Tom Sawyer, Congressman Who Challenged Census Undercount, Dies at 77

Eight-term Democratic Congressman Tom Sawyer from Ohio, whose concern that more than two million black Americans were missing from the 1990 census, encouraged the federal government to revise the population count thereafter, 20 died May at a nursing facility in Akron. He was 77 years old.

His wife, Joyce (Handler) Sawyer, said the cause was Parkinson’s disease.

Mr. Sawyer was chairman of the Post Office and Civil Service Subcommittee on Census and Population when he cited evidence of undercounting and urged the Census Bureau to adjust the count. The count, held every 10 years, determines the apportionment of congressional seats and the distribution of billions of dollars in federal spending among the states.

The Bureau Director at the time, Barbara Everett Bryant (who died in March), originally recommended the adjustment despite the statistical challenges it would have involved. It was rejected by the Commerce Secretary. Robert A. Mosbacherwhich stated that while it may be possible to make the national count more accurate, adjusting the local data on which the distribution was based may actually produce additional miscalculations.

Mr. Sawyer condemned. Mr. Mosbacher’s decision as “a gerrymander on a national level.”

Declaring that he had “found real consensus that early planning for the year 2000 would improve the process,” Mr. Sawyer successfully moved Congress. A study order from the National Academy of Sciences on how the Bureau can count more accurately.

In 1990, the undercount, which was believed to have been reduced in the nation’s older cities in the Northeast as well as industrialized Midwest cities such as Akron, was originally estimated at 2.1 percent and later It was reduced to about 1.6 percent. In 2000, with the bureau’s new methodology, which was influenced by a National Academy study, the undercount was said to be only .49 percent.

Mr. Sawyer served in local, state and national office for nearly five decades. He was a member of the Ohio House of Representatives from 1977 to 1983, Mayor of Akron from 1984 to 1986, Congressman from Northeast Ohio from 1987 to 2003, and a member of the Ohio State Senate from 2007 to 2016.

In Congress, he voted against tough welfare legislation (officially the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act) signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996. In 2003, he opposed the deployment of US forces to Iraq.

Speaking on the floor of the House, he also condemned the impeachment of President Clinton, famously citing Sir Thomas More, who was executed in 1535 for his religious beliefs, saying: ” What you have persecuted me for is not my actions but their thoughts. My heart. This is a long road you have opened. God help the politicians who follow your path.

Thomas Charles Sawyer was born on August 15, 1945 in Akron. His mother, Jane (Galloway) Sawyer, was a hospital dietician. His father, the president of a firm that made industrial ventilators, was named Furman, but everyone called him Tom after Mark Twain’s character. The couple decided that since their son would probably end up with that nickname, they might as well name him Thomas.

Mr. Sawyer earned a bachelor’s degree in English in 1968 and a master’s degree in civics in 1970, both from the University of Akron. He began his career as a teacher in Cleveland before being elected to the state legislature in 1977, where he was instrumental in reforming legislative redistricting to curb the influence of partisan politics.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by his daughter, Amanda Krause. He lived in Akron.

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