We tried to interview Summer Lee. Here’s what happened.
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2022 ElectionDistrict 12 race for the House

We tried to interview Summer Lee. Here’s what happened.

The Chronicle began reaching out to Lee's campaign last May to schedule an interview.

During the primary, Summer Lee spoke at a forum organized by the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh's Community Relations Council. (Photo by David Rullo)
During the primary, Summer Lee spoke at a forum organized by the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh's Community Relations Council. (Photo by David Rullo)

State Rep. Summer Lee is the Democratic nominee for Pennsylvania’s 12th District in the U.S. House of Representatives. Her campaign has not made her available for an interview with the Chronicle.

Following Lee’s primary win, the Chronicle reached out to her campaign via email six times (from May 25-July 26) requesting an interview and left two voicemails. We received no response.

On Sept. 30, I reached out via email again and received no response. On Oct. 3, I texted Lee’s campaign manager, Abigail Gardner, and told her that we would be running an interview with Mike Doyle in our Nov. 4 issue and would like to include an interview with Lee as well. Gardner replied, requesting to see the topics of the interview questions in advance and saying that she would “circle back” later in the week.

About an hour later, I sent Gardner the general topics to be discussed during the interview and told her that the interview would need to be conducted by Oct. 28 to be included in our Nov. 4 issue. I also offered to conduct the interview via Zoom for the convenience of Lee, and limit it to 20 minutes.

On Oct. 6, Gardner called me and asked if Lee could respond to written questions via email instead of being interviewed. I responded that I would do everything possible to accommodate Lee’s schedule, but that we were only interested in an actual interview at this time.

Gardner said that Lee wanted to answer questions via email so that she could be more deliberate in crafting her responses; furthermore, she was very busy and was receiving new requests for interviews every day. I asked that Gardner hold our place in the queue for an interview; Gardner said that she could not hold our place, as other requests coming in after ours might take precedence.

Gardner offered to make Lee available for an interview after the election, but said she would need to get back to me about whether we could interview her before the election. She did not get back to me.

I emailed Gardner on Oct. 12 and again on Oct. 24, asking if Lee was available and reminding her that the interview would need to be completed by Oct. 28 to be included in our Nov. 4 issue. She did not respond.

On Oct. 27, Chronicle Staff Writer David Rullo saw Lee at the commemoration event for the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, and asked her if she would like to comment on why she felt it important to be present at the event. She responded: “Of course, this is obviously such an important moment. I think it’s so important that we know that the rising tide of white supremacy — antisemitism, you know — as that rises, it’s so important that we stand in solidarity with our community, that they recognize that they’re not alone, that none of our communities are alone, that we’re going to stand together. Right? Unfortunately, a terrible event, not just for our Jewish community but Jewish history, for Pittsburgh and our greater community. Recognizing that we can never forget that and that we always make sure that we’re in this together and lockstep marching forward.”

In our Oct. 6 phone conversation, Gardner said that the Chronicle already had a chance to interview Lee before the primary at a town hall-style event in April. (See “Congressional hopeful Summer Lee meets Jewish voters,” April 8. ) That event, however, was sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s Community Relations Council, and the interviewer was CRC Director Laura Cherner. At the event, Cherner questioned Lee about her views on Israel, including whether she thought that Israel had a right to exist as a Jewish Democratic state. Lee said she did.

But Lee said she didn’t know if Israel was an apartheid state.

“I don’t necessarily know the answer to that,” she said. “I don’t know that I am as well-versed in the intricacies of this.”

Lee was also questioned at that event about two tweets she posted on May 14, 2021, in the midst of fighting in Israel and Gaza, in which she criticized U.S. politicians for using the refrain “Israel has the right to defend itself” in response “to undeniable atrocities on a marginalized pop.”

Lee said at that event that aid to Israel should be conditioned on progress for peace with the Palestinians. She also said that while she is not involved with the BDS movement against Israel, she is concerned by efforts to “criminalize a tactic that is rooted in peaceful protest.”

The Chronicle hoped to have Lee clarify some of those statements in an interview before the general election. We also wanted to ask her about her key issues of concern for our country, and how she intended to resolve them should she be elected.

Among Lee’s most ardent supporters are congressional “Squad” members, whom she has endorsed. Some of them, such as Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, have been publicly chastised for making antisemitic comments.

Fundraiser invitation

On Oct. 30, a fundraiser was held for Lee on Zoom titled “Summer with the Squad,” featuring Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar, Cori Bush, Rashida Tlaib and Jaamal Bowman. The event also featured Alexandra Rojas, executive director of Justice Democrats. Lee’s fundraiser event invitation read: “Summer cannot wait to fight alongside these changemakers.” PJC

Note: On Friday, Oct. 28, shortly before Shabbat, Lee’s campaign emailed the Chronicle a few written statements, ostensibly in response to the general interview topics I sent to Gardner on Oct. 3. The Chronicle will not be publishing those statements for the following reasons: I made clear to Gardner that we were only interested in live interviews with the candidates; the topics to which she responded were broad, while the questions I intended to ask Lee were more specific; providing us with prepared statements did not allow for follow-up questioning; and, her opponent was neither provided with topics in advance nor given the option of crafting written statements to the Chronicle. Lee’s positions on various issues can be found at summerforpa.com/home. 

Toby Tabachnick can be reached at
ttabachnick@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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