Former Chicago Ald. Wilson Frost, who served for nearly 20 years on the City Council and was one of the city’s leading African-American politicians of his era, has died, according to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office.
Specific details about Frost’s death were not immediately available. Frost was in his early 90s.
“Wilson Frost was a passionate public servant and a powerful voice for those he served,” Emanuel said in a statement. “A giant in the City Council, he rose through the ranks and became chairman of the Finance Committee.”
Frost was born in Cairo, Ill., and his family moved to Chicago when he was a toddler. He went on to attend Wilson Junior College, Fisk University and Chicago Kent College of Law. He earned a law degree in 1958.
He was first elected to the City Council in 1967 and served in the 21st Ward and later the 34th Ward. He moved up the ranks to become president pro tem. In 1973, he told the Tribune he wanted his role to encourage other African-Americans to become involved in politics.
“I hope this honor — and it is an honor — will suggest to young blacks that there are opportunities not only in business and the legal profession but in politics; that it will encourage them to work within the system,” Frost said at the time.
His role as president pro tem became an issue in 1976 when longtime Mayor Richard J. Daley died. Because of his role, Frost announced he would assume the role of mayor, but he was met with resistance from those loyal to Daley. In the end, in a deal that installed Ald. Michael Bilandic as mayor, Frost became the chairman of the Finance Committee, according to Tribune reports.
During that period, Frost was the highest ranking African-American alderman serving the council. The conflict after Daley’s death created a succession plan that called for the council’s vice mayor to serve as interim mayor.
He continued to push for the advancement of African-Americans in politics, said David Orr, the current Cook County clerk.
Frost was loyal to and played a critical role in getting Harold Washington elected as the city’s first African-American mayor, Orr said.
“He was always kind of behind the scenes,” Orr said. “He was the strong, quiet type.”
When Washington died of a heart attack, the succession plan created after Daley died resulted in Orr briefly becoming mayor of the city.
After leaving the City Council, Frost served as commissioner on the Cook County Board of Tax Appeals until 1998.
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Chicago Tribune’s Elvia Malagon contributed.