Dawn Clark Netsch, iconic Illinois politician, dies
Dawn Clark Netsch, August 27, 2009. | Brian Jackson~Chicago Sun-Times
Dawn Clark Netsch, an iconic Illinois political presence for more than six decades, died Tuesday morning from complications from ALS. She was 86.
“She was an actually wonderful contradiction in terms ... cerebral, cigarette-smoking, loved beer and champagne and liverwurst. ... She could carry on with the best of them,“ said her nephew Andy Kerr.
In a recent interview, Netsch revealed her diagnosis with ALS, an incurable, ultimately fatal disease.
“It’s a tough one,” she said.
ALS — amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — is a degenerative nerve disorder that gradually steals a person’s ability to speak, move and swallow, even as the intellect remains intact. Typically, that happens over a span of three to five years.
Before her death, Netsch had begun to experience some symptoms. She could still walk, though with the help of a cane or on the arm of a friend. And she still engaged in animated conversation, as she showed in an interview in the modern art-filled home on the Near North Side that was designed by her late husband, the renowned architect Walter Netsch. But her normally strong voice is somewhat weaker.
Netsch made Illinois history as the first female nominee for governor, paid the state’s bills as comptroller and battled for civil rights and ethics and fiscal responsibility in government. She served as legal adviser to Gov. Otto Kerner in the 1960s, when no woman had held such a post, and was an architect of Illinois’ current state constitution.
She has made a career of shattering a succession of glass ceilings in what was, not so long ago, a man’s world of law and politics.
She was one of the first female law professors in the United States. A liberal Democrat, she defeated the Machine-backed incumbent state Sen. Danny O’Brien to win a seat in the Illinois Senate in 1972 that she held for 18 years. Elected comptroller in 1990, she was the first woman elected to statewide office in Illinois and, four years later, the first to run with the backing of a major political party for governor, losing to incumbent Gov. Jim Edgar.
Netsch said she “never ran as a woman” but always argued, “More women are needed to make a difference in public policy.”