William Brandt Jr., a pioneer in the corporate restructuring business, a Democratic activist and fundraiser close to Bill Clinton and former chairman of the Illinois Financial Authority, developed a passion for politics and public policy while a student at Fenwick High School.
When Illinois gubernatorial candidate Pat Quinn was a freshman at Oak Park School, he knew no one. Young Bill “invited me to be at his lunch table,” says Quinn, the start of a lasting friendship. “He has always been very involved in social justice and helping people. He loves politics.”
Mr Brandt, 73, died Sunday at Evanston Hospital, having spent his last months at his home in Winnetka. Doctors informed him in March 2022 that he had the neurodegenerative disease ALS.
As a high school senior at a time when President Lyndon Johnson waged the “War on Poverty”, Mr Brandt began doing community outreach at Benton House, a social service organization in Bridgeport.
“I really like it,” said Mr. Brandt in an interview for this obituary. “It led to my awareness of policy and I guess you could say that's where I started my political career.”
As a young man, Mr. Brandt began working with distressed companies, helping to create corporate restructuring and a turnaround industry. He founded Development Specialists, Inc. based in Chicago, in 1976, traveled the world on behalf of his clients. In December, the Bankruptcy Institute of America honored Mr. Brandt by renaming his lifetime achievement award.
“I see myself as a public servant,” he said. “When I restructured, I saved jobs, lots of jobs. And I saved business. And in my political activism, I try to make the world a better place.”
In 2008, the then Governor. Quinn appointed Mr Brandt chairman of the Illinois Financial Authority – he served three terms – which provides low-cost financing for public and private economic development projects. Mr Brandt is also the trustee of Loyola University.
The interests met in 2013, for what Brandt considers to be one of his proudest accomplishments. Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine became the first medical school in the US to admit undocumented students—known as “Dreamers”—covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, dubbed DACA. However, they cannot take out federal student loans. Under Mr. Brandt, financial authorities created loan programs for these students, who in return agreed to work in medically underserved areas of Illinois.
Mr. Brandt became an influential Democratic player in Illinois, California, Florida and Massachusetts.
In a statement to the Sun-Times, Clinton said: “Bill was a world-renowned bankruptcy and restructuring authority and a valued member of the President's National Finance Council during my administration. He began supporting me in 1991 and played a key role in my 1996 re-election campaign, including helping ensure the success of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
“When she developed ALS and it moved fast, she faced it with courage, grace and gratitude for the love of her family and friends, and for the fortunate life she had lived. Hillary and I will always be grateful for Bill's support and our hearts and prayers go out to (his wife) Patrice and the rest of his family.”
Mr. Brandt was co-chair of the hosting committee for the 1996 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. That year, Mr. Brandt is also a convention delegate from Florida. Mr Brandt remained close to Clinton in his post-presidency.
In 2000, Mr. Brandt served on the Stage Committee at the Democratic Party convention in Los Angeles. She was a Hillary Clinton delegate from Illinois at the Democratic convention in Denver in 2008. That same year, she was co-chair of national campaign finance for Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., when Quigley ran his first House.
Mr. Brandt is also a longtime supporter of Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill. began as its chair of national finance in a failed 2006 House bid.
“In all the time I've known him, Bill has always been a nonchalant —, honest and direct sounding board,” said Duckworth. “He never wanted to curry favor and never looked for anything in return – he was already successful and rich.”
Between 2006 and 2018, Brandt was a member and later chair of the Institute of Governmental Studies' national advisory board at the University of California, Berkeley.
Mr Brandt was part of the investment group that bought Sun-Times in 2017, helping save paper when it was in danger of being folded. Edwin Eisendrath, a former member of the Chicago City Council, led the group.
“When I asked him to help save Sun-Times, he didn't hesitate,” recalls Eisendrath, who served as CEO of Sun-Times Media after the buyout.
William Arthur Brandt Jr. born in Chicago on September 5, 1949, the eldest of four children of Joan and her namesake father, whose business was supplying power plants with coal. The family moved to LaGrange, where he attended St. Francis Xavier.
After graduating from Fenwick in 1967, he earned a sociology degree from Saint Louis University and a master's degree in sociology from the University of Chicago.
While pursuing his doctorate at the U. of C., Mr. Brandt said, “I fell into the business I was in and never looked back.”
The survivors included his wife Patrice, daughters Katharine and Joan, sons John and William and John's brothers Michael and James. A memorial service for Mr Brandt will be held this summer, officiated by the Reverend Michael Garanzini, former President of Loyola – and Mr Brandt's Saint Louis University roommate.
Mr Brandt “considered politics to be a noble profession of public service,” said the Reverend Garanzini. “And the responsibility of higher education is to produce citizens who are ready for that responsibility.”