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U.S. Rep. Bobby L. Rush apologizes for ugly campaign rhetoric

Congressman tries to mend fences with newly-minted mayor.

U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush
“Look, I’m not above apologizing to nobody,” U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush told the Chicago Sun-Times on Thursday in discussing inflammatory remarks he made about Lori Lightfoot at a campaign rally for Toni Preckwinkle. “If that’s the way to move the ball forward, I apologize to Lori.”
Colin Boyle/Sun-Times

It took awhile, but U.S. Rep. Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.) finally got there.

The long-time congressman and former alderman landed on the wrong side of Mayor Lori Lightfoot when he used ugly rhetoric trying to boost support for Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s mayoral bid.

During a campaign rally, Rush declared “the blood of the next young black man or black woman who is killed by the police” would be on the hands of Lightfoot voters, according to published reports.

It was a despicable thing to say.

Lightfoot, enjoying a level of popularity we haven’t seen since Harold Washington was elected, has moved on.

After all, her historic victory says it all.

But that doesn’t mean all is forgiven.

Although Rush has reached out to Lightfoot through a third party to mend this broken fence, he has been ignored.

On Thursday, Rush was in Chicago for a community meeting he convened to address the speculation that a serial killer or killers are behind the murders of 55 women since 2001.

He stopped by the Sun-Times editorial board to air his concerns about how he is being portrayed in the media in light of his comments.

When I asked him if he thought he should apologize personally to Lightfoot, he blamed “hyperbole” and “campaign rhetoric” for his unfortunate remarks.

“It was two days before election, and I was trying to fire up the crowd ... that was my purpose for saying what I said,” Rush told the board before attempting to explain his complex relationship with police.

“I was speaking to the recent endorsement of Lori Lightfoot by the alderman of the 19th ward [Matthew O’Shea] and that’s the home of [a lot] of police officers. My comments were really spurred because of them. In my own mind, I’m wondering how they endorsed her. Does that make her pro-police and pro-[Fraternal Order of Police]? Those are the persons in this city who had historically been, in some sense, a sworn enemy of the African-American community. So that kind of motivated me to say certain things,” Rush said.

A former member of the Black Panther Party, Rush knows intimately what it feels like to be in the cross-hairs of someone legally empowered to take your life.

“Fifty years ago, they shot my door down. If I had been in that apartment, I would have been dead. My son was two years old and they put a gun to his head. I’ve had a .25 put to my head and was told that if I blinked they would blow my brains out and get away with it,” the congressman said.

But today, Rush can walk into Chicago Police Department headquarters and police officers wave; he can arrive at O’Hare Airport and be greeted by a smiling officer in a blue uniform.

“You would not think there was any enmity between me and any of those police officers. I am not just a person who hates. I can’t afford to hate,” he said.

Still, he admits his own daughter was troubled by his public comments during the rally.

“She said, ‘Dad, you know, you could have said that differently,’” Rush said.

By the end of an hour-long conversation, Rush had talked himself into an apology of sorts, though he believes the mayor isn’t looking for one.

“Look, I’m not above apologizing to nobody. If that’s the way to move the ball forward, I apologize to Lori. … I want people who are in opposition to one another, young people, to know that because somebody on Twitter or Facebook said something to me I don’t like, so therefore I am going to shoot them — I want to make a clear example none of us is perfect,” he said.

“Everybody makes mistakes and when you make a mistake or someone else makes a mistake, then you are not above apologizing to those people. Somebody’s got to apologize. I accept that role. Lori doesn’t need it, but because it may help somebody to resolve conflict, I apologize,” he said.

It is the right thing to do.

A strong partnership between the city’s mayor and its representatives in Washington is vital to solve our many challenges, particularly when it comes to violence.

Hopefully, now that Rush has digested a big slice of humble pie, the mayor will welcome him back to the table.