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Ald. Pat Dowell on verge of running for Rep. Bobby Rush seat: Would drop secretary of state bid

At a news conference Tuesday, Rep. Bobby Rush, who will not seek a 16th term in Congress, said he plans to endorse a successor in the coming weeks.

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

WASHINGTON — The surprise decision of Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., to not run for a 16th term sparked a chain reaction Tuesday, with Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) on the verge of dropping her bid for secretary of state and switching to a House run, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.

Dowell told the Sun-Times she will soon decide — it could come within a day or so — whether she will make the switch.

“I am seriously considering a pivot from the secretary of state race to the congressional seat that would be opened by Bobby Rush’s retirement,” she said.

If Dowell jumps in the House race, she will start as the front-runner in what will be — at least at first — a crowded field — because she will have a political campaign already up and running while most others will have to start from scratch.

There is enormous pent-up demand for the seat Rush, 75, will be vacating next year when he wraps up a 30-year run.

“Please don’t think I am cutting and running,” Rush said at a news conference at the Roberts Temple Church of God In Christ, 4021 S. State St., a highly symbolic location because it hosted the 1955 funeral for Emmett Till, the Chicago Black youth brutally murdered in Mississippi.

It was a fitting location for Rush, who has made fighting racial injustice and civil rights the centerpiece of his career, whether as a 1960s radical, an alderman or member of Congress.

“I will remain on the front line of the battlefield, organizing my community,” said Rush, an ordained Baptist minister who was first elected to Congress in 1992.

He acknowledged when it comes to his public speaking, he’s hard to understand. Cancer surgery took some of his vocal cords and, he said, reflecting on his life, the health scare “made me a better survivor.” He said in his next chapter — as a minister activist — he will continue to make his voice heard.

Scramble to replace Rush

The new 1st Congressional District is anchored in part of the South Side and southern Cook County suburbs. Geographically it is vast as it heads downstate south and west past Cook County, but most of the voters are packed into the geographically small northern end of the district.

Rush said he expects to endorse a successor. “Leadership requires that,” he said, and anticipates a selection, in, he said, “the next few weeks.” That timetable suggests he may already have someone in mind.

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.
Google Maps

Rush did not widely telegraph his retirement from Congress, so once word came Monday he would not seek a 16th term, rampant speculation started about who was going to run in the June 2022 Democratic primary.

The 1st Congressional District is so Democratic, the June winner is virtually certain to clinch the seat in the November election.

Rush’s departure from Congress presents a ripe opportunity for Dowell, an alderperson since 2007 and a ward boss since 2008.

Dowell is now a long-shot in the secretary of state Democratic primary, where the front-runners are former state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias and City Clerk Anna Valencia.

Dowell noted when we talked she was not slated by the Cook County Democratic Party — Giannoulias was — and she signed the “loyalty oath” demanded by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, the Cook County party chair, to support their endorsed candidate.

With the Rush seat unexpectedly coming open, she said she may make the switch because Congress is “in her wheelhouse.”

“I’m spending my day making calls to some of the elected officials within the 1st Congressional District.” She said she is going to reach out to Rush and Preckwinkle and other stakeholders.

While Dowell lagged behind Giannoulias and Valencia in fundraising for a statewide race, she said her Dec. 31 report for secretary of state campaign fund will show a cash-on-hand balance of about $500,000.

While federal fundraising rules are much stricter than state regulations for raising campaign cash — there are contribution limits and other provisions about donations — Dowell would be able to likely eventually convert a big chunk of her state cash to federal dollars.

In any case, she already has a paid, up-and-running political operation and has experience in stumping all over the state.

“I think I could potentially clear the field or shrink the field,” Dowell said.

Among those mentioned as potential candidates … Democratic state Senators Elgie Sims, Jacqueline Collins and Robert Peters, who would have to give up seats to run in 2022. Another name popping up Tuesday was Deputy Gov. Christian Mitchell.

Karin Norington-Reaves will announce her House run Sunday. The Chatham resident and attorney has led the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership since 2012.

There are six Democrats who got in the race before Rush announced he would not run again, including community activist Jahmal Cole and Rev. Christopher Butler.

Candidates for the June primary can start passing petitions on Jan. 13, so the field to replace Rush will quickly start to form.

Rush phoned House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Sunday to tell her he will leave Congress after 15 terms next year.

Pelosi, in a statement, said Rush, “a champion of civil rights” “has devoted his entire life to the fight for racial justice. When he retires at the end of his term, Congress, his constituents and the country will deeply miss his prayerful and powerful voice for justice in the House.”

Said Pelosi, “Since his early years as an organizer in the movement for civil rights, Congressman Rush never relented in his fight to lift up long-underserved communities of color in Chicago and across the country.”