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Plotting for a post-Rush election?

Updated: February 16, 2012 3:14PM

The word on this race is that Bobby Rush is a shoo-in for re-election and his opponents in the Democratic primary know it. They’re just laying the groundwork for future runs once Rush steps down.

Could this be?

Goodness, no, not at all, replied three of Rush’s five opponents. They’re running, they agreed, because Rush stopped working hard a long time ago and it’s time that the 1st Congressional District got some real leadership. Everybody knows this, they say, so Rush is definitely vulnerable.

We’ll see.

More likely, Rush is vulnerable in the general election in November, not in the Democratic primary, given that the district’s boundaries have been redrawn to include less of Chicago’s South Side and more of the far suburbs, right into Republican Will County. But even that scenario is a stretch in this still heavily Democratic district.

Running to unseat Rush in the March 20 primary are Raymond M. Lodato, 51, a researcher at the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago; Fred Smith, who will be 43 on March 8, a social programs director for Maryville Academy; and Harold Bailey, the owner of two fried chicken franchises.

Also on the ballot are two candidates who did not respond to Sun-Times mailings or complete the Sun-Times questionnaire. They are Clifford M. Russell Jr., of Chicago’s Ashburn neighborhood, and Jordan Sims, of the West Beverly neighborhood.

Other than Rush, Lodato appears to have the strongest organized political ties, having worked previously for the 5th Ward Democratic Organization that also launched Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and, for that matter, President Obama. Lodato, fittingly for a Hyde Parker, has a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. As a congressman, he says, he would push to create jobs in the field of clean energy, and he would support increases in funding for high-speed rail projects, connecting Chicago with other Midwestern cities.

Smith ran against Rush two years ago, as well, and for the same reasons he is running now. The district, he says, “is going backwards,” burdened by vacant lots, gangs and unemployment. But Rush, he says, hasn’t brought federal funds and jobs back home. A holder of two master’s degrees, he wants to make the 1st District “a leader in green jobs, clean energy and Internet technology.”

Bailey, a graduate of Bethune Cookman College in Florida, would like to “re-direct” government funding to improve the local public schools, among other projects. Bailey worked 16 years for the Chicago Park District.

As for Rush, he has of course been a stalwart supporter of President Obama — the man who dared to once take him on in a primary race in the 1st District — and he has the overwhelming support of the local party establishment. Even his opponents says he is admired, even beloved, by many constituents who view him as a symbol of African-American independence and pride.

Everywhere he campaigns, Baily admitted, people say to him, “But Bobby Rush was a Black Panther.” And they mean that as a compliment.

The challenge for the challengers, then, is to draw attention to what they see as Rush’s lackluster record while showing respect for the man.

Bailey says he once said this to Rush:

“When you were a Black Panther, I was a little boy. I ate the breakfasts you provided. So this is not personal.”

What is it about?

“It’s about moving forward,” Bailey said.

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