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Former U.S. Congressman Gus Savage dead at 90

Rep. Gus Savage (D.-III) hugs Marlene C. Carter. in the 1980s
Rep. Gus Savage (D.-III) hugs Marlene C. Carter. in the 1980s
(CHICAGO) Newspaper founder turned former United States Congressman Gus Savage — whose political career was marred with controversy — died Saturday at the age of 90, his family confirmed.Savage served the troubled 2nd Congressional District from 1981 to 1993, the Chicago Sun-Times is reporting.

Savage celebrated his 90th birthday on Friday night with his family but was found unresponsive in his son’s home in Olympia Fields on Saturday morning, his family said in a statement.

Savage was born on Oct. 30, 1925 in Detroit but moved to the South Side of Chicago as a child. He was raised in poverty and that drove him to become a voice for minorities and the disadvantaged in Chicago, his family said.

In 1965, he founded the Citizen Newspapers, which became the largest black owned chain of weekly community newspapers in the Midwest. His family owned the newspaper company until 1980.

“He never wavered in the fight, for fairness and justice, no matter the foe or the arena. His decisions in the political arena was always, always guided and based on principle,” his former chief of staff Louanner Peters said in a statement. Peters went on to become the deputy governor of Illinois in 2006, becoming the first African-American woman to hold the position.

On Capitol Hill, Savage was known for his criticism of the Reagan administration policies, including increased defense spending and cutbacks in social programs. His legislative proposals called for a $209 million federal building in Chicago and a public-works program.

Savage gained headlines in 1993 on election night after his defeat, blaming the “white racist press and the racist, reactionary Jewish misleaders” for his loss and comparing himself to the martyred Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“I had no illusions African Americans would be liberated through Congress,” he said at the time, portraying his defeat as a setback for the civil rights movement and himself as a tragic hero.

Savage’s political career was marred by controversy: he missed more votes than any other congressman in 1981, in part due to his wife’s illness and death. He also became entwined in controversy for filing incomplete disclosure statements with the Federal Election Commission.

In 1992, Savage–two years after a House ethics committee determined that during an official trip to Africa, Savage had made improper sexual advances to a female Peace Corps volunteer–he was unseated by Mel Reynolds for the 2nd Congressional District, who went on to see his political career derailed by a conviction for bank fraud and sexual misconduct.

Jesse Jackson Jr. then replaced Reynolds. The younger Jackson spent 30 months in prison for spending $750,000 from his campaign on personal items.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. on Saturday called Savage a “brilliant writer and social activist.”

He said Savage was a classmate and very close to friend to former Chicago Mayor Harold Washington. He called him skilled in the field of social organizing.

“He was a meaningful force for social justice in Chicago,” Jackson Sr. said.

“He was among the top leaders of social consciousness,” Jackson said, recalling his calls against U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.

“He emerged on the right side of history in his opposition of the war,” Jackson Sr. said. “He didn’t just follow opinion polls. He had to mold his own opinions at a time when people were just following others. Gus was a change agent.”

Chicago publisher Hermene Hartman also mentioned Savage’s passing on Facebook on Saturday: “He was one of the first people to tell me I could write and published one of my papers in the NAACP Magazine,” Hartman, publisher of N’DIGO, wrote.

“He was a maverick, controversial and quite a guy. He served the Black community without pretense. He had just moved from Washington back to Chicago. Much love Gus. Thanks for your wonderful life.”

Savage is survived by his son Thomas and his wife Judge Drella Savage, his daughter Dr. Emma Savage-David, and three grandchildren.