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By Kim Geiger, Chicago Tribune

During much his two terms as a U.S. senator, in the 1980s and early 1990s, Alan Dixon was the locally minded counterpart to Sen. Paul Simon, always angling for the best deals for Illinois.

He was known as “Al the Pal” for his accommodating style, a reputation built over a decades-long political career that began when he ran for police magistrate in Belleville, Ill., at age 21 and continued even after his departure from the Senate in 1993.

The former senator died Sunday morning at his home in Fairview Heights, Ill., just one day shy of his 87th birthday, according to his son, Jeff Dixon. The cause was believed to be related to heart troubles, his son said.

Dixon, a Democrat, also served in the Illinois House of Representatives and the State Senate, as well as state treasurer and secretary of state before he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1980. His career there came to a halt in 1992 when he was defeated in a three-way Democratic primary by Carol Moseley Braun.

But it was his style as a politician and legislator that defined his political career, said Gene Callahan, Dixon’s longtime aide and friend.

“He was a senator from Illinois, for Illinois,” Callahan said. “He and Paul Simon were really close friends and they were a great team. Paul was more of a national guy and Alan was an Illinois guy. He took really great care of people in constituent services.”

Dixon rose quickly through the ranks of the Senate and became chief deputy whip. He was known not only for his shrewd vote-counting skills, but also for his ability to get along with other politicians, including those of the opposite party.

Last year, Dixon published a memoir titled, The Gentleman From Illinois: Stories From Forty Years of Elective Public Service.

“Generally speaking, my political career was built on goodwill and accommodation,” he wrote.

Dixon’s defeat in the 1992 primary was a shock to the political system, where Senate incumbents had become accustomed to easy primary victories.

Some blamed the third candidate in the race, multimillionaire Chicago lawyer Albert Hofeld, who spent more than $4 million of his own money to wage a TV ad blitz against Dixon. Others attributed it to voter anger over Dixon’s vote to confirm Clarence Thomas’ appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1991. Dixon said later that he had given his word to President George H.W. Bush that he would vote for Thomas, before the allegations surfaced that Thomas had sexually harassed Anita Hill.

Dixon finished out his second Senate term and then returned to Belleville, where he was born.

“He really was a true Bellevillian,” said his son Jeff Dixon. “He had offers, all kinds of offers, to stay in Washington, D.C., and to go to Chicago. He chose to go home to Belleville.”

He joined the St. Louis offices of the law firm Bryan Cave, where he made use of his people skills, “putting deals together and people together,” he said at the time.

Not long after Dixon’s departure from Washington, his former colleagues in the Senate recruited him — and President Bill Clinton appointed him — to chair the Defense Base Realignment and Closure Commission, a panel charged with the politically difficult task of deciding which military bases would be closed.

In the later years of his life, Dixon continued his work with Bryan Cave, and enjoyed golfing and drinking beers with friends and family, his son said.

“He was a very caring, generous person, as a husband, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather,” said Jeff Dixon. “He said, always tell the truth, smile when you’re with people and be nice to people and they’ll be nice back to you.”

Dixon is also survived by his wife, Joan; two daughters, Stephanie Yearian of Waterloo and Elizabeth Megaw of Fairfax, Va.; eight grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Photo via WikiCommons

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