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Counting Jews in Local Elections

November 10, 2011 By:
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State Rep. Josh Shapiro,(D-District 153) and Whitemarsh Township Supervisor Leslie Richards captured the majority on the three-member Montgomery County Board of commissioner. Photo by Bonnie Squires

 

Montgomery County, the area with the highest percentage of Jewish residents in the Keystone State, will now have two Jewish commissioners to help run it.
 
State Rep. Josh Shapiro,(D-District 153) and Whitemarsh Township Supervisor Leslie Richards captured the majority on the three-member Montgomery County Board of commissioner.
Photo by Bonnie Squires
 
That's just one of several Jewish results from this year's decidedly local election season.
 
Running mates State Rep. Josh Shapiro (D-District 153) and Whitemarsh Township Supervisor Leslie Richards captured the majority on the three-member Montgomery County Board of commissioners in Tuesday's election.
 
The result means that Democrats will hold a majority on the board for the first time in more than a century and provides some encouragement that the local party will be in good shape come 2012. The suburban Philadelphia county, the wealthiest in the state, is sure to be heavily contested in next year's presidential race.
 
Republican incumbent Bruce Castor will remain on the board and serve in the minority. His running mate, Lower Merion Township Commissioner Jenny Brown, did not win a seat.
 
Shapiro, a graduate of Akiba Hebrew Academy, earned the most votes in the race, with more than 88,000. Brown, who drew the least support, had 75,000.
 
Richards, a longtime Hadassah member whose husband is the president of Beth Tikvah B'nai Jeshurun synagogue in Erdenheim, said the victory was a historic one for her party.
 
"I think that it means that the county is ready for commissioners who are open for all ideas and just a real common-sense approach to county government," Richards said, adding that she thinks it's the first time two Jews have ever served as county commissioners.
 
In Philadelphia, Mayor Michael Nutter won a second term against Republican Karen Brown, a little-known candidate. The mayor, who has been popular in the Jewish community, garnered about 75 percent in what was a low-turnout race. Nutter faces daunting problems, including a school district that appears to be in disarray.
 
One of the lesser-known stories with a Jewish twist to come out of Election Day 2011 centers around the little-known offices of city commissioner. The three-member board oversees elections in Philadelphia and has long been considered the personal fiefdom of its longtime chairwoman, Margaret Tartaglione, a Democrat.
 
But Tartaglione lost her primary earlier this year to Democrat Stephanie Singer, a Center City resident and former math professor. That left Singer, who is Jewish, an easy path to a general election victory. It's not clear whether she or fellow Democrat Anthony Clark, a one-term incumbent, will be elected the next president of the board.
 
On the Republican side, Al Schmidt, who is determined to make the GOP more competitive in the city, won a major victory against the party establishment by knocking off its preferred candidate, Joseph Duda, for the city commissioner board.
 
Schmidt, who is not Jewish, researched the German occupation of Bavaria and the consequences for the local Jewish population during World War II while pursuing a history Ph.D. at Brandeis University.
 
He has said that he first became interested in Jewish history and philosophy while a student at Allegheny College. Schmidt later served as a policy analyst for the Presidential Commission on Holocaust Assets in the United States.
 
Back in the burbs, five Democratic commissioners in Lower Merion Township, which has a large Jewish population, held off challenges from five Republicans, four of whom were Jewish.
 
In the Montgomery County commissioners' race, in which both sides spent a few million in television advertising, the victory should spell a major career move for Shapiro. He has been considered a rising star in the Democratic Party.
 
He was elected to Pennsylvania's General Assembly in his early 30s and rose to prominence in 2006 by devising a compromise plan for a deadlocked legislature to choose a speaker. In 2008, he was one of the earliest elected officials in the state to endorse Barack Obama and was his chief proponent within a sometimes-skeptical Jewish community.
 
But he at times angered leaders of his own party and appeared destined to remain a rank-and-file lawmaker for the foreseeable future. He had quietly discussed the prospects of challenging Arlen Specter for his Senate seat but he quickly abandoned plans to run when Specter switched parties. (Specter lost a Democratic primary to Joe Sestak, who, in turn, lost the general election in 2010 to Republican Pat Toomey.)
 
Shapiro won't have a statewide bully pulpit with his new post. But he said that this position represents a step up because he'll now represent 800,000 people and oversee a budget of about $400 million a year. The Abington resident also has said that he's looking forward to less traveling and seeing his four children more often.

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