Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Abner Mikva: 1926-2016

     The Mikva Challenge people tell me I had one of the last interviews the revered jurist and legal mind gave. When I took him to lunch for his 90th birthday in January, he was so full of pep that I never thought of writing his obituary, a melancholy duty that I performed this morning. What popped out, to me, from his long and extraordinary life is how he faced the same fanatical opposition we are facing now, with success and grace—the NRA spent six months and $1 million trying to block his federal bench Senate confirmation. And failed. Something we liberals need to bear in mind. Our cause is right, and we should not weaken just because are opponents are brutal and relentless. If those who would undermine and destroy the country are strong, we just need to be stronger.

     Abner Mikva brought his sharp legal advice and principled worldview to all three branches of government — he was a congressman, federal judge and presidential adviser. He stood up to Richard J. Daley, for years, and managed to survive hizzoner's efforts to destroy him.
     And if that weren't enough, if giving legal advice to Bill Clinton and encouraging Barack Obama to try for the White House weren't enough, Mr. Mikva, who died of cancer at age 90 on Monday, was also the young man who tried to volunteer to help the Democrats in 1948 and was told by a ward heeler: "We don't want nobody nobody sent," coining the immortal distillation of political cronyism.
     "That's Chicago for you," said Obama, remembering the phrase when he awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Mr. Mikva in 2014. The president called Mr. Mikva “one of the greatest jurists of his time,” someone who “helped shape the national debate on some of the most challenging issues of the day.”
     Obama on Tuesday issued a statement saying Mr. Mikva "believed in empowering the next generation of young people to shape our country. Ab’s life was a testament to that truth. ... Like so many admirers, I’ve lost a mentor and a friend."

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  1. That was the Cook County Administration Building fire in 2003. A case of multiple instances of communications failure, and fire and life safety equipment breakdown. People were trapped in a smoke filled stairwell, six of them died of smoke inhalation. It's not surprising Mikva chaired the investigative commission, although the sprinkler requirement has yet to be fully mandated, they had other sound recommendations that were implemented. One of many that is most noticeable is that high rise stairwell doors don't lock behind you, or that the locks automatically release when there is a fire alarm.


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