In announcing that he was running for a seat in the U.S. Congress this week, State Sen. Daylin Leach of Upper Merion mentioned, unprompted, that he’s a Jewish American and a member of the pro-Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
The 51-year-old lawyer said that he didn’t have time to wait for the state’s lone Jewish member of Congress, U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, to officially announce she won’t seek re-election to her seat. Schwartz, who has represented the district that is roughly split between Northeast Philadelphia and Montgomery County, is widely expected to run for governor in 2014.
“When you run for Congress, there is an awful lot to do. You have to raise a lot of money, you have to reach out to 700,000 some people. It’s just a question of, we don’t have the time to sit around,” Leach said.
“I don’t know what Allyson’s timetable is. We have tried to be respectful of her process,” he said. “But I think she has been very clear in her public statements and in the actions she has taken.”
A source close to the congresswoman said that while Schwartz “plans to open a state-level gubernatorial account in the next few weeks, she has not yet made an official announcement. Schwartz has publicly acknowledged that she won’t run in both races.”
Leach, who has a decidedly non-Jewish sounding name, likes to supprise Jewish audiences by revealing that he’s a member of the tribe. He became a Bar Mitzvah at an Orthodox synagogue in Allentown. He also attended the Conservative Beth Sholom Congregation in Elkins Park for a time. Now Leach, who is married to an Armenian-American, says he identifies more closely with Reform Judaism.
In the media call announcing his candidacy on April 2, he said his early years in Northeast Philadelphia were difficult ones. His father had left his mother when Leach was an infant and she was forced to go on public assistance. The candidate spent time with several different foster families in Philadelphia before, at age 12, he reunited with his mother and moved to Allentown.
Leach, known as one of the most liberal members of the state Senate, said he was able to succeed by attending good public schools and by getting help from the government, and he wants to extend those opportunities to others. According to his campaign, Leach resides just “a few hundred yards” outside the boundaries of the district. He is not legally required to live in the district, though it could come up as an issue in the 2014 Democratic primary.
There’s been plenty of speculation about who would run for her Schwartz’s House seat if she seeks to run for governor. One possible contender is State Rep. Brendan Boyle, a 36-year-old from Northeast Philadelphia. Boyle and Leach both recently took part in a mission to Israel that was funded in part by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. It was the second time Leach went on a Federation-sponsored mission to the Jewish state.
“We would tease each other about it” on the trip, Leach said, regarding the fact that they might face one another.
Other Jewish names for Schwartz’s seat have been mentioned as well, including former Philadelphia Controller Jonathan Saidel, who still has a strong following in the Northeast. Some have pointed to Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro as a potential candidate: Though he hasn’t addressed his plans directly, reports have said he expects to serve a full term in his current office. Fellow commissioner Leslie Richards, also Jewish, has also been mentioned.
At least one other candidate, a non-office holder, is already in the race. Valerie Arkoosh, a Democratic health care activist and anesthesiologist and professor at the University of Pennsylvania, has filed papers to run.
“I don’t know who is ultimately going to run for this seat. I know just about all of them very well. They are all good people. They are all assets to our community,” Leach said. “I am not running against anybody. I am running for the issues that I care about.”