South Side Ald. Pat Dowell said Wednesday she will seek the congressional seat being vacated by veteran U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush and drop her bid for the Democratic nomination for secretary of state.
Dowell, 63, whose 3rd Ward includes the South Loop and Bronzeville neighborhoods, becomes the first candidate to formally announce for the Democratic nomination in the 1st Congressional District to succeed Rush, who on Tuesday announced that he’s retiring when his term ends next January after 30 years in Congress.
But the field is expected to grow substantially as South Side and south suburban elected officials and activists consider the rare opportunity to run for an open congressional seat in a safe Democratic district that virtually ensures incumbency for many years.
Dowell, an alderman since 2007, has name recognition in the city’s portion of the newly redrawn congressional district, something she lacked in a statewide bid. As with her bid for secretary of state, Dowell also doesn’t jeopardize her council seat, which is up in 2023, by running in the June primary.
“I’ve done a lot of work in my ward related to small business development, education, health care and I thought that the congressional seat offers me an opportunity to best serve my community,” Dowell said in an interview.
“I decided that I would seek the seat because it’s in my wheelhouse of concerns that I care about. In some ways, it’s a better fit” than secretary of state, she said.
Dowell announced her bid for secretary of state to replacing retiring veteran Jesse White, in April, and was one of four Democrats seeking the statewide nomination. There are now three: former state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, City Clerk Anna Valencia and Ald. David Moore, 17th.
Dowell, who also is the 3rd Ward’s committeeperson, was not slated for the post by the Cook County Democratic organization on Dec. 14. Giannoulias, who has become the top money raiser for the post amid major labor endorsements, narrowly cleared the bar to win county slating over a vote of no endorsement.
Dowell had been critical of Giannoulias and urged slatemakers to support someone “loyal to the organization” who is “a dedicated public servant” rather than “an opportunist looking to further their stalled political career.” Giannoulias lost a 2010 bid for the U.S. Senate to Republican Mark Kirk.
Noting White was a successful Black statewide elected official, Dowell told slatemakers that “to succeed we must have a Democrat, a nominee, who appeals to the people who vote Democratic — mainly women, and precisely, African Americans.”
She continued that pitch in taking about her congressional bid.
“Women are key Democratic voters. This district that is very Democratic with lots of African American women,” Dowell said Wednesday.
“My goal would be to have a message that resonates with those voters. I mean, women care about gun violence. They care about education, access to health care. Lots of women are entrepreneurs and they’re looking for support for opening businesses. These are resources and programs that a congressman can bring to their doorstep,” she said.
Dowell is chair of the City Council’s budget committee and cited her work in shepherding through a $12.8 billion city spending plan as an example of her leadership and ability to work effectively with “diverse communities and people with different perspectives.”
“I like to think of myself as a consensus builder, as someone that can bring people together. I’ve done that within the City Council,” she said. “I’m someone that can work out or negotiate a win-win for everyone involved and I want to take those talents to Washington.”