succumbed to cancer at a rehabilitation facility in South Holland, Howard said.

Even in his final days, “He was still telling jokes,” Howard said. “He had a Frank Sinatra style of life where he just did it his way.”

Like the late County Board President John Stroger and U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis, D-Ill., Mr. Shaw and his brother were part of a generation of Black leaders who migrated from Arkansas to Chicago for better opportunities.

Robert Shaw arrived in Chicago from Hope, Arkansas, as a youngster. He graduated from Crane High School, Howard said. He worked as a precinct captain for West Side Ald. Ben Lewis, the first Black alderman of the 24th ward. After Lewis was gunned down in 1963, the Shaws moved to the South Side, where Robert Shaw was elected alderman in 1979. He would also serve as ward committeeman.

In the early 1980s Robert Shaw was an ally of Mayor Jane M. Byrne, but that support cost him reelection. He later switched his allegiance to Harold Washington and recaptured his seat.

In 1984, Mr. Shaw helped his brother push for legislation that required state schools to teach Black history.

“They always fought for the inclusion of Black people,” said retired state Senate President Emil Jones Jr.

The Shaws’ power began to erode in the mid-1990s with the rise of U.S. Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr. In 2002, then-state Sen. William Shaw was unseated by a Jackson ally, the Rev. James Meeks of Salem Baptist Church.

Around that time, the Shaws were accused of running a bogus candidate — retired trucker Jesse Jackson — to siphon votes from their rival.

“I wouldn’t think that was a dirty trick,” Robert Shaw said at the time. “That is just two people with the same name who want to run.”

In 2004, he lost reelection to the county Board of Review.

That same year, Jackson’s congressional candidacy was challenged by two people who said he didn’t have enough valid signatures to stay on the primary ballot. The Shaws said they weren’t involved, but the two challengers worked for the village of Dolton — where William Shaw was mayor — and were represented by a Dolton village attorney.

Robert Shaw lost a 2005 bid to be elected mayor of South Holland.

In 2006, government watchdogs criticized his installation as a $70,000-a-year inspector general of Dolton, where his brother was still mayor. And Robert Shaw drew criticism for a traffic stop of an alleged drug dealer in which he was said to have flashed a pistol.

He went on to throw his hat in the ring for the job of county assessor but lost the 2010 primary to fellow Democrat Joseph Berrios.

In 2014, Mr. Shaw said he was thinking about challenging then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Always dapper, “He wore a suit seven days a week, even in retirement,” said Howard.

Mr. Shaw loved enjoyed pressing the flesh and greeting constituents. If voters had an issue or a favor they wanted, they knew they could find him eating at his favorite restaurants, like MacArthur’s on the West Side. Evenings, he would be at the Eldorado lounge in Dolton.

Mr. Shaw had a gift for remembering names and faces. And he was skilled at covering a lot of ground when he was seeking votes, sometimes visiting six or seven churches on Sundays to meet their congregations.

“He knew every minister in town,” said Nathaniel Howse, a justice of the First District of the Illinois Appellate Court.

Mr. Shaw’s work recruiting and slating judicial candidates helped promote his career, Howse said, and that of many other Black lawyers.

The Shaws used to engage in friendly cook-offs with each other with recipes from the Food Channel, according to a General Assembly tribute to William Shaw after he died in 1988.

“Chicago lost a man whose passion for public service, reaching out to everyone and working with everybody, is one I enjoyed and respected,” said a former rival, Ald. Anthony A. Beale (9th).

Mr. Shaw’s survivors include three children, Howard said. Arrangements were pending.