By Dermot Connolly
Incumbent Cong. Bobby Rush (D-1st) will face three primary challengers on March 17, all vying to deny him a 14th term in office.
Since 1993, Rush, 73, has represented the heavily Democratic 1st District, which stretches from the lakefront on Chicago’s South Side to Joliet in Will County . It tak es in all or part of several Chicago neighborhoods and suburbs including Evergreen Park, Oak Lawn, Orland Park, Palos Heights and Worth.
This year, his opponents are all community activists working for non-profits: Sarah Gad, 32; Dr. Ameena Nuur Matthews, 52 ; and Robert Emmons Jr., 27. Like Rush, they live in Chicago, as does the Republican candidate, Philanise White, the Republican committeeman of Chicago’s 7th Ward.
Gad, whose parents are Egyptian immigrants, is a third-year law student at the University of Chicago. Describing herself as “an activist a nd an educator,” Gad has a degree in microbiology and a minor in African-American studies. She planned to become a doctor, but while in medical school in the University of Pittsburgh in 2012, she was badly injured in a car crash. She was prescribed opioids for the pain, which led to an addiction that resulted in her being incarcerated in Cook County Jail for forging a prescription. She has been sober since 2015.
“Studying the law in the context of my personal experiences revealed a massive disconnect between what America is and what it is supposed to be. America is supposed to be grounded on equality, justice, and liberty,” said Gad in her campaign material. “These principles are enshrined in our Constitution and governing bodies of law, and every law and policy is supposed to reflect these principles. But our laws and policies do not reflect them; they are in fact fundamentally at odds with them.
“ There is a massive divide between the interests of those who create and enforce our laws, and those on the receiving end of them. The end result is a society that caters to an elite few, instead of to all of us. I am running for Congress to help close this divide, and to fight for people like me and families like mine. The American people deserve a leader who is one of them — someone who they can count on to fight for their best interests,” said Gad.
She holds board positions on law school organizations, such as the Criminal Law Society, Defenders, and the local ACLU chapter. Gad also works at the Mandel Legal Aid Clinic, representing indigent youth offenders from Chicago's South Side under supervision of law school faculty.
In 2018, after several friends and acquaintances died of drug overdoses, Gad started a non-profit organization called Addiction 2 Action to raise awareness about the need for better opioid addiction treatment in jails and prisons. She also founded Jacket Change, another nonprofit that caters to the homeless.
Rush serves on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, chairing the Energy Subcommittee. One of his most recent accomplishments was the passage last week of the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act, which makes lynching a federal hate crime punishable by life in prison. Till, a Chicago resident whose mother was from Summit, was 14 when he was lynched in 1955 in Mississippi.
But Gad said Rush “was not present at a single session I attended over the 3.5 months I spent in Congress between May and August” while doing legislative advocacy work for the Drug Policy Alliance last year in Washington.
She said many of the hearings Rush missed were hosted by the Congressional Black Caucus and the Energy Committee — of which he is a ranking member. They covered issues such as environmental justice, reparations, restoring Pell Grant access to incarcerated students, counter-narcotics strategy, and alternatives to pretrial detention.
Both Matthews and Emmons also maintain that Rush has not been attentive to the needs of his district, particularly the need to curb violence.
In 2006, Matthews, a violence intervention expert, joined Cure Violence-formerly known as Ceasefire, an organization aimed at reducing shootings and homicides. Since then, she developed her own anti-violence organization called Pause for Peace, which focuses on social change and social service programs that work to address and end violence among underprivileged youth in Chicago, Additionally, she has helped organize Pause for Peace summits that bring youth from the surrounding neighborhoods together to resolve conflicts.
Emmons said his campaign is also about ending gun violence. He was manager of Program Innovation for OneGoal, an organization aimed at increasing college graduation in low-income communities. He later served as a community leader with the Obama Foundation, helping young organizers around the country to design initiatives to heal their communities.