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May 14, 2014 By:
Striving to Move From Communal Activist to State Lawmaker
Two Democratic contenders for separate seats in the Pennsylvania legislature are names that might look familiar to people involved in Jewish communal work.
Brian Gralnick, director of the Center for Social Responsibility at the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and a past president of the Jewish Social Policy Action Network, is running for State Senate in the 4th District, which covers Montgomery County and parts of Philadelphia.
Marian Moskowitz, who served on the Federation’s boards in the late 90s and early 2000s and has been active in developing Jewish communal life in Chester County, is seeking to represent the 157th District in the State House.
It’s not uncommon to have Jewish candidates running for office in those districts — in each case, the person who held office before the incumbent was Jewish — but it is rare, say longtime observers, to have people so actively involved in Jewish nonprofit organizations — with Gralnick as a professional, Moskowitz as a lay person.
“My experiences with the Jewish community and the impact that my work had on seniors and on women and on people trying to become self-sufficient is something we are talking a lot about,” said Gralnick, who took a leave of absence from his Federation post to run for office.
For her part, Moskowitz said, “My husband always reminds me that my first real entrée into community service was as the chair of the board of Jewish Federation of Chester County.” She has since gone on to serve on the board of directors of the Chester County Economic Development Council and is a board member of the Israeli Guide Dog School, which has an office in Bucks County.
While there are commonalities in their backgrounds, the two races look very different.
There is much more intrigue surrounding Gralnick’s race, where he faces two challengers in the May 20 Democratic primary.
Moskowitz, meanwhile, saw her Democratic primary challenger, Jed Grobstein, a teacher from Paoli, drop out shortly after she announced her candidacy in February. Her name will still appear on the Democratic primary ballot and she will canvas at polling places in preparation for the general election in November against State Rep. Warren Kampf, a Republican seeking his third term.
Much has changed since Gralnick entered the race in March. The incumbent, State Sen. LeAnna Washington, has been charged with misusing as much as $100,000 in state funds to plan and promote annual campaign birthday fundraisers. And Art Haywood, a public interest lawyer who has served on Cheltenham Township's Board of Commissioners since 2009, entered the race shortly after Gralnick.
The Philadelphia Inquirer endorsed Haywood in the race, saying “his thoughtful approach to problem-solving and willingness to transcend party labels for the public’s benefit are needed.” But the newspaper also described Gralnick as “an encyclopedia of possible solutions to the district’s problems.”
The race, some observers said, could be decided by who is better able to reach across racial and geographical boundaries, with the district including Montgomery County, with a sizable Jewish population as well as largely African-American neighborhoods in Philadelphia.
Haywood serves on the board of Cheltenham Academics, a community voluntary program, with Rabbi Seymour Rosenbloom of Congregation Adath Jeshurun. He said he has great familiarity with the district, having lived in both Germantown and Cheltenham. Haywood says he believes he is the candidate “most capable of bringing Philadelphia and Montgomery County together towards a common end.”
Gralnick, though his work with Federation and JSPAN, has spent significant time on issues affecting the poor and the elderly. For example, he fought against Gov. Tom Corbett’s plan to reintroduce an asset test to determine who is eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as the food stamp program.
Gralnick said he is running because “it’s a way that I can have a much bigger impact on issues I care about related to older adults and working families.”
Washington’s campaign office did not return calls seeking comment on the race.
Moskowitz, the owner of Franklin Commons, a converted industrial building in Phoenixville that now houses a preschool, a K-12 school and college programs, emphasized how important improving the state’s education system is to her.
“I just see how the funding cuts have affected schools and students from pre-K on up,” said Moskowitz, who has six children, one of whom is a journalist in Israel. She is also helping to organize a new Federation-funded initiative to promote neighborhood programming in Chester County.
Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro described her as the “strongest challenger statewide” to any Republican incumbent.
Moskowitz criticized Kampf for supporting Corbett’s cuts to education funding, a charge he denied in an interview, describing himself as a “voice for increasing K-12 education funding” from Corbett’s initial proposal during last year’s budget negotiations.
On Corbett, Kampf said, “There are some things that we’re going to see eye to eye on and others that we’re not.”