Abner Mikva, a federal judge and congressman who served as a mentor to a range of Democratic politicians from the Chicago area, died at age 90.
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Mikva died Monday in Chicago, according to the Chicago Tribune. His political career, spanning five decades, saw him serve in state and national office as well as all three branches of government. Among those he mentored were President Obama, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Supreme Court Justice Elana Kagan and Rep. Jan Schakowski (D-Ill.).
In 2014, Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor, to Mikva.
“When I was graduating law school, Ab encouraged me to pursue public service,” Obama said in a statement, according to the Tribune. “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.”
Mikva was born in 1926 in Milwaukee to Jewish immigrants from present-day Ukraine. He graduated from the University of Chicago Law School, and in a famous anecdote, was rebuffed by Chicago’s political machine in his first attempt to get involved in politics. When he visited a local campaign office, uninvited, to volunteer for Harry Truman’s 1948 reelection bid, an operative sent him away, saying, “We don’t want nobody nobody sent.”
He was first elected to the Illinois House of Representatives in 1956, and became a member of Congress in 1969. He served five terms in the House of Representatives until 1979, when President Jimmy Carter appointed him as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. He served there for 15 years, including five years as chief judge. In 1994, President Bill Clinton made him White House counsel.
He is survived by three daughters and seven grandchildren.