Chicago Alderman Launches Congressional Campaign To Succeed Rep. Bobby Rush

Veteran politician Pat Dowell switched her sights from Illinois secretary of state to Congress after Rush, a 15-term Democrat, announced he won't seek reelection.

A Chicago alderman who was in the process of running for Illinois secretary of state has dropped her bid for the title, announcing on Wednesday that she has instead launched a congressional campaign to succeed the departing Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.).

“After careful consideration and many conversations with family and supporters, today I announced my run for Congress in Illinois’ 1st District,” said Ald. Pat Dowell, a Democrat who represents the 3rd Ward on the city’s South Side. The Chicago Sun-Times first reported on Tuesday that Dowell was expected to announce this week whether she would switch political races.

In a tweet, Dowell expressed gratitude for the support she’d received during her campaign for Illinois secretary of state, but said that “recent events, both here in Illinois and across the country, have led me to decide to make this run for Congress.”

Rush said Tuesday that he will not seek reelection to Congress. The lawmaker and former Black Panther, who was first elected in 1992, said he is not retiring from public service, and that he plans to continue his work as a minister activist.

“Please don’t think I am cutting and running,” the 75-year-old congressman said Tuesday at the Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ, a church known for hosting the 1955 funeral for Emmett Till, a Black child from Chicago who was brutally beaten and murdered by white men in Mississippi. “I will remain on the front line of the battlefield, organizing my community.”

Rush’s announcement has opened the field for a slew of candidates to try and succeed him in the heavily Democratic 1st District, which, under the state’s new congressional map, covers part of Chicago’s South Side and southern Cook County suburbs. Rush has not indicated who he plans to endorse for the Democratic primary in June, but said Tuesday that he expects to do so in “the next few weeks.”

Six candidates had already entered the race before Rush announced he would not run again, including community activist Jahmal Cole and the Rev. Christopher Butler. According to the Sun-Times, attorney Karin Norington-Reaves will formally enter the race on Sunday, and Democratic state Sens. Elgie Sims, Jacqueline Collins and Robert Peters could jump in as well.

While running for secretary of state, Dowell lagged behind her competitors in fundraising. But despite stricter fundraising rules at the federal level than at the state, the alderman will likely be able to convert much of her state funds into federal money. She can also use her state money for generic party building, such as voting efforts.

With an existing paid operation, and extensive experience as a politician, Dowell is likely to become the front-runner in the race to succeed Rush. The candidate said that her platform includes making sure constituents receive enough federal resources, safeguarding voting rights and access, being a strong advocate for gun control, protecting Social Security and Medicare, and providing “healthcare for all.”

In her announcement, Dowell also said that Rush “has led the fight for racial justice and inspired many,” and that she wants “to recognize the numerous contributions” in his “lifetime of service to further civil rights and protect underserved communities, particularly those of color.”

Rush was widely known for decades as a co-founder of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party. His fellow co-founder, Fred Hampton, was killed in his sleep at age 21 during a 1969 police raid. Rush also experienced the shooting death of his own son in 1999, something he would later describe while advocating for gun legislation.

Since then, Rush has continued his activism by becoming an ordained minister, a Chicago alderman and a formidable congressman. In March 2012, the lawmaker intentionally violated House dress rules by wearing a hoodie on the floor in honor of Trayvon Martin, a Black teen who was similarly dressed when a neighborhood watch volunteer shot him to death in Florida.

Rush’s long tenure in Congress hasn’t been without criticism. He received backlash from progressives for supporting the 1994 crime bill, federal legislation that helped lead to the mass incarceration of Black and brown people. In 2016, Rush said he felt “ashamed” of having voted for the bill.

Rush is leaving Congress after about three decades of service, during which time he became the only person to defeat former President Barack Obama in an election, in the 2000 Democratic primary for the 1st District. He is the 24th House Democrat this year to announce they will not run for reelection. Eleven House Republicans have also said they won’t seek reelection, during a year where the GOP is hoping to win control of the chamber after several years of being in the minority.

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