Bobby Rush

For the blues musician, see Bobby Rush (musician).
Bobby Rush
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Illinois's 1st district
Assumed office
January 3, 1993
Preceded by Charles Hayes
Personal details
Born Bobby Lee Rush
(1946-11-23) November 23, 1946
Albany, Georgia, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Carolyn Rush
Children Six
Residence Chicago, Illinois
Alma mater Roosevelt University
University of Illinois
McCormick Seminary
Occupation Civil Rights leader
Religion Baptist
Military service
Service/branch United States Army
Years of service 1963–1968

Bobby Lee Rush (born November 23, 1946) is the U.S. Representative for Illinois's 1st congressional district, serving in Congress for more than two decades; he was first elected in 1992 and took office in 1993. He has since won consecutive re-election. The district was located principally on the South Side of Chicago, with a population from 2003 to early 2013 that was 65% African-American, a higher proportion than any other congressional district in the nation. In 2011 the Illinois General Assembly redistricted this area following the 2010 census. While still minority-majority, since early 2013 it is 51.3% African American, 9.8% Latino and 2% Asian. It re-elected Rush in 2014.

A member of the Democratic Party, Rush is distinguished as the only politician to have defeated Barack Obama in an election, which he did in the 2000 Democratic primary for Illinois' 1st congressional district. A civil rights activist during the 1960s, Rush became radicalized for a period and founded the Illinois chapter of the Black Panthers.

Early life, education, and activism

Rush was born on November 23, 1946 in Albany, Georgia. After his parents separated when Rush was 7 years old, his mother took him and his siblings to Chicago, Illinois, joining the Great Migration of African Americans out of the South in the first part of the 20th century.[1]

In 1963 Rush dropped out of high school before graduating; he joined the U.S. Army. While stationed in Chicago in 1966, he joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which had helped obtain national civil rights legislation passed in 1964 and 1965. In 1968, he went AWOL from the Army and co-founded the Illinois chapter of the Black Panthers. He later finished his service, receiving an honorable discharge from the Army.[2]

Throughout the 1960s, Rush was involved in the civil-rights movement and worked in civil-disobedience campaigns in the Southern United States. After co-founding the Illinois chapter of the Black Panthers in 1968, he served as its defense minister.[3] After Black Panther Fred Hampton was killed in a police raid, Rush said, "We needed to arm ourselves", and referred to the police as "pigs".[4]

Earlier that same year Rush had discussed the philosophy of his membership in the Black Panthers saying, "Black people have been on the defensive for all these years. The trend now is not to wait to be attacked. We advocate offensive violence against the power structure."[5]

The police claimed self-defense in Hampton's killing, but it was revealed to have been murder, planned with the FBI's COINTELPRO. Despite the Black Panthers' engagement in violence, Rush worked on several non-violent projects that built support for the Black Panthers in African-American communities, such as coordinating a medical clinic which offered sickle-cell anemia testing on an unprecedented scale.[6]

Rush's own apartment was raided in December 1969, where police discovered an unregistered pistol, rifle, shotgun, pistol ammunition, training manuals on explosives, booby traps, an assortment of communist literature, and a small amount of marijuana.[7] Rush was imprisoned for six months in 1972 on a weapons charge, after carrying a pistol into a police station. In 1974, he left the Panthers, who were already in decline. "We started glorifying thuggery and drugs", he told People magazine. Rush, a deeply religious born-again Christian, said, "I don't repudiate any of my involvement in the Panther party—it was part of my maturing."[8]

Formal education

In 1973, Rush earned his Bachelor of General Studies with honors from Roosevelt University, and a Master's degree in political science from University of Illinois at Chicago in 1974. He completed a degree in theological studies at McCormick Theological Seminary in 1978.

Chicago politics

In 1974, Rush ran for a seat on the Chicago City Council, the first of several black militants to seek political office, and was defeated. In the early 1980s however, Chicago's political life was transformed by the ascendancy of U.S. Representative Harold Washington, a noted orator and a charismatic figure who helped unite the city's African-American community. Washington was elected Mayor of Chicago in 1983, the first African American to hold the office. That same year, Rush was elected alderman from the Second Ward on Chicago's South Side. He was a part of the pro-Harold Washington faction on the Council during the "Council Wars" that began in 1983 following Washington's election as Mayor. The contest became racially polarized, with many white voters supporting a different candidate.

In 1999, Rush ran for Mayor of Chicago, but lost in the Democratic primary to incumbent Richard M. Daley, an ethnic Irish American whose father had long controlled the city as mayor.[9] He remained active in city and regional politics.

In 2013, Rush criticized a proposal by Republican congressman Mark Kirk who suggested that 18,000 members of the Chicago gang "Gangster Disciples" be arrested. Rush called Kirk's approach "headline grabbing", and said it was an "upper-middle-class, elitist white boy solution to a problem he knows nothing about". A spokesman for Kirk said the Congressman had dealt with the issues for decades.[10]

In 2015, Rush endorsed Mayor Rahm Emanuel in Emanuel's run-off reelection campaign against Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, who was working to unite the Latino and black minorities in the city.[11]

U.S. House of Representatives


After redistricting in 1992, Rush decided to run in the newly redrawn Illinois' 1st congressional district, which included much of the South Side of Chicago. The district had a high proportion of African-American residents. Rush defeated incumbent U.S. Congressman Charles Hayes and six other candidates in the Democratic primary election in 1992.[12] He won the general election with 83% of the vote.[13]

In the 2000 Democratic primary for the Illinois' 1st congressional district, Rush was challenged by the young State Senator, Barack Obama.[14] During the primary, Rush said, "Barack Obama went to Harvard and became an educated fool. Barack is a person who read about the civil-rights protests and thinks he knows all about it."[15]

Rush claimed Obama was insufficiently rooted in Chicago's black neighborhoods to represent constituents' concerns.[16] For his part, Obama said Rush was a part of "a politics that is rooted in the past" and said he could build bridges with whites to get things done. But while Obama did well in his own Hyde Park base, he did not get enough support from the surrounding black neighborhoods.[17]

Starting with 10% name recognition, Obama eventually gained 30% of the vote, losing by a more than 2-to-1 margin despite winning among white voters. Rush won 61% of the votes overall.[18][19][20][21][22] Rush won the general election for the district with 88% of the vote.[23]

Rush has consistently won with high margins, winning above 80% in every election. The exception was his first bid for re-election in 1994 and in 2012, after redistricting. He still gained more than 70% of the vote in the district.


Bobby Rush has been considered a loyal Democrat during his tenure; in the 110th Congress, he voted with his party 97.8% of the time.[24] Rush is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus.


Rush initiated the Chicago Partnership for the Earned Income Tax Credit, an ongoing program designed to help low-income working Chicago resident to receive the Earned Income Tax Credit, a federal income tax credits.


Rush sponsored the Nursing Relief for Disadvantaged Areas Act passed in 1999. The law temporarily addressed the nursing shortage by providing non-immigrant visas for qualified foreign nurses in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago and was reauthorized in 2005.

Rush sponsored the Melanie Blocker-Stokes Postpartum Depression Research and Care Act, named for Melanie Blocker-Stokes, a Chicago native who jumped to her death from a 12th-story window due to postpartum depression. The bill would provide for research on postpartum depression and psychosis and services for individuals suffering from these disorders.

The Children's Health Act, passed in 2000, incorporated Rush's Urban Asthma Reduction Act of 1999, amending the Preventive Health and Health Services Block Grant program and including an integrated approach to asthma management.


Rush was very outspoken against the GOP No More Solyndras Bill, which would override a loan guarantee by the Energy Department to encourage research and development. The Energy Department guaranteed a federal loan contract with the Solyndras company to help with R&D.[25] Rush said that the "No More Solyndras Bill" would be better named as the "No More Innovation Bill".[26]


Rush introduced the "Blair Holt's Firearm Licensing and Record of Sale Act of 2009" on January 6, 2009. The bill would require all owners of handguns and semiautomatic firearms to register for a federal firearms license. All sales of the subject firearms would have to go through a licensed dealer. It would also make it a criminal act not to register as an owner of a firearm.[27]

Darfur genocide

On July 15, 2004, Rush became the second sitting member of Congress, following Charles Rangel and preceding Joe Hoeffel, to be arrested for trespassing while protesting the genocide in Darfur and other violations of human rights in Sudan in front of the Sudanese Embassy.[28][29]

Armed forces

On February 13, 2007, Rush opposed President George W. Bush's proposed 20,000-serviceman troop surge in Iraq. He said the presence of the troops in Iraq was the greatest catalyst of violence in Iraq, and advocated a political resolution of the situation. Rush stated that the troop surge would only serve to make the Iraqi situation more volatile.[30]

Trayvon Martin

On March 28, 2012, Rush addressed the House while wearing a hoodie in honor of Trayvon Martin, a teenager who was shot in Florida by a local resident. He spoke against racial profiling.[31] As the House forbids its members from wearing hats, Rush was called out of order and escorted from the chamber.[32]

Committee assignments

Personal life

Together Rush and his wife Carolyn have had six children. Their son Huey was named after Black Panther leader Huey Newton.[33] He was murdered in Chicago at the age of 29.[34]

In 2008, Rush had a rare type of malignant tumor removed from his salivary gland.[35] Rush is a member of Iota Phi Theta.[36] According to a DNA analysis conducted under the auspices of the TV program, Know Your Heritage, he is descended mainly from the Ashanti people of Ghana.[37]

Though a very close friend to former President Bill Clinton and his wife, politician Hillary Clinton, Rush announced early on in the 2008 Democratic primaries that he would support Barack Obama.[38] After Obama won the Presidency and vacated his Senate seat, Rush proposed that an African American should be appointed to fill that seat.[39] During a press conference, Rush said, "With the resignation of President-elect Obama, we now have no African-Americans in the United States Senate, and we believe it will be a national disgrace to not have this seat filled by one of the many capable African-American Illinois politicians."[40] Rush said he did not support any particular person, and he was not interested in the seat.[39][40] On December 30, 2008, Governor Rod Blagojevich announced his appointment of Roland Burris, the former Attorney General of Illinois; Rush was present at the press conference and spoke in support of Burris.[41]

Electoral history

U.S. House, 1st District of Illinois (General Election)[13][23][42][43][44][45][46]
Year Winning candidate Party Pct Opponent Party Pct Opponent Party Pct
1992 Bobby Rush Democratic 82% Jay Walker Republican 17%
1994 Bobby Rush (inc.) Democratic 75% William J. Kelly Republican 24%
1996 Bobby Rush (inc.) Democratic 85% Noel Naughton Republican 12% Tim M. Griffin Libertarian 1%
1998 Bobby Rush (inc.) Democratic 87% Marlene W. Ahimaz Republican 10% Maggie Kohls Libertarian 2%
2000 Bobby Rush (inc.) Democratic 87% Raymond G. Wardingley Republican 12%
2002 Bobby Rush (inc.) Democratic 81% Raymond G. Wardingley Republican 16% Dorothy Tsatsos Libertarian 2%
2004 Bobby Rush (inc.) Democratic 84% Raymond G. Wardingley Republican 15%
2006 Bobby Rush (inc.) Democratic 84% Jason E. Tabour Republican 15%
2008 Bobby Rush (inc.) Democratic 85% Antoine Members Republican 14%
2010 Bobby Rush (inc.) Democratic 80% Raymond G. Wardingley Republican 15% Jeff Adams Green 3%
2012 Bobby Rush (inc.) Democratic 73% Donald Peloquin Republican 26%


  1. "Facts On File". Retrieved December 4, 2012.
  2. "Associated Press profile". Associated Press. Retrieved November 23, 2016.
  3. "Bobby L. Rush". Wall Street Journal.
  4. Yussuf J. Simmonds (January 5, 2012). "Bobby Rush – LA Sentinel". Los Angeles Sentinel. Retrieved December 20, 2012.
  5. Kevin Klose (August 11, 1984). "A Black Panther on Little Cat Feet; Bobby Rush Drops the Clenched Fist". Washington Post.
  6. "Washington Times report on Rush's sickle-cell anemia program". Washington Times. Retrieved November 23, 2016.
  7. Bill Matney. "CBS Evening News". CBS. Retrieved November 23, 2016.
  8. Almanac of American Politics. National Journal Group.
  9. Lizza, Ryan (July 21, 2008). "Making It: How Chicago Shaped Obama". The New Yorker.
  10. June, Daniel, "Bobby Rush Condemns Mark Kirk's Mass Gang Arrest Plan as 'Elitist White Boy Solution'",, May 30, 2013.
  11. Bosman, Julie, "Struggles to Unite Latinos and Blacks", New York Times, April 3, 2015.
  12. "IL – District 01 – D Primary Race". Our Campaigns. March 17, 1992. Retrieved 2011-12-30.
  13. 1 2 "IL DIstrict 1 Race". Our Campaigns. November 3, 1992. Retrieved December 30, 2011.
  14. U.S. House of Representatives Election Results 2000
  15. Remnick, David (November 17, 2008). "The Joshua Generation: Race and the Campaign of Barack Obama". New Yorker.
  16. Kleine, Ted (March 17, 2000). "Is Bobby Rush in trouble?". Chicago Reader. Retrieved July 26, 2008.
  17. Becker, Jo; Christopher Drew (May 11, 2008). "Pragmatic Politics, Forged on the South Side". The New York Times. p. A1. Retrieved July 28, 2008.
  18. Federal Election Commission, 2000 U.S. House of Representatives Results
  19. Gonyea, Don (September 19, 2007). "Obama's loss may have aided White House bid". Morning Edition. NPR. Retrieved April 22, 2008.
  20. Scott, Janny (September 9, 2007). "A streetwise veteran schooled young Obama". The New York Times. p. A1. Retrieved April 20, 2008.
  21. McClelland, Edward (February 12, 2007). "How Obama learned to be a natural". Retrieved April 20, 2008.
  22. "IL District 1 – D Primary Race". Our Campaigns. March 21, 2000. Retrieved December 30, 2011.
  23. 1 2 "IL District 1 Race". Our Campaigns. November 7, 2000. Retrieved December 30, 2011.
  24. Tsukayama, Hayley. "Who Runs Gov Bobby Rush Profile". Who Runs Gov. The Washington Post. Retrieved June 28, 2012.
  25. Andrew Restuccia (25 July 2012). "GOP on House panel OKs 'no more Solyndras' bill". Politico. Retrieved 16 August 2012.
  26. "Rep. Bobby Rush: GOP's "No More Solyndras Bill" should be called "No More Innovation Bill"". Washington Examiner. July 25, 2012. Retrieved August 16, 2012.
  27. "H.R. 45: Blair Holt's Firearm Licensing and Record of Sale Act of 2009". Retrieved 2010-08-23.
  28. "U.S. lawmaker arrested at Sudanese embassy in Washington". Sudan Tribune. Associated Press. July 15, 2004.
  29. "U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush Arrested at Sudanese Embassy" (Press release). Office of Congressman Bobby Rush. July 15, 2004.
  30. "Retrieve Pages". Retrieved 2010-08-23.
  31. "Congressman Bobby Rush wears hoodie on House floor". BBC News. March 28, 2012.
  32. Madison, Lucy (March 28, 2012). "Dem Rep. Bobby Rush escorted from House floor for wearing hoodie in honor of Trayvon Martin". CBS News.
  33. John McCormick (November 28, 1999). "A Father's Anguished Journey". The Daily Beast. Retrieved December 21, 2012.
  34. "The Story Behind Bobby Rush, the Hoodie-Wearing, Trayvon-Supporting Congressman". March 28, 2012. Retrieved August 1, 2012.
  35. "Chicago News |". 2008-08-04. Retrieved 2010-08-23.
  36. "Notable Iota Men". Iota Phi Theta. Retrieved August 23, 2010.
  37. "Bobby Rush Ancestry Reveal", Know Your Ancestry, 6 February 2012, The Africa Channel on YouTube
  38. Fornek, Scott (2008-01-27). "Clinton pal Bobby Rush: I'm supporting Obama". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2009-01-02.
  39. 1 2 Flournoy, Tasha (December 2, 2008). "Rush Petitions For African-American To Replace Obama in the Senate". Chicago Public Radio.
  40. 1 2 "Cong. Bobby Rush urges governor to choose Black Senate replacement". Chicago Defender. December 3, 2008.
  41. "Blagojevich names Obama successor despite warnings". December 30, 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-30.
  42. "IL District 1 Race – Nov 05, 2002". Our Campaigns. Retrieved 2011-12-30.
  43. "IL – District 01 Race – Nov 07, 2006". Our Campaigns. Retrieved 2011-12-30.
  44. "IL – District 01 Race – Nov 04, 2008". Our Campaigns. Retrieved 2011-12-30.
  45. "IL – District 01 Race – Nov 02, 2010". Our Campaigns. Retrieved 2011-12-30.
  46. 2012 election results

External links

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Charles Hayes
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Illinois's 1st congressional district

Succeeded by
United States order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded by
Ed Royce
United States Representatives by seniority
Succeeded by
Bobby Scott
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