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Brown: Rush slaps Brookins for ‘segregationist politics’

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U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, energized by a tentative finding that his nominating petitions will survive a ballot challenge, is ripping his opponent, Ald. Howard Brookins Jr., for taking “the coward’s way out.”

Brookins’ campaign had touted its efforts to knock Rush off the ballot over faulty petitions, predicting he would fall short by hundreds of signatures, thus bringing a humiliating end to his long political career.

But it now looks more likely that the 21st Ward alderman will need to defeat Rush at the ballot box if he hopes to replace him in Congress. State election officials made a preliminary determination Thursday that Rush has 93 more valid signatures than the minimum requirement of 1,314.

Though the legal battle will continue for the next several weeks, even Brookins’ conceded it now becomes a “long shot” to exclude Rush from the March 15 primary. Rush’s campaign lawyer, Brendan Shiller, said it is a 95 percent certainty the congressman will remain on the ballot.

OPINION

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It’s fairly extraordinary that a sitting congressman would have allowed himself to be placed in such a predicament over one of the most elementary responsibilities of any serious political campaign.

But in Rush’s case, the result might recall the maxim: That which doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.

Minutes after receiving the Illinois State Board of Elections report, Rush called me in an effort to turn the tables on Brookins, castigating him for relying on a “technicality” to deny voters the opportunity to vote for him.

Rush sought to position Brookins’ attempt as an attack on the voting rights of his constituents, rather than on him personally.

“I’m just astonished that, in this day and time, that the alderman would want to resort to southern segregationist politics trying to disenfranchise the voters of the 1st Congressional District,” Rush said.

“This infringement on the voters’ rights is reprehensible,” he said. “And it really shows that this person has no real understanding of the legacy of those of us who have fought to make sure all the voters of the nation have a free access to the polls and free access to elect individuals of their choice.”

Brookins scoffed at Rush’s verbal assault and launched one of his own.

“I haven’t been called a segregationist before,” Brookins said, lambasting Rush as a “do-nothing” congressman out of touch with his constituents after spending too much time in Washington.

If Rush thought that Illinois’ laws governing nominating petitions were unjust, he’s had decades to try to change them but hasn’t, Brookins said.

Petition challenges are a standard, if unsavory, practice in Illinois politics, one of the main hurdles employed to control ballot access.

Perhaps the most notable petition challenge of recent vintage was one barely noticed outside the South Side legislative district in which it occurred in 1996.

That’s when upstart Barack Obama launched his political career by dumping state Sen. Alice Palmer from the ballot for not gathering enough valid signatures. It  cleared the way for Obama to run unopposed in the all-important Democratic primary. Four years later, Obama would suffer the only defeat of his career in an attempt to oust Rush.

Petition challenges bother me more when used to keep outsiders from running against incumbents. In the case of Brookins and Rush, where it is more a battle of political equals, I just accept it as part of the game.

“It’s not a tactic. It’s the law,” argued Brookins.

Rush, though, insists he’s never challenged an opponent’s nominating petitions because he doesn’t believe in it.

“I never did that because I really do believe that voters want to see candidates’ names on the ballot so they have choices,” the congressman said.

“That is really a coward’s way out,” he said, repeating that twice for emphasis.

Brookins said he doubts Rush’s claim that he’s never tried to knock an opponent off the ballot. Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to check.

Rush said he will fight the case to the Supreme Court if necessary. As I say, the odds are he won’t need to go to court at all.

“If he’s looking for a fight, then he’s found one,” the 69-year-old Rush said.

Brookins might have thought for a while that he could win without a fight, but I don’t doubt he’s ready for one.

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