Pennsylvania U.S. Rep. Summer Lee, D-12th District (photo via Summer Lee)
PITTSBURGH — The event started with a heartfelt introduction by one of her high school teachers and the breezy “summertime” refrain of a Kool & the Gang classic played as she took the stage, but with microphone in hand U.S. Rep Summer Lee, D-12th District, brought the thunder, making a passionate and fiery case for her re-election as she officially kicked off her 2024 campaign Thursday evening.
“From my first day in the state house to this very day, I have stood true on the things that I care about,” she said. “My voting patterns, everything that I do, the resources I fight for, are for working class people. They’re for black and brown people. They’re for environmental justice. They’re for education. They’re for students and teachers, for bus drivers. They’re for everybody in this region, I have never faltered.”
The first Black woman elected to Congress to represent Pennsylvania in the commonwealth’s history, Lee previously unseated a 19-year incumbent to get the Pennsylvania State House in 2018 at the age of 30.
“Every election cycle I’ve had to come up – I’m not new and bright and shiny like I was in 2018. But you know what I am? I’m battle-tested,” she said.
Only eight months into her term, Lee conceded at the outset “I bet you’re wondering, wow, are we here already?”
The simple answer: money, and the extraordinary cost of running a campaign.
“We have doubled turnout in western Pennsylvania, Allegheny County, you see historic rates of voter engagement and turnout because we take the time to engage voters. We do need money to do that,” she said, while acknowledging the need for major campaign finance reform.
Her Republican challenger is James Hayes, a businessman from Pittsburgh’s Shadyside neighborhood, who announced his candidacy in April.
Held at the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers Union headquarters on Pittsburgh’s South Side, the freshman congresswoman played to a packed room of supporters, leaders from a veritable alphabet soup of labor unions, City of Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey (who also gave opening remarks) and numerous aspiring Allegheny County politicians including District Attorney nominee Matt Dugan and County Executive nominee Sara Innamorato.
Her host committee includes Pennsylvania’s U.S. Sens. Bob Casey, involved in his own reelection bid, and John Fetterman, along with politicians from Allegheny and Westmoreland counties.
“I believe we have elected people who care about people, who unapologetically care about working class people in Western Pennsylvania,” she said. “We have elected and made sure that we have a representative democracy so that nobody feels left behind anymore. That’s what this movement has been about.”
Fetterman, who was not in attendance at the event, sent a fundraising email to supporters Thursday evening asking them to support Lee.
“Summer made history last year when she became the first Black Congresswoman elected in Pennsylvania and beat out millions of dollars in corporate PAC spending against her,” Fetterman wrote. “But she didn’t let it slow her down one bit — she got to Washington and she’s been fighting for working class people day and night since taking office in January.”
Lee has been derided by some as being critical of Israel and speculation is rife that Bhavini Patel, a council member in Edgewood, a borough in the district, may challenge her in the primary. Patel briefly entered the race for the seat in 2022 before dropping out.
“They are attacking me,” she said, “[but] what they’re attacking are the values that we share – there are people who might say that they believe in unions, that they believe in labor, but they don’t believe in workers. They don’t believe in janitors and nurses and teachers. They don’t believe in fast food workers. They don’t believe in service workers. They don’t believe in black and poor workers. But then they say the words that they need to say so that they can get elected.
“We are voting for the future, not just the present. And we’re not voting for the past anymore. We are voting for the country that we are building, not the country that has existed in the past. We are building a movement right here in Western Pennsylvania that will change the shape of America. And we need you to stay in the game,” she said.
“We are thinking about 2024 But we’re playing in 2023.”
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