The late Michael Scott never forgot his West Side roots.
Growing up in the North Lawndale community, Scott maintained his West Side ties even as he reached the heights in Chicago’s political power structure, more recently a second stint as president of the Chicago Board of Education.
While serving as president in 2003, Scott helped engineer the sale of Community Bank of Lawndale to a North Side banking firm, a controversial deal that angered some in the community but helped keep the bank from being taken over by federal regulators or shuttered altogether.
Scott, who was found dead Monday morning near the Chicago River from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, was among the founders of the black-owned Lawndale Bank in the 1970s. Scott turned 60 in September and lived on the West Side with his family. The Cook County medical examiner’s office has ruled his death a suicide.
When the sale of the Lawndale Bank to Asian-owned International Bank of Chicago went down, the deal troubled some in the community. Scott was chairman of the West Side bank, a black-owned institution since its inception. At the time of its sale, Scott said the more than 20-year-old bank would not have survived if new owners were not found. Community Bank of Lawndale had been in financial trouble for some years prior to its sale, among its problems being inadequate capital and poor management. The bank was founded in 1977 by a group of Lawndale activists, including Scott.
As the sale of the bank loomed, Scott said he reached out to numerous potential black buyers but a deal could not be reached. The sale of Lawndale Bank to IBC was approved in late 2003. The bank has since come back under black ownership and was renamed Covenant Bank.
Scott graduated from Hales Franciscan High School, where he was a successful athlete. He was scouted by the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates, but an injury thwarted his major league career. His community activism in North Lawndale began after graduating from New York’s Fordham University. He returned to Chicago to work for Pyramid West Development Corporation, a North Lawndale property development group, in the early 1970s, where he served as a vice president. Along with the founding of Lawndale Bank, the group built a senior center and rehabbed residential buildings, among other initiatives.
Scott spent the 1970s as a community activist and in 1980 was appointed by Mayor Jane Byrne to the Chicago Board of Education. He was serving as a director with Lawndale People’s Planning and Action Council at the time.
U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, a longtime friend of Scott, spoke with Austin Weekly News on Monday by phone in Washington D.C., where Davis received the call about Scott’s death. The congressman said he was “shocked and devastated” by the news. Davis said he’s known Scott since the late ’60s. The Arkansas native recalled that Scott was among the first persons he met after arriving in Chicago. Both worked in several community organizations, including the Planning and Action Council.
“Mike was a bright young fellow. He emerged quickly as someone who had a presence. When you went to a community meeting, Michael was there because he always had something to say. So he emerged and helped organize the community.”
Davis noted that Scott’s leadership attracted the attention of the city’s political elite. Scott went on to work for Mayor Harold Washington. After becoming mayor in 1991, Daley would appoint Scott to various posts, including as president of the Chicago Park District and the Chicago Public School boards.
Scott, who lived in the West Loop, listed many public and private sector initiatives on his resume. In addition to leading the park district and board of education, he was a member of the Public Building Commission of Chicago.
Derrick Watts, a neighbor of Scott’s in the North Ada Street development, expressed “total shock” at the news.
“We’re still trying to take it in ourselves,” said Watts, who recalled seeing Scott and his family holding cookouts on their deck during the summer. Scott was genuinely friendly, Watts recalled. “He was just a neighborly chap, always asking, ‘How are you doing?'”
Davis recalled seeing Scott about three weeks ago at a city function and said he seemed fine.
“Mike was known as a trouble-shooter and bridge builder,” said Davis. “He could work out problems and find solutions. To the people of North Lawndale, he will always be known as one of their more prominent citizens. But his reach went far beyond that. He was a well-rounded guy who always had a sense of community.”