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Rep. Bobby Rush to retire after 15 terms

Rush, elected to Congress in 1992, said in an interview he intends to stay active in his ministry and find ways to use his remarkable life story — a trajectory from a 1960s radical to House member — to inspire younger generations.

U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush speaks during a news conference in February to protest that his constituents were getting terrible mail service and call for leadership changes.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

WASHINGTON — Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., the former Black Panther, ex-Chicago alderman, member of Congress and a minister, told the Chicago Sun-Times on Monday that he will not seek another term.

Rush, first elected to Congress in 1992, said in an interview he intends to stay active in his ministry and find ways to use his remarkable life story — a trajectory from a 1960s radical to House member — to inspire younger generations.

Since his first election to Congress when he toppled a Democratic incumbent in the primary, Rush, with enormous name recognition from his Black Panther days, has kept an iron grip on his 1st Congressional District, famously defeating then-state Sen. Barack Obama in the 2000 Democratic primary.

Rush, 75, has won each primary and general election by overwhelming margins in the district, anchored on Chicago’s South Side and running through the city’s southern suburbs.

Through his career, Rush’s focus has been on the city and nation’s Black community, with endless fights for civil rights and racial justice. In March 2012, in violation of House dress rules, Rush wore a hoodie on the House floor in the wake of the shooting death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin. Rush, by pulling the hood over his head, wanted to dramatically make the point that wearing a hoodie does not make a Black man a hoodlum.

Rush’s significant activism came as the co-founder of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party — a movement that saw the murder of two of its key leaders, Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, by law enforcement.

Hampton and Clark were assassinated on Dec. 4, 1969, in a predawn raid with agents from the Cook County state’s attorney’s office, Chicago Police Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The story of the raid on the party’s West Side headquarters killing Hampton and the police brutality cover-up was told in the film “Judas and the Black Messiah.”

Rush told me he finalized his decision not to seek another term in the last several weeks, and it came after a conversation with a grandson, Jonathan, 19, who said he wanted to hear more about his grandfather.

Bobby Rush (left) and Fred Hampton at the Illinois Black Panther Party headquarters at 2350 W. Madison St.
Bobby Rush (left) and Fred Hampton, pose at Illinois Black Panther party headquarters at 2350 West Madison Street.
Sun-Times file photo

“I don’t want my grandchildren . . . to know me from a television news clip or something they read in a newspaper,” Rush said.

“I want them to know me on an intimate level, know something about me, and I want to know something about them. I don’t want to be a historical figure to my grandchildren.”

Rush has transformed himself through the years. An ordained minister, Rush is the pastor of the Beloved Community Christian Church of God in Christ, earning a master’s degree in theology in 1998 from the McCormick Theological Seminary.

The new congressional map continues to anchor the 1st District on the South Side as it sweeps in suburban, rural and small-town turf as far south as Bourbonnais and west to Wilmington.

Though Rush is the 24th Democrat in the House to announce a retirement, his departure will not play a role in whether Democrats retain at least the three- or four-seat margin they have to control the House.

Rush’s district is so heavily Democratic, the June primary winner is all but certain to clinch the seat in November.

Rush’s retirement opens the seat for the first time in 30 years, and a large field of contenders is expected, especially since candidates do not have to live in the district they want to represent.

The district, drawn under the federal Civil Rights Act, is designed to yield the election of a Black member of Congress.

There were already six Democrats in the race before Rush said he would not run again. Rush is expected to endorse a successor. Rush’s son, Flynn Rush, is running for Metropolitan Water Reclamation District commissioner.

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 will discuss his retirement and future plans at a Tuesday 11 a.m. CT news conference at Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ, 4021 S. State St., where the funeral for the murdered Emmett Till was held. In 1955, Till, a 14-year-old Black youth from Chicago’s South Side was kidnapped and savagely murdered by white men in Mississippi.

Till’s mother insisted on an open casket at his funeral at Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ so the world could see his mutilated body and witness the deadly results of race-based violence.

For years, Rush has been trying to pass a federal anti-lynching bill named after Till, only to have it blocked in the Senate.

Last year, Rush stepped up his drive to force the release of FBI domestic spying files, searching for new documents dealing with Hampton’s 1969 murder.

Bobby Lee Rush was born in Albany, Georgia, on Nov. 23, 1946. His family moved to Chicago’s Near North Side when he was a youth. He dropped out of Wells and Marshall high schools and joined the Army, eventually earning a GED and an undergrad degree from Roosevelt University in 1973.

He was a member of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee until he became a Black Panther leader.

Rush was defeated in his first run for City Council in 1975. He won his 2nd Ward aldermanic seat in 1983 and kept it until elected to Congress in 1992. Rush lost a City Hall bid in 1999 to defeat Mayor Richard Daley.

Rush handed Obama his only election defeat in March 2000. In October 1999, Rush’s son, Huey, was shot. His murder underscored Rush’s longstanding battle for gun control.

Interactive map of new Illinois congressional districts; click on a district to check its number: