Chicago Mayor Pressured to Dismiss Aide

Times Staff Writer

Pressure built on Chicago Acting Mayor Eugene Sawyer on Wednesday to dismiss a top aide whose statements attacking Jews, Christians, Italians and some prominent blacks stirred a controversy that has paralyzed city government this week.

The aide, Steve Cokely, serves as the mayor’s $35,000-a-year link to community groups. He made his controversial statements last year and earlier in a series of tape-recorded lectures to followers of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

Some political leaders believe the furor is being prolonged by Sawyer’s indecisiveness in the matter while religious leaders warned that the episode is causing new strains on black-Jewish relations.


‘Symbolic’ Controversy

Veteran City Councilman Edward Burke, who helped Sawyer become mayor in the turmoil that followed the death of Harold Washington last November, said this controversy is symbolic of the mayor’s “lack of commitment or courage.”

Reluctance to act decisively has often been cited as a hallmark of Sawyer’s almost six months in office and could be a liability when he stands for election early next year.

“There is a perception now that government is just drifting along,” Burke said. “He should have gotten rid of (Cokely) four days ago.”

Sawyer faces questions about the controversy at almost every stop. Late Wednesday, the mayor apparently canceled, abruptly, an appearance before the Community Renewal Society, a group dedicated to promoting racial harmony in Chicago. The society had been part of the chorus of critics demanding Cokely’s dismissal.

“There is a potential for scars,” said Michael C. Kotzin, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Chicago office, of the controversy. “It . . . is not positive and bodes ill for the relationship between blacks and Jews.’

Seen as Threat

“The issue . . . threatens the religious, racial and cultural harmony of Chicago,” said Stanley Davis, director of the Chicago Conference of Christians and Jews, after a closed-door meeting between the mayor and leaders of five major religions.

Meanwhile, a group of white City Council members are preparing an amendment to the city budget that will eliminate Cokely’s job.

The furor over Cokely’s remarks erupted last weekend when the Chicago Tribune published a lengthy account of his lectures.

In those lectures, he claimed Jews were engaged in an international conspiracy to take over the world, that Jewish doctors were injecting blacks with the AIDS virus under the guise of giving inoculations to prevent diseases and that the crucifix was “a symbol of white supremacy.” Cokely also criticized both the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the late Mayor Washington for having Jewish advisers.

Attacks Columbus

Cokely, who was fired from his last job as a City Council aide when he led a movement to cancel the annual Columbus Day celebration because it was a racist holiday, also claimed that Christopher Columbus was a “Hispanic Jew.”

On Tuesday, a group of 45 Italian-American groups joined the protest, demanding that the mayor fire Cokely.