Tom Sawyer, an eight-time Democratic congressman from Ohio whose concern that the 1990 census missed more than two million black Americans prompted the federal government to improve its subsequent population counts, died May 20 at a nursing facility in Akron. He was 77.
His wife Joyce (Handler) Sawyer said the cause was Parkinson’s disease.
Mr. Sawyer was chairing the Census and Population Subcommittee for the Postal and Civil Service Office of the House of Representatives when he cited evidence of the undercount and asked the Census Bureau to adjust the census. The census, conducted every ten years, determines the distribution of congressional seats and the allocation of billions of dollars in federal spending to the states.
The bureau’s director at the time, Barbara Everitt Bryant (who died in March), originally recommended an adjustment despite the statistical challenges involved. However, it was overruled by Secretary of Commerce Robert A. Mosbacher, who said that while it was possible to make the national count more accurate, adjusting the local numbers on which the split is based could actually introduce further miscalculations.
Mr. Sawyer condemned Mr. Mosbacher’s decision as “a national Gerrymander.”
Declaring that he had “reached a real consensus that early planning for the year 2000 will improve the process,” Mr. Sawyer successfully urged Congress to commission a National Academy of Sciences study like this office could do a more accurate count.
In 1990, the minority, thought to be outpacing the country’s older cities in the Northeast and cities in the industrial Midwest like Akron, was originally estimated at up to 2.1 percent and later at about 1.6 percent revised. In 2000, when the bureau introduced new procedures based in part on the National Academy study, the undercount was reported to be only about 0.49 percent.
Mr. Sawyer has served in local, state and national government 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 the tough social laws (officially the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act) enacted by President Bill Clinton in 1996. In 2003 he opposed the use of American forces in Iraq.
Speaking in the House of Representatives, he also despised President Clinton’s impeachment and quoted Sir Thomas More, who was executed in 1535 for his religious beliefs, as saying, “What you have hunted me for is not my actions but my thoughts.” my heart. It’s a long road you have opened. God help the statesmen who go your way.”
Thomas Charles Sawyer was born on August 15, 1945 in Akron. His mother, Jean (Galloway) Sawyer, was a nutritionist at a hospital. His father, who was president of a company that made industrial ventilators, was named Furman, but everyone called him Tom, after the character by Mark Twain. Since their son would likely go by the same nickname, the couple decided to call him Thomas just as well.
Mr. Sawyer earned a bachelor’s degree in English in 1968 and a master’s degree in urban education 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 the redistribution of legislative districts to curb the influence of partisan politics.
In addition to his wife, he leaves behind his daughter Amanda Kraus. He lived in Akron.