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Rush, Kelly win South Side congressional races

Cong. Bobby L. Rush at his campaign headquarters on Tuesday. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

House Rep. Bobby Rush, if nothing else, is a survivor — and strengthened his reputation with a commanding win over challenger Howard Brookins Tuesday night.

Rush has continually held office since first winning the seat in 1993 — making him one of the state’s most recognizable faces and one its longest mainstays in the nation’s capital alongside fellow House Rep. Louis Gutierrez, who first took office the same year as Rush.

The election was called in favor of Rush about 9 p.m. after he garnered about 72 percent of votes in the 1st District congressional race. Brookins had garnered about 19 percent of the vote with 82 percent of precincts having reported tallies.

In 2000, Rush fended off a challenge from then-state senator Barack Obama to hand the future president his only election loss. He also survived a cancerous tumor that was removed from his salivary gland in 2008 — leaving him with a softer voice and many pounds thinner.

After taking an early lead, Rush said he was “honored and humbled.” He added: “I’m just overwhelmed at the confidence that the voters have in me and I try to honor it and earn that every day.”

Rush, 69, who made headlines as a former militant Black Panther and then alderman before entering Congress, and Brookins, 52, an attorney and alderman who represents the 21st ward, have been political pals for years, but their alliance unraveled as the two traded punches in recent months.

“In terms of the list of people who I would consider friends, you used to be on that list, but you’re not on there any more,” Rush said during a contentious appearance alongside Brookins on WTTW-Ch. 11’s “Chicago Tonight” early this month.

But Rush, on his way to victory Tuesday night, struck a reconciliatory tone.

“I look forward to working with all the elected officials of the 1st District. I always have and always will, including Mr. Brookins.” Pressed on whether he’ll be patching things up with Brookins, Rush responded: “That’s a resounding, yes!”

The olive branch comes eight days after each candidate went for the jugular on “Chicago Tonight,” with Brookins slamming Rush for missing House votes.

“Congressman Rush hasn’t showed up,” Brookins said earlier this month on “Chicago Tonight.” “We need somebody who’s going to show up and fight for us.”

Rush blamed absences on fighting cancer and his wife being ill.

Brookins also poked at Rush for not paying rent on a South Side political office, an issue that spurred an investigation by the Office of Congressional Ethics because Rush didn’t report the office as an in-kind contribution. Rush said on the show he was willing to pay any money he owes.

Rush pointed at Brookins’ former chief of staff, Curtis Thompson, who received a 15-month prison sentence last year for taking $7,500 in bribes from an FBI mole to arrange a liquor license.

“If I had done something wrong, you would expect that I would be in prison next to Curtis,” Brookins replied.

The 1st District covers parts of Chicago’s South Side south suburbs.

O. Patrick Brutus was also on the district ballot.

In the state’s 2nd District, also covering portions of the South Side and south suburbs, Robin Kelly aimed to win a third term, and did.

With 87 percent of precincts reporting, Kelly, 59, had collected about 74 percent of votes. Opponent Marcus Lewis, a former USPS mail handler, had won 16 percent.

“I’m thrilled. I love my job,” Kelly said after taking an early lead.

Kelly first won the post in 2013 in a special election after it was vacated by Jesse Jackson Jr.