Because the best way to describe the political service of the one-time member of Congress from Chicago’s Far South Side is that the extent to which he cared about anything was whether it impacted anyone within the boundaries of his district.
IT WOULD BE accurate to say that Savage, who died during the weekend at age 90 after having been out of politics for nearly a quarter of a century, was all about the people who sent him to Washington to represent them.
The rest of the nation?
They had their own members of Congress to look out for their needs. He was out to protect the largely African-American population of the far southern end of Chicago. He wasn’t interested in being a big-shot on the Capitol Hill scene.
He was solely about looking out for his constituents. And if anybody else didn’t like it, then tough! He wasn’t going to lose sleep over it.
I HAVE NO doubt that those political observers old enough to remember the man who served in Congress from 1981-93 (there probably are many people who think they’re politically astute who said, “Gus who?!?”) are now sharing the story about how he made sexual advances on the Peace Corps worker (supposedly in the back seat of a limousine) or his Election Night rhetoric about how it was Jewish people conspiring against him that got him dumped from Congress in the early 1990s.
Although the reality was that the population shifts that caused 1990s reapportionment meant the Far South Side was no longer its own Congressional district. It was lumped in with the south suburbs.
Which back then consisted of many people who fled their families out of the city to be away from “those kind” of people. Who now dominate the south suburbs, causing whites to flee further out into Will County and Northwest Indiana.
It was to that mentality that an aspiring black politician who had actually been a Rhodes scholar seemed like an acceptable alternative -- even though I suspect many of those blue-collar types don't really have a clue what a Rhodes scholar is!
OF COURSE NOW, we laugh that it meant the arrival in Congress of Mel Reynolds – the politico who forevermore brings a chuckle to the idea of “peach panties” and “win(ning) the Lotto.”
Savage got dumped for being too black a person in spirit for a man who wound up doing prison time for being involved with a teenage girl (along with other offenses, but that is the one we want to eagerly remember).
I remember reading political advisor James Carville’s book along with future spouse Mary Matalin about the 1992 presidential campaign where he talked of how close presidential hopeful Bill Clinton came to endorsing Reynolds publicly – just to make a statement against anti-semitic thought at Savage’s expense.
Only to express shock at the thought that many local political operatives that the Clinton campaign wanted on their side also backed Savage.
BECAUSE THEY ALSO sensed that Savage had his focus back on the home district – rather than worrying about what might gain him a bit more seniority in Congress out of the belief that THAT is what really would move his constituents forward.
Now I’m not trying to praise Savage. Personally, I am a Far South Side Chicago native who remembers the man as a congress member of little influence or consequence.
I’m just realistic enough to know that I’m sure Gus never lost any sleep over the fact that some people were never going to be inclined to support him (keep screaming “Farrakhan!”), particularly if they’re they kind of people inclined to think that Ronald Reagan was a wonderful president.
Because there were many others (enough to keep getting re-elected throughout the 1980s) who were just fine with what he did – and probably think the problem with politics today is that there aren’t more people as locally-focused as ‘ol Gus.