Politicians from across the state and country are responding to the passing of respected former Illinois congressman, judge and White House counsel Abner Mikva, who died of cancer Monday at age 90.
The political icon served in all three branches of the federal government, started the youth civic engagement organization Mikva Challenge with his wife, and was a mentor to President Barack Obama, who presented Mikva with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014.
Obama called Mikva a mentor and friend and lauded his work on a range of issues, including criminal justice, gay rights, consumer rights and civil liberties.
"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 said in a statement. "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, a Democrat, served in the Illinois legislature for five terms before being elected to the U.S. House in 1968. He was later appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, eventually becoming chief judge. Mikva went on to serve as White House counsel for President Bill Clinton.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) described Mikva as his "North Star for integrity, independence and progressive values."
"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," Durbin said.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who worked on one of Mikva's congressional campaigns, hailed the statesman as "one of the greatest public servants of our time:"
With Abner Mikva's passing, we have lost one of the greatest public servants of our time. 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.
Not only was he involved in the judicial and political careers of many, including President Obama, but he created the Mikva Challenge, which will continue to inspire, empower, and encourage young people for years to come. The first political campaign I ever worked on was Abner's Congressional campaign in Illinois' 10th District, and I later had the privilege of working with him in the White House during the Clinton administration.
Abner was not only a great Chicagoan, but a great American. The thoughts and prayers of Amy and I are with Zoe and the entire Mikva family.
Rev. Jesse Jackson also released a comment on the passing of Mikva, highlighting his connection with Dr. Martin Luther King.
"Abner Mikva packed so much into his 90 years - Congressman, federal judge, presidential adviser, educator, mensch," Jackson said. "Ab was a Chicago icon and a national treasure. He was a strong supporter of Dr. Martin Luther King, the freedom marches, open housing, fairness and equal justice for all. What a wonderful life."