Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the City Council paid tribute last week to longtime Chicago Civic Federation President Laurence Msall for his work over two decades holding government leaders’ feet to the fire on fiscal management practices.

Msall died unexpectedly Feb. 4 at 61 after heart surgery.

Msall took over in 2002 as president of the 129-year-old non-partisan research organization that tracks and analyzes the finances and tax policies of Chicago, Cook County, and Illinois.

Fostering business and philanthropic financial support, Msall catapulted the organization’s reputation and expanded its staff and research capabilities while balancing fiscal policy recommendations with the interests of taxpayers and businesses.

The council always listened and respected his advice and recommendations, even if it didn’t heed them, members said Wednesday when they passed resolutions honoring Msall, whose acumen for parsing complex fiscal issues into plain English made him a go-to source.

“Laurence was like E.F. Hutton; when he spoke people listened,” said Alderperson Pat Dowell, chair of the council’s budget committee, who referenced the famous line in the brokerage house’s commercials from the 1970 and 1980s.

“Laurence was somebody who was revered, both here in City Council, the mayor’s office, and Springfield and the governor’s office,” Lightfoot said on the council floor. “He was someone that played it straight and deeply cared about good government and gave it his all to help us see things that we might not have otherwise been seeing not just from a budgetary standpoint but for the issues of the day.”

Lightfoot, who will leave office in May after losing her re-election bid, said she has acutely missed Msall as there were times over the last month when her instinct was to call him when various issues came up. Not only political leaders but the city and state’s citizenry that were the beneficiaries of his “wise counsel and hard work,” she said.

Msall balanced sound fiscal stewardship with caring for the people whose lives were impacted by city spending plans and his recommendations were “firm” but delivered in a “welcoming, friendly, open, collegial way that is rare in government,” said Alderperson Harry Osterman.

The resolution remembered Msall for being a “a vociferous advocate for the business community of the city of the Chicago and state of Illinois, an indefatigable fixture in legislative bodies and the media, and a giant in the world of Illinois fiscal policy.”

“During his twenty-year tenure with the Civic Federation, he worked tirelessly to make the Civic Federation an indispensable source of reliable fiscal information and government process recommendations to public officials, the media, and the general public,” the resolution reads.

Msall was “known throughout the city for his reasoned and purposeful critiques on budgets, pensions, debt issues and policy proposals, and his persistence on fiscal responsibility” and will be remembered as a “advocate for good government” who “formed relationships across party lines and was held in high esteem by politicians from all parties and from around the city and state.”

Lightfoot and Alderperson Ed Burke, who as the former chair of the Finance Committee often hosted Msall’s testimony on subjects, didn’t agree on much during her term but on Msall they shared a common affection. Burke said while his respect ran deep for Msall, it was his wife, retired Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke, who was especially heartbroken and called Msall “one of a kind.”

The federation named Sarah Wetmore to serve as acting president during a search for a permanent leader. Wetmore, the federation’s vice president and research director, worked closely with Msall.

The federation is putting together a search committee to identify the process for the selection of a permanent president later this year.

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