Sold, to the highest bidder

July 22, 2003

BY STEVE NEAL SUN-TIMES COLUMNIST

He's a sellout. Rep. Bobby L. Rush (D-Chicago), who once championed black empowerment, has turned his back on that cause.

In accepting the co-chairmanship of millionaire Blair Hull's U.S. Senate bid, Rush has exposed himself as a small-time hack and petty grudge-holder.

There is a very good chance that state Sen. Barack Obama (D-Chicago) could win the 2004 Democratic nomination for the seat that is being vacated by Peter G. Fitzgerald and go on to become the only African-American member of the U.S. Senate.

Rush is getting even with Obama for making the mistake of running against him for Congress three years ago.

Before endorsing Hull, Rush undermined Obama by promoting the long-shot senatorial daydream of Joyce Washington. In his eagerness to stop Obama, Rush connived with allies of state Comptroller Dan Hynes, the nominal front-runner in the Democratic Senate contest. By promoting Washington, he may also have been covertly aiding Hull's campaign. On Monday, he neatly double-crossed both Hynes and Washington, as well as Obama.

It's sad that Rush can't rise above being a sorehead. He could have made history if he had been big enough to forget past differences.

Only 15 percent of Illinois residents are African American. But blacks have a strong track record of winning statewide elections. In seven out of the 10 elections in which they have been nominees for statewide office, Illinois voters have chosen black candidates.

Rush once made it a practice to support African Americans for political office. ''The Democratic Party has disregarded the African-American community in too many instances,'' he said in 1993. ''They've got to show that they're fair to the community. I don't think they've demonstrated fairness.

''There is a growing realization that this community, which so faithfully has cast its vote with politicians who promise much but deliver little, must find a way to ensure that elected officials are responsive to the needs and interests of the African-American community,'' he declared back then. ''We want more than lip service.''

Sadly enough, Rush now engages in double-talk. An ally of the late Mayor Harold Washington, he won his current office by taking on Rep. Charles A. Hayes in 1992. Hayes had been Washington's close friend and personal choice for his old congressional seat. Washington would never have sanctioned Rush's move against Hayes.

Rush also is among the reasons that former Mayor Eugene C. Sawyer was driven from office in the 1989 special election for the remainder of Washington's unexpired term. This split in the old Washington coalition doomed Sawyer's re-election hopes.

His Monday endorsement of Hull is reminiscent of Rush's 1994 betrayal of former Ald. Martin J. Oberman (43rd). Oberman was the brightest member of the council and a key member of the Washington coalition. He's also a public official of total integrity. When Oberman decided to run for attorney general, Rush encouraged him. Most of Washington's allies backed Oberman.

But Rush cut a deal with Oberman's wealthy rival, personal injury lawyer Albert F. Hofeld, and abandoned his old friend. Putting greenbacks above principle, Rush collected more than $60,000 in get-out-the-vote funds from Hofeld.

As a member of the State Democratic Central Committee and Democratic committeman of the 2nd Ward, Rush bolted his party last fall to support the re-election of GOP state Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka. Former state Rep. Thomas J. Dart (D-Chicago), Topinka's opponent, offended Rush by supporting Obama for Congress. Rush's endorsement of Topinka was his first act of vengeance against Obama.

As his reward for this endorsement, Rush landed a job in the state treasurer's office for his wife, Carolyn.

There was a time when Rush might have taken the lead in supporting Obama's bid for the U.S. Senate. His colleagues Danny K. Davis and Jesse L. Jackson Jr. are supporting Obama. So is the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Senate President Emil Jones and former Appellate Court Justice R. Eugene Pincham. Rep. Lane Evans (D-Ill.), the most influential Downstate progressive, is also backing Obama.

Rush's endorsement of Hull is an embarrassment. Based on his dealings with Hofeld and Topinka, the distinguished gentleman's support didn't come cheap.