Roderick Sawyer hopes to be part of another mayoral dynasty

Sawyer, the son of Eugene Sawyer, Chicago’s mayor from 1987-89, is giving up his 6th Ward City Council seat with the goal of turning Lori Lightfoot into a one-term mayor.

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Chicago already has one mayoral dynasty. Ald. Roderick Sawyer is hoping he can be a part of another.

Sawyer, the son of Eugene Sawyer, Chicago’s mayor from 1987-89, is giving up his 6th Ward City Council seat with the goal of turning Lori Lightfoot into a one-term mayor.

“I want to give the people a more collaborative option, where every voice matters. The current administration’s style of governing is a top-down form of government,” he said.

Sawyer, 59, is Lightfoot’s hand-picked chair of the City Council’s Committee on Health and Human Relations and former chair of the Council’s Black caucus. His South Side ward includes parts of Greater Grand Crossing, Englewood, Chatham and Auburn Gresham.

His father was a well-liked alderperson who forged relationships with Ald. Edward Burke (14th) and former Ald. Edward Vrdolyak (10th) to become the choice of the “Vrdolyak 29,” a bloc of 29 aldermen who chose him as acting mayor after Harold Washington’s death in 1987. His popularity among other Council members helped Sawyer deliver much of Washington’s stalled legislative agenda.

Chicago mayoral candidate Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th).

Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), is hoping to win the office in which his father, Eugene Sawyer, once served.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Roderick Sawyer is also promising to work with others on the Council to get things done. He called Lightfoot “authoritative” and “mean-spirited” and said she refuses to work with alderpersons or even the citizens of Chicago.

With polls showing violent crime foremost on the minds of voters, the younger Sawyer argued Lightfoot’s dictatorial style has tied the hands of rank-and-file police officers and “emasculated” David Brown, whom the mayor chose to run the Chicago Police Department.

“We know what’s going on in the police force. They want the police to be led by a leader — not by the mayor. … You have to let your officers and let your superintendent do their job,” he said.

Like other challengers, Sawyer vowed to dump Brown as superintendent if elected.

To fill 1,600 police vacancies and reverse a mass exodus of officers, Sawyer said he wants to offer hiring incentives and retention bonuses and free Chicago cops to focus on violent crime.

“We rely upon the police to do too many things, and we stretch them too thin,” he said.

Sawyer also condemned Lightfoot’s decision to strengthen Chicago’s seldom-enforced curfew law in a desperate attempt to stop an outbreak of youth violence.

“The curfew was a red herring hiding a deeper problem — and that’s the disconnect between ourselves and our children,” he said. 

Sawyer was equally critical of Lightfoot’s string of freebies before the election — gas cards, Ventra cards, bicycles, surveillance cameras, motion detectors and a pilot program for a guaranteed minimum income, sending $500 a month to 5,000 Chicagoans.

“I don’t approve of giveaways. It demeans our office. ... The role of government is to protect everyone. Once you start doing that, then it becomes a dependency. ... People are gonna look at, what are we gonna give them next?” he said. 

Although Lightfoot campaigned as a reformer, Sawyer argued that she has been a big disappointment on that front. 

Ald. Roderick Sawyer is shown at a May 23 rally by people opposed Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s proposed changes to the city’s curfew.

Ald. Roderick Sawyer is shown at a May 2022 rally by people opposed Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s proposed changes to the city’s curfew.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Time

He pointed to her failed campaign to block legislative approval of a 21-member elected school board, her slow walk toward civilian police oversight and her decision to publicly criticize and ultimately force out longtime Inspector General Joe Ferguson.

“I’ve been for an elected school board for the last 11 years I’ve been on this Council. ... I’ve been a part of civilian police reform for the past six or seven years,” he said. 

“Her statements as a candidate were different than her actions as mayor. I’m a model of consistency. Whatever I run on — whatever I state — I stay with it and I stay with it ’til the end,” he said.

What would Rod Sawyer’s dad say about his son’s mayoral candidacy?

“My dad would say, ‘You’ve put in the work. You’ve done what you need to do. Run on your record. Run on your platform. Run on your vision. Don’t look back. And don’t be nasty,’” the younger Sawyer said.

“My father was never that kind of guy. He never ran a campaign like that. And I don’t think he would want me to, either.”

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