INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (September 25, 2015) - 40 year Indiana State Representative Bill Crawford died at 79 years old Friday. Crawford was elected 20 times to represent the 98th District in parts of Marion County.
Representing the east side of Indianapolis, he hadn’t always had a passion for politics. But as a young African American man, Crawford watched as Robert Kennedy announced in Indianapolis the assassination of Martin Luther King and felt compelled to pursue a career fighting for equality.
In 1972, he won his first seat in the Indiana House of Representatives.
“His name means, just a strong mentor, a strong leader, a strong fighter for the community, especially for the African American community. Someone that was accountable to the community,” said State Representative Robin Shackleford (D – Indianapolis).
Shackleford replaced Crawford in 2012 when he retired. She knew Crawford well and knew the legacy he’d left behind would be a hard one to live up to.
“Everybody expects you to fill those shoes but I can only do what I can do, but he has been my mentor for years,” she said.
Crawford would rise among the ranks and in 2002 became the first Indiana African-American lawmaker to serve as chairman of the house Ways and Means Committee.
Acting as a champion for education funding, and equal rights, Crawford even sued the state for its controversial voter ID law in 2005.
“Bill Crawford was an icon, not just here in Indianapolis, but known throughout the state for his service in the statehouse,” said John Zody, Chairman of the Indiana Democratic Party.
Crawford pushed for some of the state’s largest pieces of legislation, including the Minority Teacher's Scholarship Fund, to encourage African-Americans and Latinos to pursue teaching careers; also, a law that made Indiana the 13th state to prohibit the execution of people who have been diagnosed with mental disabilities.
“When you look at leaders like Bill Crawford, you’re looking around the state, people that have come up through elected office and really done some positive and good things to move this state forward and Bill Crawford certainly did that every step of the way,” said Zody.
In a statement, his family said Crawford was struggling with a recent illness.
Crawford’s wife Bernice said, “To the end, Bill faced death with dignity and courage. He fought the good fight in sickness as he did in health, and throughout his long career as a public servant. Bill will be remembered here in Indianapolis, throughout the entire state of Indiana and this nation as a champion for the poor and disadvantaged.”
John Zody, state party chairman for the Indiana Democrats released the following statement on Crawford's death:
“On behalf of the Indiana Democratic Party, we all mourn the loss of Chairman Bill Crawford. Simply put, he was an icon. In his 40 years of service to Hoosiers in the Indiana House of Representatives, Rep. Crawford fought hard for fiscal responsibility, equal rights and to give everyone a fair chance in our state. He also embodied service to his community and stood as an example of leadership to all who knew him. Indiana Democrats are saddened by the loss of one of our champions, and we will miss him.”
Republican State Sen. David Long, Senate president pro tem, released the following statement:
“I had the honor of working with Bill Crawford for a number of years, particularly during his service as Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. Bill was an honorable man, and a true fighter for his constituents and the issues he passionately believed in. We will all miss him.”
Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard said Crawford was a tireless advocate for the city:
Indianapolis lost a cherished community leader today. For decades, Bill Crawford championed civic causes and tirelessly advocated on behalf of the people and neighborhoods that make our city great. There is no denying how much he cared for his constituents and Indianapolis. My thoughts and prayers are with his family today.
Gov. Mike Pence also released this statement Friday on Crawford's death:
“Bill Crawford served as a member of the Indiana General Assembly with distinction. For four decades, his leadership brought about extraordinary accomplishments such as the Second Chance Act, the Minority Teacher’s Scholarship Fund and so many others.
“A veteran of the United States Navy and the first African American lawmaker to serve as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Bill Crawford was a true public servant dedicated to improving the lives of Hoosiers. I recently had the privilege of recognizing the Chairman’s contributions to our communities by awarding him the Reverend Charles Williams Community Service Award.
“As we mourn the passing of this beloved Hoosier, let us keep his wife Bernice and the entire Crawford family in our thoughts and prayers.”