ROSEMONT, Ill. – Donald Stephens, who saw this Chicago suburb develop into a commercial haven during his half-century as its only mayor, has died, a city spokesman said. He was 79.
Stephens had stomach cancer and died at his home on Wednesday, spokesman Gary Mack said.
The Rosemont mayor was the longest-serving incumbent mayor in U.S. history, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
During his 51-year tenure, Stephens focused on large-scale projects — an entertainment center, a theater and a convention center that bears his name. His final years in office were colored by a casino bid that collapsed amid allegations of mob ties.
Stephens won his latest four-year term in 2005. It was not clear how his successor would be chosen, Mack said. Stephens' son Bradley, a village trustee, had served as mayor pro tem when his father was unable to attend city meetings, Mack said.
The tiny suburb near O'Hare International Airport had only 85 residents when Stephens was first elected mayor in 1956, the same year Rosemont was incorporated. Today, with about 4,200 people, its annual economic impact is estimated at $248 million.
"He took Rosemont from a tiny mud swamp to an incredible mecca of tourism in the hospitality industry," Mack said.
An effort to attract the Emerald Casino, consuming many years and millions of dollars, ended in December 2005 when the Illinois Gaming Board voted unanimously to revoke the casino's gambling license. The board said top company officials lied to regulators and took investments from people allegedly tied to organized crime.
In a summer 2005 hearing on the proposed casino's license, an FBI agent testified that Stephens had met with organized crime figures about mob control of construction and operations contracts at the planned gambling hall. Stephens repeatedly denied allegations about any mob connections.
Stephens was born in Chicago on March 13, 1928. Along with Bradley, he is survived by his wife, Katherine; a daughter, Gail; and two other sons, Donald and Mark.