March 05, 2013
Crain's Chicago Business
I already miss Dawn Clark Netsch
By: Greg Hinz
Back in the days when I had hair and future Mayor Richard M. Daley was still "Dirty Little Richie" to political progressives, Dawn Clark Netsch held an annual softball fundraiser a couple of blocks from her Old Town home. I was lucky enough to be emcee a few times.
The event drew an eclectic brew of people in politics, liberals and conservatives, blacks and whites, even an odd Republican or two. Everybody played, however klutzy — even coach Netsch, decked out in a baseball hat, probably from the Sox. The whole event was so typical of Ms. Netsch, who then was a state senator: wide-open, genuine, human and rollicking good fun. (Man, I wish today I could write some of the stuff I used to get away with on the mike then.)
I miss the softball game. And I miss Dawn Clark Netsch, who passed away overnight at age 86. She's a hero when Chicago and American politics has almost none of them.
A lawyer by trade (No. 1 in her class at Northwestern University Law School), Ms. Netsch had more than a little patrician in her. She always peered over her glasses, usually perched a few inches over whatever colorful scarf she wore that day. When she ran for governor, staffers reportedly had to persuade her to ditch her not-so-plebian cigarette holder.
But like another patrician of her youth, Franklin Roosevelt, Ms. Netsch believed in things, believed in saying what she thought needed to be said — even sticking the "Dirty Little Richie" term on Mr. Daley, who used to tube her bills in Springfield but with whom she later became friendly. While your politics may be different from hers, I doubt I've ever met a more honest, non-politician politician than Dawn Clark Netsch.
Like, for instance, in her 1994 race for governor.
Ms. Netsch won the Democratic nomination against better-known foes thanks to her famed "sharp shooter" pool TV ad. But then in the general election, she insisted — amid explaining the horrors of lapse-period spending — that Illinois needed an income tax hike to balance the books. Incumbent Jim Edgar vehemently disagreed, and used the tax issue and Ms. Netch's position on the death penalty to coast to re-election. Then, safely re-elected, Mr. Edgar proceeded to push for an income tax hike.
Or how Ms. Netsch handled the question of her sex.
Back in those days, women in politics were a rarity, and many women who did run felt they had to be even more butch than the guys to show they belonged in the game. Not Ms. Netsch, even as she was elected Illinois comptroller and pushed hard for the Equal Rights Amendment. And she backed gay rights long before it became a winning issue, even on the lakefront. She was what she was, from start to finish.
In her latter days, Ms. Netsch, amid teaching at Northwestern, emphasized another of her traditional issues: ethics reform. In a town in which few politicians emerge with their reputations intact, Ms. Netsch symbolized that you really can play a big role and fight for your beliefs without selling your soul or cutting corners.
Ms. Netsch and her husband, the late architect Walter Netsch, did not have any children. Services will be private, but a memorial likely will be held sometime in early April, according to a nephew, Andrew Kerr.
God bless, Dawn. Nice to have known you.