Rep. Bobby Rush (D-1st), Robert Emmons Jr. and Sarah Gad at a January forum.

U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-1st) is pointing to recent legislative accomplishments in his bid for a 15th term in Washington while his challengers — Robert Emmons Jr., Sarah Gad and Ameena Matthews — attempt to set themselves apart by highlighting signature issues.

In campaign appearances, Rush has championed his seniority on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce as legislation like the Climate Leadership and Environmental Action for our Nation’s (CLEAN) Future Act, designed to make the United States a net-zero greenhouse gas polluter by 2050, takes shape.

Rush’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment on the state of the primary, but he and the challengers participated in a Chicago Urban League forum on March 7. He appeared on Feb. 24 at the U. of C. Medical Center to herald new state legislation that allows Illinois cancer patients to participate in more clinical trials and on Feb. 22 at the Gary Comer Youth Center with representatives from Peoples Gas and ComEd to highlight programs on utility payment assistance, weatherization and social services.

On Feb. 26, the House passed Rush’s Emmett Till Antilynching Act 410-4 after more than 200 attempts to make lynching a federal crime since 1902; it is pending in the Senate. He discussed the legislation with Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and two of Till's relatives the next day, recalling the photo of Till's open-casket South Side funeral in 1955 and his mother saying it was the reason she moved her children from Georgia to Chicago.

"Over 4,500 lynchings, (and) 75% of them were African American males between 1882 and 1968," he said. "Passing this bill, to me, is just another step that we are taking in Congress, in the nation, in the world, to try to make this world a better place for everybody. And Emmett at 14 years old made that sacrifice, and we're all standing on the shoulders of a 14-year-old boy.”

The congressman has submitted legislation allocating $10 million to create the Bronzeville-Black Metropolis National Heritage Area, which would preserve more than 200 "historical assets" in the neighborhood. Other recently introduced legislation would direct federal agencies to study whether ambulance diversions, when hospitals temporarily close emergency departments to incoming ambulances, have increased in the last ten years, negatively impact under-served and minority communities and ways the federal government can address the issue.

In an interview on Monday, Emmons said his campaign has "all the momentum in the world," though he conceded he has no polling or quantitative data to back up his hunch. He said his campaign is passing out palm cards and putting up yard signs across the district and is present at early voting sites

"Overwhelmingly, the thing we figured out the last year and a half is also being cited in the early voting sites: people are ready for Bobby to retire," he said. 

Emmons said organizations like UChicago for Bernie Sanders, the Sunrise MovementOur Revolution and progressive groups in Will County are sending out canvassers. He said "dozens of thousands" of calls have been made to voters with thousands more before Election Day. The campaign has knocked about 5,000 doors in the district to date.

"What I've been saying around the district, especially as of late, is Bobby Rush is out of touch with the district. And if you're out of touch, it's time to get out of office," Emmons said. "He's someone who endorsed Michael Bloomberg for president and became his national co-chair, and Bloomberg isn't someone who represents the spirit of the people of the 1st congressional district. And that's an indication of the lack of proximity that the congressman has shown to the district. 

"Our campaign is about connecting our district, from Bronzeville down to Manhattan, all towards a common goal of peace and true liberation across the board," he continued. "It's about being both a truth-teller and a bridge-builder."

Financial filings show that Rush has outspent his three primary opponents combined.  

As of press time, Rush has raised $195,205.52, according to Federal Election Commission data, and disbursed $207,881.37.

Gad, who has spoken passionately of her life story — she was in and out of jail after becoming addicted to opioids before turning her life around and enrolling at the University of Chicago Law School — has raised $108,559.59 and spent $77,338.9.

Emmons, whose campaign is centered on using the office to combat local gun violence, has raised $80,367.95 and spent $72,374.97.

The fourth candidate, Matthews, has no listed receipts or disbursements.

Eight organizations have donated $5,000 each to Rush's campaign: unions for plumbing and pipefitting, construction and energy, and machinists and aerospace workers and political action committees representing Dominion Energy, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, Lowe's and the professional associations of urologists and anesthesiologists. PACs representing companies like Pacific Gas & Electric, Amazon, BP, Duke Energy, the Edison Electric Institute, U.S. Cellular and AT&T have each donated $2,000 or more to his campaign.

Seven individuals have donated $1,000 or more to Emmons' campaign, led by Peter Ascoli ($2,800) and Marrianne McMullen ($2,500). Eli Jenkinson Photography has donated a combined $3,450 to him; Lincoln Park and Gold Coast Democratic Committeewoman Lucy Moog (43rd) donated $500.

The two have split the major newspaper endorsements, with the Tribune backing Emmons and the Sun-Times backing Rush.

Gad donated $43,923.69 to her campaign in more than a dozen donations, representing more than 40% of her total receipts. Rashod Johnson, a Chicago construction executive, has given $13,000 to her campaign; four other individuals have given $2,000 or more.

Gad's campaign did not respond to the Herald's request for comment for this article.

“For the last 27 years, almost 30 years, that we’ve had gross, criminal disrespect for the district, we thought it was going to be taken care of by the loyalty of the incumbent,” Matthews said in an interview on Monday. “Since he hasn’t, I urge the voters to punch 32 for Ameena for Congress — for equality, for equity, for our ecology and for empowerment, to change what has been going on in the 97.6 miles of Illinois that has affected the nation as well.”

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