Two days after winning a hotly contested New Jersey congressional seat, John Adler, a Democratic state senator, managed to squeeze in a workout at his gym at the Betty & Milton Katz Jewish Community Center in Cherry Hill, N.J.
Adler recalled that, while at the gym, a man in his 50s came up to congratulate him. When Adler asked how he was doing, the man replied that he'd just been laid off from the job he'd held for 12 years, a sobering reminder to the new senator of the difficult economic times -- and the immense challenges and expectations -- that the Democratic Congress and President-elect Barack Obama will face come January.
"There are hundreds of thousands of people who have lost their jobs. Things are getting worse, rather than better, right now. These are very tough times for America," said Adler, who went on to joke that he'd asked several lawmakers to see if they couldn't solve the financial crisis before he takes office.
Adler said he plans to spend his first term focusing on the concerns of middle-class families and those of retirees. The 49-year-old also said that, while a full overhaul of the health-care system may be difficult to achieve in the next few years, he does think Congress and the president will be able to pass a law to ensure that all American children are covered.
Adler defeated Medford, N.J., Mayor Chris Myers by about 10,000 votes, 52 percent to 48 percent, and will succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Jim Saxton (R-N.J.) to represent the state's 3rd Congressional District, which stretches from the Delaware River to the Atlantic Ocean. It's been more than a century since a Democrat represented this slice of South Jersey.
He'll be one of 31 Jewish House members serving in the 111th Congress; there will also be 12 Jewish members of the Senate.
The race with Myers was considered one of the most-competitive in the region, but Adler utilized a substantial fundraising advantage to flood the airwaves with ads that likened Myers' economic policies to those of President George W. Bush. After the election, Adler said that his opponent put forth some good ideas on health-care policy and said he would consult with his former rival.
This race was the Harvard-trained lawyer's second shot at Congress. Back in 1990 -- two years before he was elected to serve in the state Senate -- Adler made an unsuccessful bid to unseat Saxton.
"I was a different guy," said Adler, "that had one child and all his hair, and I hadn't served in the state Senate and didn't really know the problems that middle-aged people go through."
A New Commute
Adler and his wife have four sons, age 19 to 7. He said he has no plans to relocate and expects to commute to Washington via Amtrak. (He quipped that even if Vice President-elect Joe Biden -- an Amtrak regular while in the Senate -- ever did ride the train to D.C., the Secret Service probably wouldn't let Adler sit with him.)
Adler noted that he has already accepted an invitation to go to Israel with other freshman lawmakers on a trip sponsored by the American Israel Education Foundation, the nonprofit arm of the powerful lobbying group, AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee). A date has yet to be set.
He first visited Israel in 2002, during the height of the second intifada.
The longtime member of Temple Emanuel in Cherry Hill was actually raised in the Episcopal Church. He converted to Judaism in 1985, four months shy of his wedding. "I found my home in Reform Judaism," noted Adler.