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Richard D.
Democrat IL

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  • Tribute to Dawn Clark Netsch

    by Senator Richard J. Durbin

    Posted on 2013-03-05

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    DURBIN. Mr. President, this morning we received news in Chicago that Dawn Clark Netsch has passed away. She died from complications from Lou Gehrig's disease at the age of 86. It was a surprise to lose her this quickly, although all of us knew she was struggling with this terrible disease.

    When the history of her contribution to Illinois is written, it will undoubtedly note the obvious: She had worked in Illinois government since the 1950s, under then-Governor Stevenson. She was a law professor at Northwestern University Law School. She was elected State senator in the 1970s. She was elected our State's comptroller after that, and she had an ill-fated run for Governor.

    If that is all it says, though, it will miss the most important part of her life because, you see, Dawn Clark Netsch was an iconic, historic force in our State. More than any person in Illinois history, Dawn Clark Netsch created the modern era of women in Illinois political leadership. As always, those who were charged with opening the doors of opportunity have to come to that task extraordinarily gifted, determined, and patient. Dawn Netsch was all of these and more.

    Early in my life, fresh out of law school, I was a lawyer working in the Illinois State Senate, and I saw firsthand the talents of this new senator, Dawn Clark Netsch. Her political base was the Lakeshore liberal base in Chicago--the group who was always at war with the Chicago machine and proud of it. She was elected from that base but then surprised most everyone when she came to Springfield and struck up a friendship, a genuine friendship, in the constitutional convention first and then in the State Senate with a young State senator named Richard M. Daley, son of Mayor Daley. Dawn Netsch proved that a politician can be both principled and effective and civil. Her ill- fated run for Governor lacked the political polish of many winning campaigns, but her thoughtfulness, her candor, and her blunt honesty about the challenges Illinois faced will always be remembered.

    The Illinois political scene will not be the same without that pool- shooting Sox fan with a cigarette holder, but generations of Illinois women can thank the indomitable force of Dawn Clark Netsch for blazing their path.


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