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Ald. Pat Dowell drops secretary of state bid, jumps into House race to replace U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush

While Dowell was a longshot in the secretary of state primary, she starts her congressional race in a strong position, with a political and fundraising campaign operation already in place.

Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd).
Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) chats with other City Council members before a meeting in November 2019.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

WASHINGTON — Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) jumped in the Democratic House primary to succeed Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., on Wednesday, dropping her statewide bid for Illinois secretary of state.

Dowell made the switch after Rush’s surprise decision to not seek a 16th term representing the 1st Congressional District. The Sun-Times reported Tuesday that Dowell was on the verge of making the change. Rush wraps up 30 years in Congress next January.

While Dowell was a longshot in the secretary of state primary — facing Chicago City Clerk Anna Valencia, Alexi Giannoulias, a former Illinois state treasurer and Ald. David Moore (17th) — she starts her congressional race in a strong position, already having a political and fundraising campaign operation in place.

To that point, within an hour or so of her announcement, Dowell’s congressional campaign website appeared, followed shortly by an e-mail fundraising appeal.

Dowell said in a statement: “After careful consideration and many conversations with family and supporters, I am announcing that I will run for Congress in Illinois’ 1st District. Congressman Rush has created a legacy of fighting for others that I will strive to honor and uphold. I am grateful for the support people have given me in my run for Secretary of State. Recent events, both here in Illinois and across the country, have led me to decide to make this run for Congress.

“In Congress, I will work every day to ensure Chicago and all the communities of the 1st district receive their fair share of federal resources, safeguard voting rights and access, be a strong voice for gun control, protect Social Security and Medicare, and provide healthcare for all.”

The rare open seat in a heavily Democratic district is expected to draw many candidates to the Democratic primary in June, where winning is tantamount to clinching the seat.

The new 1st Congressional District is anchored in part of the South Side and southern Cook County suburbs. Though it heads south and west past Cook County, most of its voters are packed into the small northern tip of the district.

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. Chicago Ald. Pat Dowell has said she plans to run for the seat, now that Rush is not seeking reelection.
Google Maps

Rush said at a Tuesday news conference he expects to endorse a successor in “the next few weeks.”

Dowell, 63, is a City Hall veteran, an ex-city planner and deputy commissioner of neighborhood planning who worked under three mayors — Harold Washington, Eugene Sawyer and Richard M. Daley.

Sawyer’s son, Roderick, who represents the 6th Ward on the Chicago City Council, also is mulling a bid for the congressional seat. City Council members who run for office in 2022 do not have to give up their seats. They are next up for election in 2023.

Dowell earned her undergraduate degree in 1978 at the University of Rochester, where she is in the athletic hall of fame for her role as a “dominant inside player” for the women’s basketball team. She has a master’s degree in social service administration from the University of Chicago.

While Dowell lagged Giannoulias and Valencia in fundraising for their statewide race, she said her Dec. 31 secretary of state campaign fund will have 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 likely will be able to get at least some of her contributors to agree to convert their donations to her congressional race.

Dowell also is free to use some of her state money for generic party building — voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives — that could as a by-product, benefit her federal campaign.

Secretary of state primary - Democrats

Following Dowell’s switch, Valencia said in a statement, “Dowell and I were united in our mission to break the glass ceiling and become the first woman of color elected as Secretary of State in Illinois history. Despite being opponents in the race, we’ve remained good friends and trusted colleagues to each other, and I continue to wish her well.”

Meanwhile, the Giannoulias campaign said Wednesday he raised about $655,575 in the fourth quarter ending Dec. 31 and he will have a year-end balance of $4,025,000 cash-on-hand.

Valencia’s campaign said she raised about $327,000 in the final quarter and has about $881,000 cash-on-hand.

Moore’s campaign said he raised about $59,000 in the fourth quarter and has about $55,000 cash-on-hand.