Once po­lit­i­cally aligned, Brookins says Rush ‘phon­ing it in’; U.S. Rep fires back, call­ing ‘in­grate’ op­po­nent a ‘loser’

Chicago Sun-Times - - POLITICS - BY DAN MIHALOPOULOS Staff Reporter Email: dmi­halopou­los@sun­times.com Twit­ter: @dmi­halopou­los

Grow­ing up in a South Side political fam­ily, Howard Brookins Jr. looked up to Bobby Rush, the Black Pan­ther who be­came an al­der­man and con­gress­man.

Brookins helped Rush in his 2000 re-elec­tion cam­paign, when the in­cum­bent brushed aside a young, lit­tle-known chal­lenger named Barack Obama. In turn, Rush en­dorsed Brookins’ un­suc­cess­ful bid for Cook County state’s at­tor­ney eight years later.

But now Brookins is one of two can­di­dates seek­ing to un­seat Rush in the March 15 Demo­cratic pri­mary in the state’s 1st Con­gres­sional District, which in­cludes much of the South Side and south sub­urbs.

“Ev­ery­body has fond mem­o­ries of [Rush], but he’s been un­will­ing or un­able to do the job the last few years,” said Brookins, who has been 21st Ward al­der­man since 2003. “He’s phon­ing it in. ”

Rush missed more votes than any mem­ber of Congress, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent re­port by the ProPublica news or­ga­ni­za­tion. Since 2007, Rush did not par­tic­i­pate in 22.4 per­cent of U.S. House votes.

The con­gress­man said se­ri­ous health prob­lems af­fect­ing him and his wife were the main rea­sons for those num­bers. Rush said his wife nearly died, and he chose to be with her rather than at work.

“I had to be at her bed­side, pray- ing, hold­ing her hand,” he said. “If I had to do it all over again, I’d do the same thing.”

He said he doesn’t think his ab­sen­tee rate was a fair re­flec­tion of his record in of­fice since 1993.

“I’m still one of the hard­est­work­ing mem­bers of Congress,” said Rush, who turned 69 in Novem­ber. “My lead­er­ship tran­scends Wash­ing­ton, D.C., and what hap­pens on the floor of Congress.”

Rush said he has brought home fed­eral tax dol­lars for im­prove­ments to the Dan Ryan Expy. and the CTA’s Red Line, and he long ago be­gan push­ing for a Depart­ment of Jus­tice in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the Chicago Po­lice Depart­ment.

Asked why the fed­eral probe only be­gan re­cently, af­ter the no­to­ri­ous po­lice shoot­ing of Laquan McDon­ald, Rush said it was be­cause many may­ors have had close ties to the White House. The probe did not start “un­til they couldn’t avoid it,” he said.

Rush said he has no plans to slow down, al­though he added, “The thought has oc­curred that I need an exit strat­egy.”

Brookins, 52, tried to get Rush thrown off the bal­lot by con­test­ing the va­lid­ity of his nom­i­nat­ing pe­ti­tions. Fail­ing in that, Brookins has per­sisted in his late-start­ing bid.

The al­der­man ac­knowl­edges that “it’s tough” to com­pete with Rush. Brookins had re­ported rais­ing less than $139,000 for his cam­paign through Feb. 24.

Still, Brookins has the en­dorse­ments of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madi­gan (D-Chicago) and City Coun­cil col­leagues Rod­er­ick Sawyer (6th), Car­rie Austin (16th) and Matt O’Shea (19th).

Rush said those en­dorse­ments won’t have an im­pact on the race.

“I have a lot of heavy hit­ters with me,” he said, list­ing Cook County Board Pres­i­dent Toni Preck­win­kle, Ald. Michelle Har­ris (8th), the Chicago Fed­er­a­tion of La­bor and Thorn­ton Town­ship Su­per­vi­sor Frank Zuc­carelli.

Over the years, Rush has been able to raise hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars in cam­paign funds, mostly from spe­cial in­ter­est groups, records show. The con­gress­man’s political fund has paid his wife, Carolyn Rush, nearly $483,000 in con­sult­ing fees in the last nine years.

Brookins and the other chal­lenger, city worker O. Pa­trick Bru­tus, have keyed on a se­ries of eth­i­cal ques­tions raised about Rush.

The bi­par­ti­san House Ethics Com­mit­tee has said it was in­ves­ti­gat­ing whether Rush im­prop­erly re­ceived free rent for decades on his district of­fice. That de­ci­sion was based on re­ports from the Of­fice of Con­gres­sional Ethics, which con­cluded there was “sub­stan­tial rea­son” to be­lieve the free rent should not have been per­mit­ted.

Rush said the in­ves­ti­ga­tion is on­go­ing, but he de­nied wrong­do­ing.

“The Ethics Com­mit­tee is try­ing to sug­gest I should have been pay­ing, but I main­tain I should not have paid rent,” he said.

The free rent — which was first re­ported in the Chicago Sun-Times by the Bet­ter Govern­ment As­so­ci­a­tion —was es­ti­mated to be worth $365,040 over 20 years.

“I don’t think it’s that amount,” Rush said, adding that the of­fice was “rarely used.”

The BGA also re­vealed Rush got a $1mil­lion grant from the telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions gi­ant SBC, now known as AT&T, for a South Side com­mu­nity tech­nol­ogy cen­ter that was never built.

Rush says the money went to­ward other, good uses. But he said he did not have the doc­u­ments to back that up.

Brookins had his own brush with scan­dal. The al­der­man’s for­mer chief of staff, Cur­tis V. Thomp­son Jr., was con­victed of tak­ing a $7,500 bribe and sen­tenced to 15 months in prison last year.

In court records, Thomp­son said he wore a record­ing de­vice to help fed­eral au­thor­i­ties “en­snare” Brookins. The al­der­man was not charged with wrong­do­ing but says the is­sue “has been dog­ging me.”

“I didn’t do any­thing wrong in the mat­ter or they would have in­dicted me,” Brookins said. “No U.S. at­tor­ney is go­ing to give an al­der­man a pass.”

Rush said he re­gret­ted ever align­ing him­self with Brookins, whose father was a state sen­a­tor. He said Brookins has been forced into runoffs in two of the last three Coun­cil elec­tions be­cause he’s a weak al­der­man.

“I fool­ishly wasted my time try­ing to help this in­grate be­come state’s at­tor­ney,” Rush said. “Howard Brookins is a loser.”

The third can­di­date in the race, Bru­tus, is a 46-year-old em­ployee in the city’s Depart­ment of Com­mu­nity De­vel­op­ment. He launched a run for the Demo­cratic nom­i­na­tion in the 2nd Con­gres­sional District in 2013 but dropped out be­fore Elec­tion Day.

Howard Brookins

Bobby Rush

O. Patrick Bru­tus

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