Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) on Wednesday became the first candidate to throw in her hat to succeed Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) in Congress since Rush announced he will not seek a 16th term representing Chicago’s South Side and south suburbs.
“Congressman Rush has created a legacy of fighting for others that I will strive to honor and uphold,” Dowell wrote in a news release Wednesday morning.
A former Chicago alderman and co-founder of the Illinois Black Panther Party, Rush will cap his Congressional career at 30 years so he can become a Baptist pastor, he announced in a news conference Tuesday.
Dowell’s announcement is a pivot from her run for Illinois Secretary of State, a months-long campaign that had already netted her formidable fundraising and political support. But after the Cook County Democratic Party endorsed Alexi Giannoulias for the statewide post, Dowell told reporters that she would have to reconsider her campaign.
“I am grateful for the support people have given me in my run for Secretary of State,” Dowell wrote. “Recent events, both here in Illinois and across the country, have led me to decide to make this run for Congress.”
Dowell told The Daily Line she made the decision to pivot from her campaign for Illinois Secretary of State to running for Rush’s congressional seat at 8 p.m. Tuesday, adding it was “not an easy decision to make.”
“I decided this because I care about a lot of concerns that would be best addressed in Congress,” Dowell said. “I looked at the landscape of what was going on in Illinois and what’s going on across the country, and feel that the congressional seat is a seat that I can flourish in and bring back resources and programs and services that help the people in the 1st Congressional District.”
Dowell said moving from the Secretary of State campaign to the congressional race is “a move that is one that better suits me.”
“I’m moving into an opportunity to be more of a public servant to the constituents of the 1st Congressional District,” she said.
At the beginning of October, Dowell had more than $460,000 in her campaign account, according to quarterly reports made to the Illinois State Board of Elections.
Since then, Dowell has amassed at least $90,800 in a steady stream of donations totaling at least $1,000 each, board of elections records show. Of Dowell’s most recent donations, the largest — $5,000 each — have come from Medstar Laboratory, City Club Gymnastics Academy, Vijay Prabhakar, Joseph & Leslie Antunovich and Natalia & Igor Sklyarova.
The next round of quarterly filings for candidates due Jan. 15 are expected to show the totality of donations Dowell took in during the final three months of 2021.
Dowell’s bid for the up-for-grabs seat puts her up against neighborhood organizer Jahmal Cole and the Rev. Christopher Butler, who announced runs for the seat last year.
Dowell said she has a call into Rush and on Wednesday had “learned just recently that he plans to endorse another candidate. And that’s the way it is.”
Karin Norington-Reaves, CEO of the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership, is expected to formally enter the race this weekend.
A former deputy commissioner in the Chicago Department of Planning and Development, Dowell is now one of the most senior members of the City Council, with 15 years of experience as alderman of her Near South Side ward.
She was elected to the seat in 2007 after toppling her old boss, Ald. Dorothy Tillman, thanks in part to the support of labor unions whose leaders had soured on the incumbent. A year later Dowell unseated then-Rep. Ken Dunkin (D-Chicago) as 3rd Ward Democratic Committeeman, a post she has held ever since.
Until April 2016, Dowell was the longest-tenured alderman without a committee chairmanship. That changed when Mayor Rahm Emanuel anointed her as chair of the Human Relations Committee. Dowell took another step up in 2019, when Mayor Lori Lightfoot picked her to replace Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) as chair of the powerful Committee on Budget and Government Operations.
Dowell has since presided over the past three rounds of annual budget hearings, a role that has earned her praise among her colleagues for her even-keeled approach to hours-long grill sessions of city bureaucrats.
Dowell said Wednesday that her work in the City Council and as the chair of the council’s budget committee has shown she is a “consensus builder” as she has worked with colleagues to craft city budgets that are supported by aldermen and the mayor’s administration. “I pride myself on being able to be a consensus builder in sometimes a divisive environment. That’s an experience that I think I will take to congress,” Dowell said.
Additionally, Dowell touted a “record of accomplishments” in her ward in areas of small business development; affordable, market-rate and public housing development; and improvements in education.
“These are all areas that are also the focus of the federal government,” Dowell said. “I see my role as someone who can go in right away, know how to work with various departments, figure out resources and programs and financial assistance that I can bring back to the district and make improvements to uplift the community and the lives of people that I represent.”
Dowell also hopes to bring her budget experience to Washington.
When it comes to policy, Dowell said she plans to prioritize small business and economic development, voting rights, education and literacy and reducing gun violence at the federal level. She said she wants to explore “how the federal government can be more supportive of cities like Chicago where we’re experiencing high gun violence.”
Additionally, Dowell plans to ensure her constituents have access to health care.
“As a breast cancer survivor, I believe in people having access to good health services, medical services, and we need to make sure that the constituents of the 1st district can have that kind of access,” Dowell said.
Dowell is considered a close ally of Lightfoot, sometimes earning flak for carrying the mayor’s water during contentious budget fights. But she has also not hesitated to publicly criticize or even vote against aspects of the Lightfoot administration’s agenda when she disagrees with them — including last month, when she voted against a proposal (O2021-3243) to allow sports betting at Chicago’s stadiums and ballparks.
The 3rd Ward only partially overlaps the newly redrawn 1st Congressional District, which stretches from Bronzeville deep into south-suburban Will County.
Dowell credited her experience so far in campaigning for Secretary of State for getting her out into portions of the 1st Congressional District located outside of Chicago.
“I’ve spent time in the Southland and we’ll spend more time in other parts of 1st District,” Dowell said. “I’ve made some contacts there already, and will build upon the work that I’ve already done.”
Dowell on Wednesday became the second member of the Chicago City Council to announce a run for the U.S. House of Representatives. In November, Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th) announced he would run in the new 3rd Congressional District spanning Chicago’s Northwest Side and west suburbs.