Rep. Bobby Rush (D)
Illinois 1st District
The South Side of Chicago has been the nation’s largest urban black community for nearly a century. A hundred years ago, there were just a few blocks where black families from the South could settle. But the ghetto grew rapidly with the first influx of blacks from the Mississippi Delta in the 1910s. By the 1920s, the South Side was well established, a center of black-owned businesses and of music, from blues to jazz. Politically, the South Side was a heavily Republican constituency throughout those years. The comfortable white Protestants who settled in solid brick houses here believed in the party of Yankee propriety, while the blacks had faith in the party of Lincoln. This was a Republican Party heartland, represented in the House in the 1920s by Appropriations Chairman Martin Madden. After Madden died in the Appropriations Committee room in 1928, the 1st District elected Republican Oscar DePriest, the first African-American elected to the House in the 20th century. Blacks remained faithful to the party of Lincoln even during the Depression, voting for Herbert Hoover and DePriest in 1932.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The New Deal and the racial liberalism of New Dealers like Eleanor Roosevelt and Interior Secretary Harold Ickes, both former Republicans themselves, attracted blacks to the Democratic Party, and black Democrat Arthur Mitchell beat DePriest in 1934. The South Side has been Democratic ever since. For 40 years, it was a cooperative part of Chicago’s Democratic machine. Then, after the death of longtime Rep. William Dawson, it rebelled against Mayor Richard J. Daley. The South Side seemed to take over the city when Rep. Harold Washington was elected mayor in 1983 and 1987. After he died in November 1987, other black South Side politicians were bogged down by infighting, though Chicago’s black electorate peaked at about 40% black.
The 1st Congressional District of Illinois includes about half of Chicago’s African-American community on the South Side, plus many suburbs beyond the city boundaries. The 1st has a northern salient that includes some of Chicago’s first black neighborhoods as well as the Gothic spires of the University of Chicago and the mansions of Kenwood, once the home of Chicago’s Jewish aristocracy and more recently the headquarters of the Nation of Islam and home of its leader Louis Farrakhan. Bronzeville, once a destination point for thousands of black families from the South, lately has become popular with upscale professionals of diverse backgrounds, who reside in condos and townhouses. The Illinois Institute of Technology has attracted dozens of high-tech growth companies by building a research institute and business center. The district includes most of the South Side, from Stony Island west almost to the city limit and from 60th Street to 95th—miles and miles of bungalow neighborhoods, where single-family houses line arrow-straight streets. For 20 years, Barack Obama attended church at Trinity United Church of Christ, where the pastor was Jeremiah Wright; Wright’s racially inflamed remarks later became controversial during Obama’s quest for the White House.
In neighborhoods such as Englewood, once the city’s second busiest shopping district before losing half of its population after 1970, thousands of private residential homes have been built with federal support in recent years in hopes of creating a new black middle-class community; some have been placed on vacant land or in abandoned buildings that had housed gangs. In 2007, an entrepreneurial business professor at Northwestern University told the Chicago Tribune that Englewood “is about to be revitalized” and gentrified--spurred partly by the new Kennedy-King College, a campus of the City Colleges of Chicago. A narrow neck of urban geography connects the city part of the 1st with a still mostly white collection of suburbs, starting with Blue Island and fanning southwest to Palos Heights, Orland Park, and Oak Forest. The district is overwhelmingly Democratic. Just 17% of people here voted for George W. Bush in 2004. Obama beat McCain in 2008 87% to 13%.
Rep. Bobby Rush (D)
Elected: 1992, 9th term.
Born: Nov. 23, 1946, Albany, GA .
Education: Roosevelt U., B.A. 1973, U. of IL, M.A. 1994, McCormick Seminary, M.A. 1998.
Family: Married (Carolyn); 6 children (1 deceased).
Military career: Army, 1963–68.
Elected office: Chicago city alderman, 1983–92; 2nd ward committeeman, 1984–present.
Professional Career: Member, Student Non–Violent Coord. Cmte., 1966–68; Co–founder, IL Black Panther Party, 1968; Med. clinic dir., 1970-1973; Insurance agent, 1978-83.
The congressman from the 1st District is Bobby Rush, a man who has gone through several transformations. He grew up on the North Side, a Boy Scout whose mother was a Republican precinct captain. While in the Army, he became involved in the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee in the South, then became disillusioned with the military and went AWOL in 1968. That year, he founded the Illinois Black Panthers, with its “Power to the People” slogan, and recruited Fred Hampton, who became chairman of the organization but was later killed by police in a 1969 raid. The next day, police raided Rush’s family’s apartment, but he wasn’t there. Rush served six months in prison for illegal possession of firearms, but also during his time with the Black Panthers, he ran a program providing free breakfasts to children and a medical clinic that developed the nation’s first mass sickle-cell-anemia testing program. “I don’t repudiate any of my involvement in the Panther party—it was part of my maturing,” Rush later said. Lately, he has commemorated the anniversary of the raid by holding a job fair to promote the future. In 1983 he was elected the 2nd Ward alderman on the Chicago City Council and became a strong supporter of Harold Washington, who became mayor. As he built a career in politics, Rush went back to school and earned masters’ degrees in political science and theological studies. In 1992, he challenged Democratic Rep. Charles Hayes, an older-generation politician with a union background. Just before the primary, it was revealed that Hayes had 716 overdrafts on the House bank, a practice among lawmakers that blossomed into a national scandal. Rush won 42%-39%.
|Bobby Rush (D)||233,036||(86%)||($435,961)|
|Antoine Members (R)||38,361||(14%)||($422,267)|
|Bobby Rush (D)||134,343||(87%)|
|William Walls (D)||19,272||(13%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (84%), 2004 (85%), 2002 (81%), 2000 (88%), 1998 (87%), 1996 (86%), 1994 (76%), 1992 (83%)
In the House, Rush has a liberal voting record. His rhetoric has toned down over the years, and his more deliberate style contrasts sharply with his days as a Panther. Gun violence caused great pain to Rush in 1999, when his son Huey Rich, who was born three weeks before the 1969 police raid, was murdered by a man wielding a handgun as he returned to his South Side home with his fiancée. Ordained as a Baptist minister, Rush founded a church in 2002 in the depressed Englewood community, but it struggled financially. Legislatively, he has focused on children’s health and the nursing shortage.
In recent years, he has devoted much of his time to the Energy and Commerce Committee, where he is chairman of the Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection Subcommittee. He has held hearings on dangerous children’s toys and betting by a referee in the National Basketball Association. (He was unhappy when Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Henry Waxman of California pre-empted him in 2008 on the issue of steroid use in baseball.) Rush was absent from Capitol Hill during much of 2008, however, after doctors diagnosed a form of salivary cancer and removed a tumor near his jaw. Following surgery and treatment, doctors in August ruled him cancer free.
Rush waged a quixotic mayoral campaign in 1999 against Richard M. Daley, the second Daley to develop an iron grip on the mayor’s office. Rush has been a frequent Daley critic, and during the campaign, he attacked the mayor for tolerating police brutality, inadequate mass-transit service and cronyism in city government. Two of his Democratic House colleagues, Jesse Jackson Jr. and Danny Davis, sided with Rush, but only 3 of the 50 aldermen endorsed him. Rush tried to build a multiracial coalition, but for practical purposes, his only chance was with black voters. Daley was popular, and his financial advantage overwhelming. The incumbent won the primary 72%-28%, with nearly 45% of the African-American vote and the support of many prominent black ministers. After that pounding, Rush found himself challenged in his own re-election primary in 2000 by two state senators—Donne Trotter and the then little-known Barack Obama. Obama waged an active campaign, but was attacked for being absent from the Legislature for two months and missing a vote on a gun-control bill. He was on a family trip to Hawaii that was extended after his daughter got sick, he said. (South Side voters may have had little sympathy for a candidate who escaped a Chicago January for Hawaii’s sunny climate, even if Obama happened to have been raised in the sunny island state.) “It was a race in which everything that could go wrong did go wrong,” Obama later wrote in his book Audacity of Hope. Rush was also helped by an endorsement from President Clinton and beat Obama 61%-30%. Surely not by coincidence, redistricting in 2002 shifted Obama’s Hyde Park home two blocks outside the new lines and removed the 19th Ward that he had carried. Rush has been routinely re-elected since then.
In the 2004 Senate primary, Rush supported Blair Hull, who finished third, but after the primary, endorsed Obama. During Obama’s pitched primary fight with Hillary Rodham Clinton, Rush endorsed Obama, calling it “one of the most difficult decisions I've had to make in politics,” Rush endorsed Obama for president, though he criticized Obama for failing to address big issues, including national health care. He gained national prominence when he joined the December 2008 press conference at which Gov. Rod Blagojevich announced his selection of Roland Burris to fill President-elect Obama’s vacant Senate seat. Rush cited the importance of having an African-American serve in the Senate. “I would ask you to not hang or lynch the appointee as you try to castigate the appointer,” he said, referring to the scandal surrounding Blagojevich’s alleged attempts to profit personally and politically from the appointment of Obama’s successor.