Sawyer cut as speaker at ribbon-cutting in his ward after spat with Lightfoot, he says

Mayoral challenger Roderick Sawyer demanded Mayor Lori Lightfoot apologize for comments about his late father, Mayor Eugene Sawyer, that she made at a petition-signing event on the South Side.

SHARE Sawyer cut as speaker at ribbon-cutting in his ward after spat with Lightfoot, he says
Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) speaks during a Chicago City Council meeting at City Hall, Wednesday, July 21, 2021.

6th Ward Ald. Roderick Sawyer

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

Mayoral challenger Roderick Sawyer said Friday he was cut out of the speaking program at a ribbon-cutting ceremony in his ward just days after accusing Mayor Lori Lightfoot of disrespecting the legacy of his father, former Mayor Eugene Sawyer.

Hours before the ceremonial opening of the Mahalia Jackson Court Public Outdoor Plaza in Chatham, Sawyer said he got a call from one of the organizers informing him that the mayor’s office had demanded that Lightfoot be “the only one who speaks.”

“I said, ‘OK, I’ll tell you what then. I’m not coming to the event.’ … I’m not gonna be disrespected like that. … I’m not gonna waste my time and listen to her claim credit for something she had nothing to do with,” Sawyer said.

Sawyer accused the mayor’s office of silencing him in retaliation for his demand for an apology from Lightfoot.

Lightfoot campaign spokesperson Christina Freundlich had no immediate comment.

At a petition-signing event at a South Side restaurant this week, Lightfoot essentially called the elder Sawyer, who died in 2008, a political puppet of a “racist mob.”

She was referring to the marathon City Council meeting of Dec. 2, 1987, when a mostly white coalition of alderpersons led by then-Ald. Edward Vrdolyak (10th) installed Sawyer as acting mayor after the death of Harold Washington.

“After four years of everything that Harold Washington tried to do being blocked by a racist mob at City Council, that same mob that blocked him from doing anything picked the one that they wanted — the one that they thought that they could control, and Dec. 2, 1987, is when Gene Sawyer was instituted as the mayor of this city,” Lightfoot told her supporters.

“And then what happened just a few short years later? That same mob dropped him like a bad habit, right?”

The 6th Ward alderperson accused the mayor of tarnishing and distorting his father’s legacy in a desperate appeal to African American voters, whose support she needs now more than ever to overcome her 25% public approval rating.

“She’s trying to be super-Black. … White people have abandoned her. Lakefront has abandoned her. She needs a constituency that she can try to depend on. So, she wants to be ultra-Black,” Sawyer said.

“Not at my expense. ... Leave my name and my family’s name out of her mouth.”

Sawyer said his father was a “puppet of no one” who delivered Washington’s entire legislative agenda.

“Everything that Harold Washington tried to do when he was in office and ... was unable to fulfill, my dad fulfilled every single one of them in 15 months. … Human rights ordinance. Lights at Wrigley Field. Labor peace. Everything that Harold talked about and wasn’t able to finish, my dad finished it all,” the younger Sawyer said.

“Even things against his own interests, like the 1988 dream team slate. Everybody knew Daley was gonna run against my dad. My father still supported that slate because that’s what Harold wanted to do.”

Sawyer said he was equally incensed by the suggestion that his father was installed by a “racist mob.”

“I knew these people. And the ones that are still alive — I know these people. They’re friends. They were friends of my dad. They’re people I know and respect. I had an opportunity to meet Ald. [Kathy] Osterman on many occasions. And [her son] Harry is a friend. … Bernie Hansen was a close friend of my dad’s. They would hang around all the time together after they were both out of office,” Roderick Sawyer said.

“It’s beyond the pale. I just don’t understand how somebody could be so petty.”

Retiring Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) did not return repeated phone calls.

In an interview this week with Fox 32 Chicago, Osterman branded the mayor’s remarks about his mother “disgraceful.”

“My mother was not part of a `racist mob.’ Kathy Osterman worked with Mayor Washington and brought people together,” the younger Osterman told the station.

“For you to just wildly label them as white racists, I think does a disservice to you and a disservice to the city of Chicago.”

Last fall, Lightfoot was the one being accused of disrespecting the legacy of Harold Washington.

During a stormy closed-door meeting in October, Lightfoot complained about being attacked by Black leaders over a $31.5 million guaranteed basic income pilot program, which was seen as “a handout for Latinos” that “didn’t include reparations.” 

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) later said the mayor had argued “she’s poured a f--- ton of money into Black communities,” and that no mayor — not even Washington — had done more for the African-American community.

Ramirez-Rosa said then he was “shocked and taken aback” by Lightfoot’s bold claim.

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