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Abner Mikva, Former Illinois Congressman And Obama Mentor, Dies

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Former Illinois Congressman Abner Mikva, a mentor to President Obama, has died at the age of 90. Mikva had served in all three branches of government. NPR's Cheryl Corley has more.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: Abner Mikva grew up in Milwaukee. He thought of becoming an accountant, but his future wife persuaded him otherwise. He cut his political teeth in Chicago, besting the Democratic machine and winning elections as a state lawmaker and U.S. congressman. He served several years as a federal judge and as White House Counsel to President Clinton.

He was most active recently pushing for the Senate to consider the nomination of Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland just as he did earlier for his former law clerk and now Justice Elena Kagan.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ABNER MIKVA: She was one of the best and brightest then, and she kept going.

CORLEY: Mikva also encouraged Barack Obama to run for president. Two years ago the president presented Mikva with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In a statement today, the president said he'd lost a mentor and friend who represented the best of public service. Former presidential adviser David Axelrod says Mikva was more than an inspiration.

DAVID AXELROD: He was political magic.

CORLEY: Because Independent Democrat Mikva was able to win office in Chicago with no patronage army behind him and later win repeatedly in a more Republican-dominated suburb.

AXELROD: And he did it solely on the basis of his ability to inspire people to believe that you can achieve positive things for your community and for the country through politics.

CORLEY: Abner Mikva and his wife Zoe started the Mikva Challenge nearly 20 years ago. It engages youth, mostly high school students, in civic and political activity. Mikva died in hospice care from cancer. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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