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Bobby Rush turns the page to a new chapter

Congressman Rush’s three decades in public life took him from Black Panther leader to alderman to congressman.

U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., smiles during a news conference at Roberts Temple Church Of God In Christ in Chicago, Ill., Tuesday morning, Jan. 4, 2022, where he announced that he will not be seeking a 16th term in the U.S. House of Representatives. Rush, 75, a former Black Panther and an ex-Chicago alderman and minister, was first elected to Congress in 1992. (Ashlee Rezin/Chicago Sun-Times via AP) ORG XMIT: ILCHS406
U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., smiles during a news conference at Roberts Temple Church Of God In Christ in Chicago, Ill., Tuesday morning, Jan. 4, 2022, where he announced that he will not be seeking a 16th term in the U.S. House of Representatives. Rush, 75, a former Black Panther and an ex-Chicago alderman and minister, was first elected to Congress in 1992. (Ashlee Rezin/Chicago Sun-Times via AP) ORG XMIT: ILCHS406
Ashlee Rezin, AP Photos

U.S. Rep Bobby Rush (D-Illinois) formally announced Tuesday he won’t seek re-election this year, putting a cap on his congressional career after 30 years in office.

Rush’s retirement ends one of the more remarkable careers in Chicago politics — one that saw the South Side Chicago Democrat rise from an Illinois Black Panther Party leader to Chicago alderman to U.S. congressman.

But along the way, Rush, 75, managed to bring with him some of the core principles of the Black Panther Party — and put those principles to work for the greater good.

For instance, Rush’s current co-sponsorship of a bill to allow the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to cover hot meals and prepared foods to help better feed the poor is not a far throw from the pioneering Free Breakfast for School Children program operated by the Panthers in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

And Rush’s stances on equity in criminal justice have clear echoes to his activist days, such as the legislation he introduced in 2021 aimed at forcing the FBI to release its secret files relating to COINTELPRO, a federal domestic spying and disinformation campaign aimed at disrupting the 1960s Black civil rights movement — and particularly the work of the Black Panthers.

“We must pull back the curtain on the FBI’s racially and politically motivated espionage on its own citizens,” Rush said in a statement last year.

Rush is leaving office, but that legislation still deserves to become law.

As congressman, Rush has also been a critical voice backing climate change and energy legislation, having a hand in bills aimed at reducing carbon emissions and creating a net- zero economy by 2050 that removes as many greenhouse gases from the atmosphere as are produced.

Rush’s 30 years in office did have some blemishes. Rush, who is also a minister, teamed up with a group of other individuals to buy a vacant church at 6430 S. Harvard Ave., in 2005, promising the new congregation would work to turn around the long-disinvested Englewood community. But the church stopped making payments on the mortgage in 2011 and a judge ultimately placed a $2,100-a-month wage assessment on Rush’s $174,000 annual federal salary.

Rush says he now plans to focus on his faith and said he is “returning home, returning to my church, returning to my family and grandchildren. But my calling to a life of service is stronger than ever.”

We wish Rush well — and we expect Chicago will continue to hear his voice in his next chapter.

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