Eugene Sawyer Mayoral Records
Scope and Contents
The Eugene Sawyer Mayoral Records range from 1980 to 1989 and document the tenure of Eugene Sawyer as mayor of Chicago from December 1987 to April 1989. Some material appears from Harold Washington’s tenure as well. Documents were generated by city departments and represent the official duties of city government. The records include correspondence, memoranda, articles, event invitations, reports, schedules, briefing notes, speech transcripts, press releases, newspaper clippings, photographs, contact sheets, negatives and videotapes in VHS and U-Matic formats.
Events that are most substantively represented in this collection include the construction of International Terminal 5 at O’Hare Airport, the creation of the General Services Department, the restructuring of the Department of Streets and Sanitation and a revamping of various City workflows and software systems related to procurement and telecommunications. The dismissal of mayoral aide Steve Cokely for anti-Semitic comments and the Design/Build competition for the new Central Library, the Harold Washington Library Center, are also covered in these records. Series 6: Press Office Records also document the 1988 Democratic National Convention in Atlanta especially well. The general daily events attended by Mayor Sawyer are well represented. Other important topics covered in a less comprehensive way include education reform; HIV/AIDS; the anti-gang task force, the Chicago Intervention Network (CIN); and representation of underrepresented groups in government and business contracts.
- Creation: 1980 - 1989
- Creation: Majority of material found within Bulk dates: 1987-1989
- Sawyer, Eugene (Person)
Language of Materials
Materials primarily in English, with some materials in Spanish.
Conditions Governing Access
Materials are open without restrictions. Materials are stored offsite and advance notice is required for use. Please request materials at least 24-hours prior to your research visit to coordinate access.
Conditions Governing Use
Please consult staff to determine ability to reuse materials from collection.
Biographical / Historical
Eugene Sawyer was born on September 3, 1934, in Greensboro, Alabama. While attending Alabama State University, Sawyer joined Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, worked as an intern with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (N.A.A.C.P.) and participated in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. During his summers, Sawyer travelled to Chicago to visit family and work with the Department of Streets and Sanitation. He earned his bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1956 and briefly worked as a high school teacher in Prentiss, Mississippi. In 1957, he permanently relocated to Chicago.
Through family friends, Sawyer became involved with the 6th Ward Regular Democratic Organization and the Young Democrats. He built his political reputation in Chicago’s 6th Ward. In 1959, Sawyer took a job in Chicago’s Department of Water Management, and in 1968 began serving as 6th Ward Committeeman. In 1971, he was elected 6th Ward Alderman. During his tenure in the City Council, Sawyer served on the Finance Committee, the Budget Committee, as President Pro Tempore, Vice-Chairman of the Committee on Rules and Appointments and Chairman of the City Council Committee on Committees, Rules and Ethics.
Upon the sudden death of Harold Washington on November 25, 1987, the Council struggled to appoint a successor. Tasked with the selection of an Acting Mayor, the City Council was split between Sawyer and 4th Ward Alderman, Timothy Evans. Both men had worked with Harold Washington as City Council allies during his mayoral administration. After 19 hours of heated debate, the City Council elected Sawyer with a vote of 29-19 and two absent. Sawyer was sworn into office at 4:01 A.M. on December 2, 1987.
During his time as mayor, Sawyer worked to pass legislation supporting the installation of lights at Wrigley Field and the Clean Indoor Air Ordinance banning indoor smoking. Sawyer’s detractors had expressed concerns that he might work against Harold Washington’s political agenda because he drew support from many of Washington’s former political opponents in the City Council, but he built on groundwork laid under Washington and also championed the Human Rights Ordinance, passed in 1988, to protect individuals against discrimination. This was the first Chicago city ordinance to assert the rights of gay and lesbian Chicagoans. Sawyer also focused on homelessness, job training and business and economic development, continuing Mayor Washington’s efforts to boost women- and minority-owned businesses.
Sawyer mounted a campaign for Mayor in the 1989 special election. Cook County State’s Attorney Richard M. Daley defeated incumbent Eugene Sawyer as well as Sheila A. Jones and James C. Taylor in the Democratic Primary on February 28, 1989. Daley was sworn into office April 25, 1989.
After his term as Mayor, Sawyer retired from politics and entered private business, operating an energy company and a wholesale tobacco company. He also served as a Trustee and active member of the Vernon Park Church of God. Sawyer died on January 19, 2008, after battling illness for several weeks. He is buried in Oak Woods Cemetery.
His three children, Shedrick, Roderick, and Sheryl have continued his legacy. His daughter, Sheryl Sawyer McGill, began working for the City of Chicago in 1978 in the comptroller’s office. She held other positions in the Office of Budget and Management before becoming Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Human Services in 2006. Sheryl appears in numerous photographs in this collection, attending many events with her father. Sawyer’s son Roderick was elected Chicago’s 6th Ward Alderman in 2011.
In 2016, in honor of Sawyer’s beginnings in government in the Department of Water Management and his later contributions to the City, the South Water Purification Plant at 3300 East Cheltenham Place near Rainbow Beach, was renamed the Eugene Sawyer Water Purification Plant.
71 Linear Feet (in 139 boxes, including 259 videotapes, 43 boxes of photographs)
Eugene Sawyer worked in Chicago's Water Department before being elected 6th Ward Alderman in 1971. Following Harold Washington's death in November 1987, Sawyer was elected by his fellow City Council members to serve as mayor. Sawyer lost the special election in 1989 to Richard J. Daley, and after that, he left public office to pursue private business. Events that are most substantively represented in this collection include the construction of International Terminal 5 at O’Hare Airport, the creation of the General Services Department, the restructuring of the Department of Streets and Sanitation and a revamping of various City workflows and software systems related to procurement and telecommunications. The dismissal of mayoral aide Steve Cokely for anti-Semitic comments and the Design/Build competition for the new Central Library, the Harold Washington Library Center, are also covered. The photograph series documents the 1988 Democratic National Convention in Atlanta especially well, along with the general daily events attended by Mayor Sawyer. Other important topics covered in a less comprehensive way include education reform; HIV/AIDS; the anti-gang task force, the Chicago Intervention Network (CIN); and representation of underrepresented groups in government and business contracts.
The collection is arranged into seven series:
- Series 1. Chief Operating Officer Records, 1983-1989. Boxes 1-24.
- Series 2. Community Services Sub-cabinet Records, 1980-1989. Boxes 24-28.
- Series 3. Development Sub-cabinet Records, 1988-1989. Box 28.
- Series 4. Finance and Administration Sub-cabinet Records, 1986-1989. Boxes 28-30.
- Series 5. Infrastructure Sub-cabinet Records, 1984-1989. Boxes 30-34.
- Series 6. Press Office Records, 1983-1989. Boxes 35-133.
- Series 7. Videotapes, 1988-1989. Boxes 134-136.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
The records were transferred to Chicago Public Library by City Hall around 1990.
- Washington, Harold, 1922-1987 (Person)
- Jackson, Jesse, 1941- (Person)
- Gilliam, Sharon Gist (Person)
- Moseley-Braun, Carol, 1947- (Person)
- Cokely, Steve (Person)
- Chicago (Ill.). Department of General Services (Organization)
- Chicago (Ill.). Department of Streets and Sanitation (Organization)
- Chicago (Ill.). Mayor (Organization)
- Chicago (Ill.). Mayor (1987-1989 : Sawyer) (Organization)
- Chicago (Ill.). Mayor's Press Office (Organization)
- Chicago O'Hare International Airport (Organization)
- Chicago Public Library. Central Library (Organization)
- Drake, Tony (Government official) (Person)
- Bannister, Leroy, Jr. (Person)
- Democratic National Convention (1988 : Atlanta, Ga.) (Organization)
- Guide to the Eugene Sawyer Mayoral Records
- Johanna Russ, 2018. Updated and ingested into ArchivesSpace by Johanna Russ, 2021.
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Language of description note
- Finding aid written in English
- 2018: Processed by CLIR funded Black Metropolis Research Consortium “Color Curtain Processing Project.” By Meghan Courtney and Dominique Fuqua, 2013. Re-processed by Johanna Russ,
Part of the Special Collections Unit at Harold Washington Library Center Repository
Harold Washington Library Center, 9th Floor
Chicago Public Library
400 S. State Street
Chicago IL 60605 United States