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Congressman Bobby Rush Won't Run For 16th Term; 'I Have A Higher Calling'

by Todd Feurer and Jim Williams

CHICAGO (CBS) -- U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL) announced Tuesday he will not be running for re-election in 2022, bringing an end to his career in Congress, where he has served the 1st District of Illinois for nearly 30 years.

"I just pray that I can get through this without tearing up and breaking down," Rush said as he announced his decision not to seek a 16th term in office.

Rush said he will continue fighting for racial justice after leaving office, and will work "hand-in-hand" with his successor in Congress.

"I'm going to be crystal clear to anyone who is confused. I am not retiring, I am returning. Therefore, I will not be running for a 16th term in the U.S. House of Representatives. For me, I have a higher calling, and I am answering that higher calling: to continue my mission, my definite chief aim in life from a different perspective," he said. "In some sense, it's not a new beginning. In some sense, it's another layer. In some sense, the spirit of the Black Panther Party still is alive and well in me. Serving the people, body and soul."

Rush, who has been working to pass the Emmett Till Antilynching Act,  announced his decision at the Roberts Temple Church of God In Christ, the same church where 14-year-old Emmett Till's funeral was held in 1955 after he was brutally murdered in Mississippi. The bill named after Till would for the first time designate lynching as a federal hate crime. The bill has been approved by the House Judiciary Committee, but has yet to get a vote by the full House or the U.S. Senate.

A longtime civil rights activist before running for office, Rush was co-founder of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party in 1968. He is pastor of the Beloved Community Christian Church of God in Christ in Englewood.

Rush also holds the distinction of being the only politician to defeat Barack Obama in an election, handily beating him in the 2000 primary for Rush's seat.

At the time, Obama was still an Illinois state senator, but Rush said Obama was already a great public speaker, "and frankly, I thought he was more handsome than I am.

"So therefore early on I developed a strategy of never engaging in a debate with him. I never debated Obama during that campaign," he said. "He didn't know how to deal with that. I refused to debate him. I sent someone else to debate him. So he had to deal with my stand-in rather than dealing with me."

However, Rush said he still jokingly asks himself who won that election.

"For the life of me, I don't know who won. This man is on his way to becoming a billionaire. He's been the president of the United States, and I'm standing before you saying I'm retiring from being a member of Congress," he said.

Rush said he was "very honored" that Obama called him for advice before Obama ran for president in 2008.

"He asked me whether or not I thought he should run or not, and I gave him advice from my heart. I told him that, 'Barack, if you don't do it now, you'll spend the rest of your life regretting that you didn't do it, wondering if you could win it or not,'" he said.

Rush, 75, has represented the 1st District of Illinois in Congress since 1993, and before that served for 10 years on the Chicago City Council.

Rush, said as a young civil rights activist, he could not have envisioned serving 10 years on the Chicago City Council and then 30 years in Congress. Rather, he said thought he would be dead before age 30, especially after fellow Black Panther Party members Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were assassinated on Dec. 4, 1969, during a raid on the party's West Side headquarters by police and federal agents, ordered by then-Cook County State's Attorney Edward Hanrahan.

"I was supposed to be in that apartment on the night that Fred and Mark were killed," he said. "They missed me then, and then they came to my apartment the very next morning on December the 5th, shot my door down, and had I been in that apartment on December the 5th, I would not be standing here with you today. So I had no vision for the future. I thought that I would be dead before I was 30."

Rush said he is not stepping down because of any fear about the outcome of the 2022 midterm elections, when Democrats will seek to expand their majority in the House, despite more than 20 House Democrats – including Rush – announcing they won't run for re-election in 2022. He said he is optimistic Democrats will keep control of the House, because of Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

"I have all the respect and lover for her, because she has illustrated beyond the shadow of a doubt that she's the best Speaker of the House in this nation's history," Rush said.

But the congressman said he's disappointed that Congress has become "very divided; very, very partisan."

"There's no vision of unity that comes out of the Congress," he said. "I lament the fact that we are such a partisan, power-drunk government institution, and that's one of the reasons one of the things that I want to try to do is to prioritize our commonality rather than our division. And I think one of the ways of doing that is by speaking to the hearts and to the minds of those individuals."

Rush said he plans to announce in the next few weeks who he will endorse to succeed him in Congress, but stressed that he has not made that decision yet.

My Block, My Hood, My City founder Jahmal Cole previously announced he is running for Rush's district. Also having declared their candidacy are Pastor Chris Butler, teachers Kirby Birgans and Dee Nix, and Michael Thompson.

With the 1st District seat coming open for the first time in nearly 30 years, it's likely several other Democrats will enter the race.

Some potential candidates were at the church for Rush's announcement, including his son, Flynn Rush, who already is running for the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District.

"I certainly will be doing my best to carry the torch of changing hearts and minds through public service," he said, though he has yet to announce if he'll drop his bid for the Water Reclamation District to run for his father's seat in Congress.

Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) confirmed he's considering a potential run.

"I enjoy what I'm doing. I'm happy where I am, but if i was going to tell you that I would not be interested, I would be lying to you," he said.

Activist Ja'Mal Green also said he's "strongly considering" running for the seat.

"I thank Bobby Rush for his service all these years, but we do need young leaders to step up now at this trying time," he said.

Sources also told CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov that state Sen. Jacqui Collins (D-Chicago) is seriously eyeing a run for Rush's seat, at the urging of lawmakers.

The district is heavily Democratic, meaning the June primary is all but certain to decide who will succeed Rush in Congress.

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