Illinois Rep. Bobby Rush helps his friends - and vice versa

By Carol Eisenberg

January 7, 2009 at 4:25pm

U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush of Illinois almost annihilated the career of a young Barack Obama almost 20 years ago when he easily beat back a primary challenge from the then-unknown state lawmaker by portraying him as less than authentically black, among other things.

So it is interesting that Rush, a onetime leader of the Illinois Black Panther Party, is such an outspoken supporter of Roland Burris, the former Illinois attorney general chosen by scandal-plagued Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich to replace Obama in the U.S. Senate.

Making a cameo appearance at the news conference at which Blagojevich announced his choice of Burris, Rush more or less dared any Democrat to oppose the selection of a man who would become the elite group’s only “black senator,” as Politico’s Glenn Thrush wrote.

“I would ask you not to hang or lynch the appointee as you try to castigate the appointer,” Rush said then. “Separate, if you will, the appointee from the appointer. Roland Burris is worthy.”

Rush has a long history with Burris. He co-chaired his unsuccessful 2002 gubernatorial primary challenge against Blagojevich, along with fellow Illinois lawmaker, U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis.

Less well known are some of his connections to Blagojevich.

Besides representing Illinois in the House of Representatives, Rush is an ordained minister at Beloved Community Christian Church. In 2004, he founded a non-profit social services arm of the church, Beloved Community Family Services Inc., which works with at-risk children in the impoverished Englewood neighborhood, and then, Beloved Community Family Wellness Center, a community health center.

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown wrote that the wellness center has received more than $2 million in state funding over the last three years. The family service agency has received at least $250,000 in state funds in the same period.

Rush dismissed any connection between the funding and his defense of Burris. “I have not said one word in defense of the governor,” Rush said. “I’m not defending him one way or another.”

Rather, he said, his motivation is simple: “I am faced with the reality that there are no blacks serving in the U.S. Senate and we have an opportunity to seat one.”

The congressman has also sponsored at least congressional earmark in behalf of Beloved Community Family Services: He got through $305,500 for the agency in a Justice Department spending bill to fund a 10-week program to help at-risk youth in the Englewood neighborhood.

In a March 16, 2007 letter to Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey seeking the funding, he certifies that neither he, nor his wife have any financial interest in the project. His wife, Carolyn Rush, sits on the agency’s board.

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