Former state Comptroller Dawn Clark Netsch -- who spent 18 years serving in the state senate and was the first woman to run on a major ticket for governor in Illinois -- has been diagnosed with a fatal nerve disorder.
"Basically it's ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease," Netsch said in an interview with WMAQ-TV and the Chicago Sun-Times.
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ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is a degenerative disorder that weakens the nerves and makes it difficult to walk, swallow and speak, eventually leading to paralysis and death.
"It's a tough one," the 86-year-old Democrat said. Netsch said she's talking about her diagnosis partly to raise awareness about the disease.
"Might get more people thinking about what is ALS," she said. "I'm going to be straight about this also."
Netsch has been known for her directness during the more than six decades she spent in Illinois politics. During her career, she served as an adviser to Gov. Otto Kerner Jr., helped rewrite the Illinois Constitution in 1970 and was elected state comptroller in 1990.
During her tenure in the state Senate, she was known as an expert in state finances, argued against the death penalty and sponsored the Equal Rights Amendment.
In 1994, she ran for governor, losing to the Republican incumbent Gov. Jim Edgar. She did not hold public office after that.
Although she now sometimes needs assistance to walk, Netsch is continuing her work on two state ethics commissions.
"Few people I have met in 40 years of politics have had more impact than Dawn," former senior presidential adviser David Axelrod said Wednesday. "She was a path breaker going back to Gov. Otto Kerner and the Constitutional Convention of 1970.
"And what I love about her is that on the one hand, she is this prim, proper law professor and on the other hand, she is this pool-playing, baseball-loving pol ... who doesn't sacrifice her principles but is pragmatic on behalf of progress."