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Retiring Rep. Bobby Rush endorses Karin Norington-Reaves in Democratic primary for his House seat

The Illinois Democrat, who will retire from Congress next year after 15 terms, gave a significant boost to the candidacy of Norington-Reaves in the historic Black congressional district.

Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., retiring from Congress next year after 15 terms, on Thursday endorsed Karin Norington-Reaves in the race to succeed him.
Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., retiring from Congress next year after 15 terms, on Thursday endorsed Karin Norington-Reaves in the race to succeed him.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

WASHINGTON — The 1st Congressional District in Chicago, always anchored on the city’s South Side, is one of the most historic in the nation, spawning notable Black elected officials serving in the House, Senate and White House.

Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., who will retire from Congress next year after 15 terms, cited the political giants from the district — Oscar DePriest, Willam Dawson, Ralph Metcalfe, Harold Washington, Charles Hayes, Carol Moseley Braun and Barack Obama — in endorsing Karin Norington-Reaves to succeed him.

Rush, whose political career spans being a 1960s radical with the Black Panthers, to a member of the City Council, to Congress, is part of that historic roll call — a list that, he noted at the endorsement press conference, has never included a woman.

Rush’s endorsement of Norington-Reaves — on leave from the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership, where she is CEO — was in the works before she announced her run on Sunday. It gives her Democratic primary campaign a significant boost.

The June 28 Illinois primary field is still taking shape, and the most formidable candidate in the contest so far is Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd), who got off to a quick start because she switched from running in the Democratic primary for Illinois secretary of state to the suddenly open congressional seat after Rush announced he will end his career in Congress after 30 years.

In endorsing Norington-Reaves, Rush talked about the historic political figures from the district — DePriest was the first Black member of Congress elected in the 20th century, after a 28-year drought, as well as the first Black member from the North.

“This is the legacy, this is the narrative I’ve tried to maintain for the past 30 years, and I’m so proud to be able to pass this narrative on to a person who I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that she will be a superb keeper and promoter of this invaluable narrative, this profound and inspirational narrative,” Rush said.

Karin Norington-Reaves is on leave from the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership, where she is CEO. On Thursday, U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., announced she has his endorsement in race to succeed him. Rush announced earlier this month that he will not seek another term in Congress.
Karin Norington-Reaves is on leave from the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership, where she is CEO. On Thursday, U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., announced she has his endorsement in race to succeed him. Rush announced earlier this month that he will not seek another term in Congress.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Rush and Norington-Reaves first met in 2014, after a local teacher, Betty Howard, was killed by “random gunfire” in Chatham, her campaign said. Norington-Reaves worked with Rush in establishing the Chatham Education and Workforce Center, 640 E. 79th St., in the district.

“I stand here truly honored and humbled and, honestly, a little bit overcome by the significance of this moment,” said Norington-Reaves at the press conference to announce the endorsement, at the Hyatt Place Chicago-South/University Medical Center, 5225 S. Harper Ave.

“I’m thrilled at the chance to carry on the historic and impressive legacy of the 1st District’s leaders,” said Norington-Reaves, who said she was nervous. Rush, 75, nudged Norington-Reaves, 52, a Chatham resident who is fluent in Spanish, to remind her to address the Spanish-speaking voters in the district.

“And while I’m thankful for the congressman’s support, and I welcome the support of other leaders in the days and weeks to come, let me be clear. I take absolutely nothing for granted. It is my responsibility to connect with people, to knock on doors, to listen and to understand the topics that are truly on the hearts and minds of the 1st District.”

The district is so Democratic, the winner of the June primary is virtually guaranteed to win the November general election.

Rush, focused on passing his baton to Norington-Reaves, raised his voice when he talked about his total “commitment” to her candidacy, spelling out the word “T-O-T-A-L” to underscore his point.

U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., collects signatures with Karin Norington-Reaves near East 53rd Street and South Harper Avenue in Hyde Park on Thursday, after Rush endorsed her to succeed him in the race for the 1st Congressional District in Chicago.
U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., collects nominating petition signatures with Karin Norington-Reaves near 53rd Street and Harper Avenue in Hyde Park on Thursday, after Rush endorsed her to succeed him in the race for the 1st Congressional District in Chicago.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

While not a political rookie — Norington-Reaves finished third in 2007 when she ran for City Council in the 6th Ward — she has never held elective office and is not known in many parts of the newly remapped district designed under the Civil Rights Act to have a majority-Black voting population. She does come to this race with 15 years more experience in navigating local politics and the savvy to have the Rush endorsement lined up from the start.

Dowell, asked to react to the Rush endorsement, said in a statement, “the people need a Congresswoman who has real experience in a legislative body, building coalitions, guiding legislation and chairing an influential committee. I will bring that experience to Washington DC.”

Moseley-Braun, the first female Black senator, is endorsing Dowell. DePriest, Dawson, Metcalfe and Hayes were House members, as was Harold Washington before he was mayor.

U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., retiring from Congress next year after 15 terms, hugs Karin Norington-Reaves after endorsing her in the race to succeed him on Thursday.
U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., retiring from Congress next year after 15 terms, hugs Karin Norington-Reaves on Thursday, after endorsing her in the race to succeed him in the 1st Congressional District.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Asked by a reporter about her political chops, Norington-Reaves said, “I have definitely navigated both sides of the fifth floor for over a decade. Anybody who can do that can surely do this.” The mayor and Cook County board president have offices on opposite sides of the City Hall/County building.

The agency Norington-Reaves has led, which administers federal employment and training funds, was created in 2012 by then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

Petition-passing for the June primary started Thursday, and after the endorsement, Rush and Norington-Reaves started collecting signatures together in Hyde Park.

Only 400 valid signatures are needed to get on the ballot for the House primary.

The new 1st Congressional District — remapped after the 2020 census — heads south and west past Cook County. Though most of the voters are packed in the northern tip, the district runs south to Bourbonnais and west to Channahon.

The new boundaries of U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush’s 1st Congressional District are in purple and highlighted.
The new boundaries of U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush’s 1st Congressional District are in purple and highlighted.
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