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Ex-Kalamazoo Mayor, MI Senate Hopeful Robert B. Jones Dies

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Michigan House member and Democratic state Senate candidate Robert B. Jones has died.

He was 66.

In a statement, Jones’ family said he died suddenly Sunday after a long battle with cancer. He was diagnosed with esophageal cancer about a year ago, according to the Kalamazoo Gazette.

Jones, who faced the challenge of growing up black under the heel of Jim Crow segregation in Georgia, served eight years as mayor of the western Michigan city of Kalamazoo.

He was running in the Nov. 2 election for a state Senate seat now held by term-limited Republican Tom George. State Rep. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Antwerp Township, also seeks the seat.

There was no official word Sunday on what his death means for balloting in the western Michigan district.

Words of condolence poured in from both sides of the political aisle.

“He was a dedicated public servant, an excellent lawmaker and a great colleague,” said House Republican leader Kevin Elsenheimer.

“I’m proud to have served with him and called him friend. We spent countless hours discussing Kalamazoo history and especially Gibson guitars, and he will be greatly missed.”

“Although we disagreed with him many times on philosophy, no one can deny that he was a dedicated public servant to his community,” said state Republican Chairman Ron Weiser. He said Republicans were suspending mailings in the district.

U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph said: “Kalamazoo has lost a dear friend, fierce advocate and loyal servant.”

Democratic House speaker Andy Dillon and the leader of the Democratic minority in the Senate, Mike Prusi, said in a combined statement that, “Robert was a true public servant. He was a great mayor … and an outstanding legislator.”

Jones worked as a research chemist and production supervisor at The Upjohn Co. and Pharmacia Corp. As mayor, he confronted the loss of hundreds of jobs when new owner Pfizer Inc. cut back on the drug maker’s operations.

“When Kalamazoo faced a historical challenge brought about by the global restructuring of Pfizer, Bob Jones as mayor was there as an incredible advocate for his community,” Gov. Jennifer Granholm said in a statement.

Jones served four two-year terms as mayor before winning a state House seat in 2006.

In their joint statement, Dillon and Prusi said Jones was a “a mentor to other lawmakers and was greatly respected” in both chambers.

“Anyone who knew him can attest that Robert served the people of his community with the highest integrity,” they said.

Jones and wife Callie Baskerville-Jones have six children. Funeral arrangements were incomplete Sunday, his family said.

Earlier this year, Jones said he became involved in public affairs after reflecting on his years growing up in the segregated South.

He was born in Jeffersonville, Ga., near Macon.

“I was 16 when JFK was elected president in 1960, and I look at Kennedy’s election as the point where I became interested in politics,” he told the Gazette.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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