Liberal Illinois politician Abner Mikva, who served in all three branches of federal government and in state government, has died. He was 90.
Mikva died Monday of cancer in hospice care at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Brian Brady, national director of Mikva Challenge, told The Associated Press on Tuesday. Mikva Challenge is a nonprofit leadership organization that the statesman founded. Brady said he learned of the death from Mikva's daughters.
Mikva, a liberal voice and stalwart of Illinois' political landscape for decades, was most recently active in pushing for the U.S. Senate to consider the nomination of Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland.
"Abner Mikva was always my North Star for integrity, independence and progressive values," U.S. Senator Dick Durbin said in a statement. "In an era of cynicism and disappointment, Abner's record of public service was proof that the good guys can win without selling their souls. Ab Mikva was the pol 'nobody sent' but Illinois and America are better today because he defied the Bosses and rallied thousands to beat them."
Mikva often told of how he initially tried to get involved in Chicago politics but was told: "We don't want nobody nobody sent."
Brady called Mikva "the ideal public servant" who was saddened by growing bitter animosity between the parties in Washington.
"He thought it had a lot to do with people not socializing together anymore," Brady said of partisan rancor in the Capitol. "He had dinner and played poker two or three times a week with Republican leaders. He thought the days of real relationships don't exist right now."
President Barack Obama awarded Mikva the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014. He said in a statement Tuesday, "like so many admirers, I've lost a mentor and a friend."
"No matter how far we go in life, we owe a profound debt of gratitude to those who gave us those first, firm pushes at the start. For me, one of those people was Ab Mikva," Obama's statement read. "When I was graduating law school, Ab encouraged me to pursue public service. He saw something in me that I didn’t yet see in myself, but I know why he did it—Ab represented the best of public service himself and he believed in empowering the next generation of young people to shape our country. Ab’s life was a testament to that truth. Six decades ago, when he first tried to volunteer in Democratic politics, the Chicago political machine told him that they 'don't want nobody nobody sent.' Ab didn’t take no for an answer because he knew that in America, in our democracy, everybody can be somebody—everybody matters."
Mikva was elected in 1956 to the first of five consecutive terms in the Illinois General Assembly, where he sponsored fair employment practices legislation, open housing legislation and labored to overhaul the Criminal Code. He was elected to the U.S. Congress in 1968 and served for five terms as a member of the Judiciary Committee and then the Ways and Means Committee.
Appointed by President Jimmy Carter to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, Mikva served 15 years, the last four as Chief Judge. In 1994, Judge Mikva resigned from the bench to become White House Counsel to President Bill Clinton.
"With Abner Mikva's passing, we have lost one of the greatest public servants of our time," Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who first worked on Abner's Congressional campaign in Illinois' 10th District, said in a statement. "Throughout his career, Abner fought for unpopular decisions and for those whose voices needed to -- but could not -- be heard. He championed for minority voting rights, civil liberties, free speech, and equality."