Why is a Chicago congressman's dream -- to restore and build affordable housing in one of the state's poorest neighborhoods -- coming under serious fire? Does he deserve this criticism? It's not what Bobby Rush is doing, but how he's getting money to do it. I talked with him recently, in depth, and he made no apologies.
"I'm not going to forget why I was elected. I'm not going to forget who elected me," Rush explains. "These folks want me to bring dollars in, no matter where it comes from, as long it's legal and as long as it's ethical and as long as it's moral. That's what I'm going to do."
What he's done is buy the Beloved Community Christian Church, at 64th and Harvard, to be the centerpiece of his master plan. He used campaign contributions to help.
Last year, Rush skipped his own home mortgage payments to keep the church afloat; nearly losing this brownstone, and a summer home, in the process.
"I can identify with most Americans because I know what it means to be late on a mortgage, okay?" says Rush.
His family has sacrificed, too. His brother and sister co-signed church loans, and later found themselves in bankruptcy court.
Suppelsa: Is it worth it, though, to put yourself and your family to the tune of $700,000 --
Rush: Oh sure.
Suppelsa: To the brink of --
Suppelsa: Financial ruin?
Rush: Absolutely. I have faith.
He must have faith. He hopes to build 550 affordable homes around his church, and has other pet projects focusing on healthcare, troubled teens, and education. He's so involved, in so many areas, that some other community leaders say: he's shutting them out. The congressman's groups collect more than a million dollars a year in government grants and big money from big business.
Suppelsa: If you were Rev. Bobby Rush and not Congressman Bobby Rush, would AT&T, JPMorgan Chase, companies that have stepped forward to donate to your Englewood project... would they step forward with that kind of money?
Rush: Well, I don't know. I think that they do, in a lot of different areas.
Suppelsa: But how does it look?
Rush: To me and to the people who live in Englewood and for folks who are suffering, it looks awfully good! Okay? That's the only thing that really concerns me.
Suppelsa: Do you see where it looks like a potential conflict?
Rush: No, no.
But a recent Sun-Times editorial said yes, stating "Bobby Rush will have to decide whether he will legislate or solicit funding for his projects. He can't have it both ways."
"Who says that? Who says that?" Rush asked in response. "I got to do both things, notwithstanding what the sun-times say. I got to legislate and I got to advocate. And I'm going to do both of 'em and I'm gonna do them well, to the best of my ability."
"The problem, the real foundation for the decline in communities like Englewood occurred some 40, 45 years ago, when a private corporation, US Steel, decided to move out of Chicago," Rush explains. "Look at how much money the city gave Boeing just to locate here. It's done all the time! They can do it for corporate survival. Why can't we do it for community revival? It doesn't make sense."
Congressman Rush hopes to break ground on his affordable housing project this month. His non-profit has spent the last six years buying land from the city, at a dollar a lot. We'll keep you posted.
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