Robert Bennett


Message from Bob Bennett

Dawn Netsch was an original. She was, of course, a successful politician, but she did not let politics stand in the way of strong passions and unusual tastes and habits. So she never learned to drive a car, but she was mighty good with a pool cue. The unique house in which she lived was the creation of her architect husband Walter, but over time Dawn became thoroughly devoted to it, and to the art that adorned its walls (if that is the right word for the sides of the passageways that led one to various portions of the house).

Her devotion to the White Sox is well-known, but no one mistook that passion for a politician’s attempt to curry favor with constituents. For one thing she paid little homage to the Cubs, even though Cubs fans were at least as likely as Sox fans to have a voting say in the public offices for which she ran. For another, Dawn’s White Sox fandom was anything but lip service. She had season’s tickets and attended many a game. Less well-known probably is Dawn’s passion for liverwurst. And then there was the crushing schedule she maintained, not only for political and public events but for teaching at Northwestern Law School whenever that could possibly be made consistent with the legislative and executive positions she held in Illinois. In more recent years that teaching was of State and Local Government Law, using the casebook of which she was co-editor. And she even found time to co-chair the school’s strategic planning process after her unsuccessful run for Governor and the end of her term as State Comptroller.

Unlike many a political figure, it was surely concern about issues in the public sphere that motivated Dawn’s pursuit of public office, rather than the other way around. Indeed it was her sticktuitiveness on the public issues about which she cared that was especially impressive. There was a range of such subjects, from racial equality to ethics in government, but I remember many a conversation over the years about merit selection of judges, about which Dawn cared deeply. Her work for merit selection continued long after she had left public office, and despite the fact that the battle for merit selection remained (and remains) a decidedly uphill one in Illinois.

In more recent years, often with a liverwurst sandwich in tow, Dawn would show up for informal lunches that are a regular feature in the law school’s faculty lounge. Strongly held views are hardly unusual in that setting, but Dawn was often in the lead, defining the issues and making no bones about where she stood on them. She certainly understood disagreement, but she seldom softened her views in the way one might expect from someone schooled in politics. That candid and devoted Dawn Netsch, the “original,” will be sorely missed, by so many and varied people and communities to which she devoted her seemingly endless store of energy.

— Bob Bennett