CHATHAM — After more than a decade in City Council, Ald. Roderick Sawyer is handing over the reins of the 6th Ward to chase a new career path — but neighbors haven’t seen the last of him yet, he said.
Sawyer announced in June he’d step down as alderman to run for mayor, aiming to follow in the footsteps of his father, Eugene Sawyer, who served as mayor after Harold Washington’s sudden death in 1987. The elder Sawyer had also served as alderman of the 6th Ward.
Sawyer faced eight candidates in a crowded mayoral race. He received 0.43 percent of the vote as candidates Brandon Johnson and Paul Vallas advanced to a runoff election April 4.
With Sawyer’s mayoral run complete and nearly 12 years logged as alderman, he isn’t sure what he’ll tackle next, he said. He’s been a lawyer for 33 years, and “finding ways where I can be of service” is a priority, Sawyer said.
But “the next 20 days” will be dedicated to getting Vallas in office, Sawyer said. He most recently joined a group of South and West side alderpeople to back the former Chicago Public Schools CEO for mayor.
Sawyer won’t search for the next opportunity until the election is over, instead focusing on how he can be “helpful” in leading Vallas to victory, he said. After April 4, “I’ll figure it out,” he said.
“As a public servant, I never wanted to stay for long. That was never my thing,” Sawyer said. “I never wanted to stay for 30 years and have a job just to have a job. I want to move around, but I always want to help. I think God will help me guide my way and order my steps in the right direction. I’ll see what happens after that.”
Sawyer was elected to lead the 6th Ward in 2011, besting incumbent Freddrenna Lyle, a Richard M. Daley loyalist, by 104 votes.
He was reelected in 2015 and again in 2019 after defeating challenger Deborah Foster-Bonner with 53 percent of the vote.
In 2013, Sawyer joined nine of his City Council colleagues to found the City Council Progressive Reform Caucus. He chaired the Aldermanic Black Caucus from 2015 to 2019 and was chosen by Mayor Lori Lightfoot in 2019 to chair the City Council Committee on Health and Human relations.
As the leader of the Black Caucus, Sawyer led the charge to call for the resignation of then-Supt. Garry McCarthy after video was released of police fatally shooting Laquan McDonald. He also backed an ordinance to create a commission to study possible reparations for Black Chicagoans after Minneapolis police murdered George Floyd in 2020.
In 2022, Sawyer supported GoodKids MadCity’s Peacebook Ordinance, which called for establishing an Office of Neighborhood Safety to address long-term solutions to gun violence. He also introduced an unsuccessful ordinance to remove police officers from public schools and touted his work to establish local police district councils, which Chicagoans voted on for the first time Feb. 28.
Sawyer also has sharply criticized Lightfoot’s leadership, particularly on issues dealing with crime and public safety.
Sawyer opposed the 2021 Victim’s Justice Ordinance” which would have allowed city attorneys to sue gang members for their assets. He also voted against Lightfoot’s push to create a 10 p.m. youth curfew. Data showed the curfew was mostly enforced on the South and West sides and had little effect on crime.
Sawyer threw his support behind Vallas because their “visions were closely aligned,” he told Block Club last week. Vallas, who also is backed by the Fraternal Order of Police, the city’s largest police union, has a “common-sense approach” to reducing crime, Sawyer said.
“Beat integrity” will help officers establish long-term relationships with neighbors, ultimately building trust and “making people feel comfortable,” Sawyer said.
“These are tried and true approaches that make sense and aren’t experimental,” Sawyer said. “We want to do something new. We’re going to be constitutionally compliant, but we want effective police.”
And while Sawyer thinks public safety is the city’s most pressing issue, what a Vallas administration will be remembered for is its efforts “to reinvigorate these neglected areas on the South and West sides,” he said.
“That is what’s going to solve crime ultimately,” Sawyer said. “When we give people job opportunities and contracting opportunities, that will reduce the people that want to get involved in criminal activity, especially the people on the borderline. They’re going to start going over to the right side to make sure they have a real opportunity in life.
“Those that go to the wrong side will be subjected to the police, and we’re going to do what we do to have effective policing, bound them over for trial, and let the courts deal with it.”
In the 6th Ward, Sawyer worked alongside community organizations like the Greater Chatham Initiative to make 75th Street a booming location for restaurants and outdoor entertainment.
Under Sawyer’s leadership, the 6th Ward welcomed Mahalia Jackson Court, a pop-up plaza named after the Gospel music icon. The H.O.O.D. Reproductive Health Services Center, a community space that provides women with period products, hygiene supplies and counseling, also opened in Greater Grand Crossing in February.
In October, Sawyer joined the Englewood Five — a name for the five alderpeople in the community — to demand an affordable, reliable grocer replace the now-closed Whole Foods. It’s since been announced that Save A Lot will replace the grocer.
Soon, the ward will welcome a community-owned grocery store, a wine and cheese bar and a restructured Army and Lous Restaurant Lounge, Sawyer said. The business closed in 2011, but he has a new blueprint for the building waiting in his office, Sawyer said. Twisted Eggroll, a Black-woman-owned business, will open before the end of the year on 75th Street.
The next alderman “will be the beneficiary of a lot of projects,” Sawyer said. After “making a good start,” it’ll be up to the next leader “to keep the momentum going,” he said.
William Hall and Richard Wooten emerged from an 11-person race to compete to fill Sawyer’s seat. The South Side pastors will face off April 4 to represent parts of West Woodlawn, Chatham, Park Manor, West Chesterfield, Grand Crossing, Auburn Gresham and Englewood.
Sawyer has backed Hall in the race, he said.
“Rev. William Hall is a good young man,” Sawyer said. “I’ve known him coming up. He’s worked with us on a variety of occasions. I think he’ll do well.”
Sawyer’s departing guidance for the next alderman is to “continue to engage with the community and make sure we get the resources necessary,” he said.
Most importantly, they should remember, “Black people are not a monolith,” Sawyer said.
“We don’t all think the same, and the next challenge for the next alderman is to bring together the diverse interests of the ward and make sure that they work on a common goal of making improvements,” Sawyer said. “A lot is happening in the 6th Ward, and I’m excited for the next person to go on and continue these efforts and bring in more investments.”
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