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Abner Mikva was turned down in his first attempt at civic duty with a line that became embedded in Chicago's political lore, "We don't want nobody nobody sent."Undeterred, the young, liberal outsider from Hyde Park forged ahead for a sterling...

Abner Mikva, ex-lawmaker, judge, presidential adviser, dies at 90

Abner Mikva was turned down in his first attempt at civic duty with a line that became embedded in Chicago's political lore, "We don't want nobody nobody sent."Undeterred, the young, liberal outsider from Hyde Park forged ahead for a sterling...

Abner Mikva, ex-lawmaker, judge, presidential adviser, dies at 90

Abner Mikva was turned down in his first attempt at civic duty with a line that became embedded in Chicago's political lore, "We don't want nobody nobody sent."

Undeterred, the young, liberal outsider from Hyde Park forged ahead for a sterling career as a state legislator, congressman, federal appellate judge and presidential adviser, maintaining through more than a half-century of public service a vaunted reputation for honesty.

Mikva, 90, died Monday in Chicago, according a statement released by Brian Brady, head of the Mikva Challenge.

In November 2014, Mikva was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, by President Barack Obama. He called it the "greatest thing that ever happened to me."

The son of Ukrainian immigrants and a native of Milwaukee, Mikva came to Chicago for law school at the University of Chicago and was elected to the state House when he was 30.

He served five terms, then five more in the U.S. House before President Jimmy Carter appointed him to a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

He served on the influential court for 15 years and was its chief judge for four years before resigning to serve as White House counsel under President Bill Clinton.

Abner Mikva given nation's highest civilian honor Katherine Skiba

President Barack Obama on Monday bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, to 18 recipients including Meryl Streep, Stevie Wonder and Chicago's Abner Mikva.

Mikva, 88, a former Democratic congressman and federal judge who was White House counsel under Bill...

President Barack Obama on Monday bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, to 18 recipients including Meryl Streep, Stevie Wonder and Chicago's Abner Mikva.

Mikva, 88, a former Democratic congressman and federal judge who was White House counsel under Bill...

(Katherine Skiba)

In 2009, Mikva headed the commission that examined the influence of clout in the admissions process at the University of Illinois.

Mikva attended the University of Wisconsin, transferred to Washington University in St. Louis to be closer to his future wife, then served as a navigator with the Army Air Forces during World War II.

He graduated from the University of Chicago's law school in 1951 and worked as a clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sherman Minton.

Inspired by liberal Illinois political leaders like Paul Douglas and Adlai Stevenson, Mikva went to his local Democratic ward committeeman to see how he could help during the elections of 1958.

The entire exchange, as recounted by Mikva to Milton Rakove in his book "We Don't Want Nobody Nobody Sent," is classic.

"I came in and said I wanted to help. Dead silence. 'Who sent you?' the committeeman said. I said, 'Nobody.' He said, 'We don't want nobody nobody sent.' Then he said, 'We ain't got no jobs.' I said, 'I don't want a job.' He said, 'We don't want nobody that don't want a job. Where are you from, anyway?' I said, 'University of Chicago.' He said, 'We don't want nobody from the University of Chicago.' "

Mikva receives Presidential Medal of Freedom LARRY DOWNING, Reuters Photo

President Barack Obama presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Abner Mikva during a ceremony at the White House in November 2014.

President Barack Obama presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Abner Mikva during a ceremony at the White House in November 2014.

(LARRY DOWNING, Reuters Photo)

Despite the inauspicious start, Mikva in 1956 was elected to the first of five terms as a state legislator representing Hyde Park. In 1968, he began five terms as a U.S. representative. In Congress, he was a member of the Judiciary and Ways and Means committees, and he was a reliably liberal vote.

President Carter appointed him to the U.S. Court of Appeals in 1979, a year after he had won re-election over Republican John Porter.

"He was such a special friend to me so this is really painful. He was greatest public official, public servant that I know. The most ethical, strategic, kind man dedicated man to creating government that was the most helpful it could be to the most peoplem," Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Evanston, who represents Mikva's old district, told the Tribune.

Schakowsky said a mutual friend spent a short time with Mikva on Monday and reported he was "sharp 'til the end."

Schakowsky said Mikva was rare for having served all three branches of government--the Congress, the judiciary and as counsel to Bill Clinton, the executive branch.

She said a birthday celebration for Mikva held in Washington last year drew Justice Elena Kagen, a former law clerk of his.

"Abner also was the creator of the grass-roots politics," Schakowsky added.

"Not patronage politics but engaging volunteers in elections."

She said he continued that work through the non-partisan Mikva Challenge, a nonproft started 1997 by Mikva and wife Zoe started. The program drew high school students into public policy and political campaigns.

In addition to his wife Zoe, Mikva is survived by three daughters, Mary and Laurie Mikva, and Rachel Mikva Rosenberg; and seven grandchildren.

Services will be private, but there will be a public memorial in early August.

The Tribune's Katherine Skiba contributed.

Our editors found this article on this site using Google and regenerated it for our readers.

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