Brian Gralnick, the director of the Center for Social Responsibility at the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, has taken a leave of absence to run for the state Senate.
The Federation granted Gralnick a leave of absence in order to seek the Democratic nomination for the 4th District represented by state Sen. LeAnna Washington, which covers Northwestern Philadelphia and parts of Montgomery County.
“I really see an urgent need to bring more fairness and equality to Pennsylvania,” Gralnick said in a phone interview. “In my experience, there are too many seniors that are struggling, too many middle class families” who find it tough to make it financially “and too many LGBT community members that still face significant discrimination.”
The 34-year-old Elkins Park resident emphasized his roots in public service and nonprofit work. He also has strong connections to the Jewish community. In addition to his Federation post, he’s a regular at Jewish events throughout the city and served as a past president of the Jewish Social Policy Action Network, a group primarily focused on liberal domestic causes.
If he receives the party nomination during the primary in May — which would likely be a prelude to winning the general election in the largely Democratic district — Gralnick said he would like to continue working in the Jewish community but he doesn’t yet know in what form.
A Federation official said Gralnick had hoped to work for the center while campaigning but organization policies precluded him from doing so for fear of a conflict of interest.
“If he doesn’t win and his position is still open, we will welcome him back,” said the official, who asked not to be named. Sheva Cohen, a manager in the center, will serve as interim director.
As director of the center, which manages Federation support for social services for seniors and the disadvantaged, Gralnick has lobbied lawmakers to preserve funding for food stamp benefits and other safety net programs. Food stamp programs have faced increasing cuts over the past year, and last month President Barack Obama signed a farm bill into law that cuts $8.6 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
Gralnick waded into the public debate surrounding the reintroduction of a state asset test to determine eligibility for SNAP when he called into a local radio show interview with Gov. Tom Corbett in 2012, identified his job title and told the governor that many seniors wouldn’t have money to set aside for a funeral if they were forced to spend down their savings in order to receive needed food vouchers. The test was implemented in 2012.
“I want to see the state end hunger, quite frankly. I want to fight for more support for the Jewish Relief Agency and Mitzvah Food Project,” said Gralnick.
Washington, who spent 12 years in the state House before being elected to the state Senate in 2005, confirmed that she is seeking re-election. In October, the state Attorney General's Office conducted an investigation of her office seeking evidence related to campaign activity, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
Asked about the story, Washington said, “There is an investigation. I have not been charged.”
On her case for re-election, she said, “I’ve worked hard for Philadelphia and Montgomery County. I’ve brought resources back, got legislation passed and have relationships.”
Gralnick said his experience in nonprofits and Harrisburg would allow him to “provide top-notch constituent services.”
“I’m so ingrained in the social services and social welfare community,” he said.