Trying to get beyond a dispute over how to combat Chicago gang violence, Sen. Mark Kirk and Rep. Bobby Rush met Tuesday and pledged to work together for solutions to the problem of gangs.
Kirk’s recent call for the mass arrest of the 18,000-strong Gangster Disciples prompted Rush’s ridicule last week, with the South Side Democrat complaining that the North Shore Republican was pushing an “upper-middle-class, elitist white-boy solution to a problem he knows nothing about.”
But on Tuesday, the two had nothing but praise for each other. After a meeting that lasted about an hour, Kirk said he had accepted Rush’s invitation to go on a “listening tour” of the Democrat’s district, including the hard-hit Englewood neighborhood. The two issued a statement describing themselves as “friends who have worked together for a very long time.”
The lawmakers struck a united front when talking to reporters but did not take questions, including one asking Rush if he had apologized. While Kirk did not explicitly back off of his mass-arrest idea, he expressed interest in other ways of combating gang activity.
“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.
Rush said they may disagree on some aspects of how to fight problem and that in time Kirk will understand his desire for a more comprehensive approach. “The 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,” Rush said.
“The heads may not be together, but our hearts are together. He wants to solve these problems and I certainly want to solve these problems.”
Kirk, 53, and Rush, 66, are separated by race, geography, party and ideology. But battle scars from their separate health crises were on display when they took to the microphones.
Kirk, partly paralyzed by a major stroke in January 2012, approached the mic haltingly, relying on a four-pronged cane. Rush spoke in a low, raspy voice, the result of surgery and grueling treatments for salivary gland cancer in 2008.
Once they were House colleagues, albeit in rival camps and with drastically different voting records. Rush, a Baptist minister, ex-Black Panther and former Chicago alderman, entered the House in 1993. Kirk entered in 2001 and served until late 2010, when he won election to the Senate.
Talking about gang violence, Kirk said the typical reaction of suburban families is “just to look at the trail of blood and ignore it.”
“We shouldn’t ignore it,” he continued, citing “hundreds of thousands of kids like Hadiya Pendleton.”
The 15-year-old honor student — an acquaintance of Rush’s granddaughter, Kirk noted — was gunned down Jan. 29 on the South Side. Two alleged gang members have been charged in the slaying.
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