Chicago politician Abner Mikva had the distinction of serving in all the three branches of U.S. government.
First, the legislative branch in 1969, when Mikva was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives by Illinois’ 2nd District, which included Hyde Park on the South Side.
Then, the judicial branch in 1979, when President Jimmy Carter nominated him as a judge to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
And finally, the executive branch in 1994, when President Bill Clinton selected him to serve as the White House Counsel.
“Mikva! Democracy is a Verb,” a new documentary premiering on Thursday on WTTW, delves into Mikva’s storied political career and public life.
The film features numerous Chicago political powerhouses praising Mikva, who died in 2016 at age 90, for standing up to Mayor Richard J. Daley’s powerful political machine and the National Rifle Association while striving to find bipartisan common ground.
One such political powerhouse was former President Barack Obama, who considered Mikva a mentor after they taught law at the University of Chicago during the 1990s.
“When I was thinking about running for the state Senate, he was one of the first people I talked to, to seek advice and he was very encouraging,” Obama said in the film. “He said, ‘Look, politics isn’t for everybody, but for somebody like you, Barack, who wants to make an impact and has a pretty good moral compass, I think you should give it a shot.’”
Mikva’s legacy continues through the Mikva Challenge, a youth civic leadership program Mikva and his wife Zoe founded in 1997. The initiative connects high school students to public service and community activism.