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Lynn Sweet: Bobby Rush, Mark Kirk to work together to combat Gangster Disciples

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Updated: July 6, 2013 6:47AM

WASHINGTON — Well, this was one heck of a productive meeting. Sen. Mark Kirk, dropping his bravado, didn’t bring up his “big project”— the mass arrests of 18,000 Gangster Disciples in Chicago. Rep. Bobby Rush, purging himself of race-based insults, sweetly talked about how Kirk’s heart “is in the right place.”

Despite different views on how to battle murderous gang violence in Chicago, Kirk, a Republican who lives near Highland Park and Rep. Bobby Rush, a Democrat from Calumet near 35th in the city, agreed Tuesday to work together after meeting for about an hour in Kirk’s suite in the Hart Senate Office Building.

The Illinois lawmakers emerged to talk to reporters about what now is their joint effort to fightg gangs in Chicago. Neither man took questions, deciding before coming out to leave well enough alone.

Rush requested the meeting in the wake of Kirk crafting a plan — notable at this stage for its lack of detail — to lock up 18,000 Gangster Disciples — and after Rush in an interview with me last week dismissed Kirk as a suburban know-nothing when it came finding solutions to gang violence.

“It’s a sensational, headline-grabbing, empty, simplistic, unworkable approach” that was an “upper-middle-class, elitist white boy solution to a problem he knows nothing about,” Rush said in his broadside.

Kirk accepted the meeting facing a stark reality: He risked coming up empty by working solo.

Kirk has little chance of making his arrest crackdown his “top priority” — much less securing $30 million from a cash-strapped Congress to bankroll it — without any buy-in from the three Illinois lawmakers whose districts would be most affected by the sweep. Representatives Danny Davis and Robin Kelly also objected — in more diplomatic language than Rush.

Kirk showed a tin ear for the nuanced politics involved and took a big step toward correcting it on Tuesday.

“This meeting shows that Bobby and I can work out any differences because we love Chicago so much that we won’t give up,” Kirk said.

“My feeling is that the elected representative of the First Congressional District knows it best and that he will be able to guide me to the most effective programs that could defeat the gangs. . . . Bobby and I have agreed to tour the First Congressional District and I have asked him to show me the worst of the worst where officials may fear to tread and actually listen to kids.”

Kirk seemed to want to bridge what he perceived as a city-suburban gap.

He said the “typical reaction of suburban families” is “just to look at the trail of blood on TV and ignore it. We shouldn’t ignore it.”

Kirk brought up Hadiya Pendleton, the 15-year-old shot to death last January. Kirk cites her murder for launching his anti-Gangster Disciples crusade.

Kirk noted that Hadiya was a friend of Rush’s granddaughter.

Hadiya was killed in Harsh Park, in the 4400 block of South Oakenwald. Usually when I have written about her death I noted that the park is about a mile from President Barack Obama’s Kenwood home. In this context, it is worthwhile to say the park is a little more than two miles from Rush’s home — and about 37 miles from where Kirk lives.

Rush said Kirk “and I have agreed to not only work together, he said he will visit Englewood and other communities there. I am looking forward to him listening to young people.”

Rush gave Kirk a book to read about the high incarceration rates of African Americans and the effect that has on the communities where they live, “The New Jim Crow, Mass Incarcerations in the Age of Colorblindness,” by Michelle Alexander.

After that listening tour — no date has yet been set — Rush said: “We are going to roll up our sleeves and see what we can do legislatively to impress upon the administration how some of these issues need to be addressed.”

Though “we disagree on some aspects” of what to do, Rush said, “. . . I think over due time, he will understand what is from my perspective a more comprehensive approach. One thing I draw out of this is that Mark’s heart — our senator’s heart — is in the right place, and our hearts are in the same place.

“The heads may not be together, but our hearts are together. He wants to solve some of these problems and I certainly want to solve these problems,” Rush said.

I don’t know if Rush offered any apology. His new tone seemed to speak for itself. Kirk never backed down from his mass-arrest plan.

As Rush was departing and Kirk was heading back towards his office, Kirk paused. He turned and shouted out, “OK Bobby, see you in Englewood.”

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