CHICAGO — Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) is running for mayor of Chicago, hoping to oust Mayor Lori Lightfoot from City Hall in 2023.
The South Side alderman, who has represented parts of Chatham, Englewood and West Englewood since 2011, aims to follow in the footsteps of father, Eugene Sawyer, who served as mayor after Harold Washington’s sudden death.
“I’m talking to people all the time, and the city is lacking in terms of what people want to see in leadership,” Sawyer said. “I think that I can help. I have a different style, a different approach, than the current mayor.”
Sawyer said the city’s biggest problem is crime. If elected mayor, Sawyer would fire Police Supt. David Brown, he said.
“The crime issue is one that’s overshadowing pretty much everything else. It’s the angst that people have regarding the crime that is going on,” he said.
Sawyer said his work on the South Side “uniquely qualifies” him to address an issue that is “ailing the entire city.”
“I’ve talked to criminals. I’ve got in the streets and met with people where they are,” Sawyer said. “I’m not afraid to address it directly, to meet people where they are, and to go right into the proverbial belly of the beast and hopefully come out with some good outcomes.”
Instead of Brown, Sawyer said he’d tap someone to lead the police department that rank-and-file officers have “total respect for.”
“I get this a lot from officers. They say the same thing, that ‘we’ll run through a wall for certain people.’ That is the type of person that we need to lead the Chicago Police Department,” Sawyer said.
Sawyer also said he’d boost economic development in the city, increase access to mental health services for youth, and would work alongside Chicago Public Schools leaders and the Chicago Teachers Union to improve schools.
“There are so many things that we fail to address when we’re talking about the status of CPS or what we’re doing in neighborhoods,” Sawyer said. “There has to be accountability on all sides. I’m not afraid to address it, I’m not afraid to talk about it, and I’m not afraid to have the uncomfortable conversations that we need to have.”
Lightfoot dismissed Sawyer’s announcement when she was asked about the race during an unrelated news conference Thursday.
“Another day, another man who thinks he can do this job better than me,” the mayor said. “I’m just going to keep doing my work. I’m not going to worry about the folks who are jumping in.”
The mayor has made it no secret that she plans to run for a second term. But campaign-watchers can expect an official kickoff next week, she said Thursday.
“Our story…is not about me, it’s not about my accomplishments — it’s about what we’ve done and delivered on behalf of the residents of this city,” Lightfoot said. “And I feel confident that as we tell that story, and more and more people start to hear it…we’re going to be in very good shape.”
Sawyer returned his family back to politics by edging out incumbent Freddrenna Lyle, a Richard M. Daley-loyalist, by 104 votes in 2011. His father also served as 6th Ward alderman.
He cruised to reelection in 2015 but faced a tougher road in 2019, when a pair of challengers forced him into a runoff. He ultimately defeated challenger Deborah Foster-Bonner with just over 53 percent of the vote.
Sawyer was one of nine alderpeople who banded together in 2013 to found the City Council Progressive Reform Caucus, a group to which he still belongs. He is also a career-long member of the council’s Aldermanic Black Caucus, which he chaired from 2015-19.
He was a mostly quiet presence in the City Council during his first term but became far more vocal after 2015, especially on policing issues in the wake of the fatal police shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. He led the Black Caucus to call for the resignation of then-Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy.
Following the police murder of George Floyd in 2020, Sawyer led the charge on an ordinance creating a city-backed commission to study possible reparations for Black Chicagoans. Amid pressure from Lightfoot, Sawyer agreed to launch the reparations group not as an independent commission, but as a subcommittee of the health and human relations committee. After months of little action in the subcommittee, Sawyer said he regretted agreeing to that approach.
Sawyer has also been one of the City Council’s leading voices on police reform and oversight since at least 2018, when he banded with Ald. Harry Osterman (48)and the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability (GAPA) to introduce a proposal for a controversial multi-level plan for civilian oversight of the Chicago Police Department.
The effort didn’t bear fruit until 2021, when alderpeople and organizers broke a stalemate with Lightfoot’s administration to pass an ordinance (SO2019-4132) creating the city’s first-ever civilian-led commission empowered to set police department policy. Efforts to build up the commission have since stalled amid staffing and recruitment headaches.
Related: City Council approves long-sought civilian oversight of CPD, but supporters say there is still work ‘to be done’
Lightfoot picked Sawyer in 2019 to chair the City Council Committee on Health & Human Relations, and Sawyer has mostly stayed on the mayor’s side of major votes, including by voting to approve all three of Lightfoot’s budget proposals.
But Sawyer has also been known to break away from the mayor, especially on issues of crime and policing. He was a vocal opponent of Lightfoot’s 2021 “Victim’s Justice Ordinance” proposal to let city attorneys sue gang members for their assets, saying the measure would unfairly target Black and brown youth. That proposal has since sputtered.
Last month, he was one of 19 alderpeople who voted against Lightfoot’s controversial proposal to push up the city’s youth curfew to 10 p.m., saying the policy “ostracizes our children.”
Sawyer was elected 6th Ward Democratic Committeeman in 2012 and faced no challengers in his reelection to the local political post in 2016 and 2020.
Sawyer closed out the first quarter of the year with $9,315 on hand in his aldermanic campaign account, state campaign finance records show. During the first three months of the year, he brought in $10,936 in donations, including $1,000 from LiUNA Chicago Laborer’s District Council PAC, $1,500 from Jack Wuest and $500 from Spothero. Sawyer spent $9,000 on “consulting” from Progressive Solutions.
Sawyer’s 6th Ward Democratic Org campaign account closed the first quarter of the year with $8,232 on hand after netting a $5,000 donation from Gov. JB Pritzker.
Related: Democratic ward orgs — mostly headed by aldermen — see infusion of Pritzker donations ahead of June Primary Election
Sawyer joins former CPS CEO Paul Vallas, State Rep. Kam Buckner, fellow Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th) and businessman Willie Wilson in announcing their bids for the mayor’s office in 2023. Lightfoot’s re-election campaign is set to officially be announced June 7, according to Tribune reporter Gregory Pratt.
A host of other potential candidates have been floated, including Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd), state Rep. La Shawn Ford, Chicago Teachers Union President Stacy Davis Gates, former Chicago Building Commissioner Judy Frydland, Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara and Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson, according to the Tribune.
Sawyer says it will be a “spirited race,” but he thinks Chicagoans will choose him to do the job practically and successfully.
“I want to make sure that we do what’s necessary to keep Chicago together and keep Chicago moving,” Sawyer said.
Sawyer said he’s proud to follow in his late father’s footsteps. He tries to emulate him by serving his community every day. But it’s “frustrating” when people don’t understand that “times have changed,” he said.
“I idolized my father, always did. He was an amazing man to me. But he was also a regular guy that called Chicago his home,” Sawyer said. “I know I’m not perfect, I can’t do everything. I’m not Superman. But we’re all community members trying to make a difference in what we’re doing out here, and I take that very seriously.”
As for 6th Ward neighbors, Sawyer said he’s not leaving, but rather “expanding his reach.”
“I have no plans to go anywhere. I still want to call this my home. I want to make it better like I want to make all areas of the city of Chicago better,” Sawyer said.
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