Raised in a Catholic home before she converted to Judaism, Maria McLaughlin said her new faith is one reason she’s heading to Pennsylvania Superior Court in 2018, where one of her Commonwealth Court colleagues will be fellow Jew Ellen Ceisler.
They’re just two of several newly elected officials with some kind of Jewish connection, including the next Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, whose father was a secular Jew.
New Court of Common Pleas judges Vikki Kristiansson, Zac Shaffer and Mark Cohen were victorious, as was Rebecca Rhynhart, who garnered 82.77 percent of the vote for city controller.
For McLaughlin, though, what was most meaningful was connecting with so many people just like her.
“I’m relatable to a lot of people because my story is the same as theirs,” said McLaughlin, the wife of former City Controller Jonathan Saidel. “I came from humble beginnings.”
That’s where her newfound faith helped.
“It’s a very important part of my life,” said McLaughlin, a member of Congregation Mikveh Israel, who counts two aunts who are nuns. ”The Jewish faith gives you a lot of strength when you’re campaigning statewide. My Jewish community and my friends have been amazing to me. So what better place to ask for strength? My husband is Jewish, although I didn’t convert for him.
“If he’d asked me I wouldn’t have. I did it because I wanted to.”
McLaughlin got the most votes among the four victorious Democratic candidates, with 21.8 percent, Jules Mermelstein, running on the Green Party ticket, trailed the field with 1.27 percent.
Those numbers pale to the margin Krasner won by over Republican Beth Grossman. He won nearly 75 percent of the vote, which he conceded was due largely to Philadelphia’s heavily Democratic electorate.
“In fairness to Ms. Grossman, it certainly matters the registration is seven to one Democrats,” said Krasner, who ran on a campaign that will try to do away with the death penalty and mass incarcerations. “But it is fair to say this enormous outpouring of votes and being the first winning DA candidate of any kind in recent history in Philadelphia to have more than 100,000 people vote for him is owing more to the reality we had a message that resonated and the messenger was viewed as credible.”
For Grossman, though, there was nothing but gratitude to her campaign staff and supporters.
“I’m certainly aware of the numbers, but I know there was a crossover from Democrats and am most appreciative of that, because people listened to me and looked beyond the party level,” Grossman said.
She thanked her mentor and past boss, former DA Lynne Abraham, one of those who crossed party lines to lend support, while making it clear her Jewish identity remains as strong as ever.
“I certainly hope I made the Jewish community proud,” the 49-year-old Grossman said. “I’m proud to be a fourth-generation Philadelphian from South Philly and the Far Northeast and proud to be a fourth-generation Jew.”
As for what she plans to do next, Grossman isn’t sure.
“I’ll look for something else,” she said. “What that is I don’t know. But the first thing I really have to do is clean my house.”
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