Voters in Pennsylvania’s 13th congressional district won’t get any say in who replaces U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz in the House of Representatives until May 20, 2014 — the date of the state’s Democratic primary. But the four major contenders are already locked in an intense fundraising battle, together taking in a little more than $1 million between April and June.
It appears that no one has a lock on Jewish support, with Valerie Arkoosh, State Rep. Brendan Boyle, State Sen. Daylin Leach and former U.S. Rep. Marjorie Margolies each receiving donations from notable Jewish political insiders.
With two Jewish candidates in the race — Leach and Margolies — for a rare open seat in Congress, the contest is sure to spark Jewish interest outside the district as well.
“It is certainly one of the most interesting primaries, not only in the region, but in the country,” said Michael Bronstein, a Philadelphia-based political consultant who is not working on this race. “The people in this district are going to know that this race is going on.”
The race holds a particular Jewish interest for another reason: The current office holder, Schwartz — who was first elected to the House in 2004 — is both the only Jew and only woman serving in Pennsylvania’s delegation in Washington.
She has steadily climbed through the ranks and was likely poised for a House Democratic leadership position when she surprised many political observers in being the first declared candidate to challenge Republican Gov. Tom Corbett — who is viewed as highly vulnerable.
The district encompasses parts of Eastern Montgomery County and Northeast Philadelphia — which each have sizable Jewish populations. The race could ultimately prove a match of political muscle between the city and the suburbs. Boyle, who is from Northeast Philadelphia, has a very different base of support than the other three, according to observers.
“One of the aspects of this race that makes it so interesting is the open question of if it will be won or lost because of a dominant regional base vote in one of the counties or if there will be any ideological divisions that come out during the course of the race,” Bronstein said.
The primary will surely determine who ultimately wins the seat. The district has been solidly Democratic for a decade and became even more so following the latest round of congressional redistricting.
So far, no Republican has entered the race. The Daily News reported in May that Marina Kats, a Jewish lawyer born in Ukraine who lost big to Schwartz in 2008, was considering another run.
Reached at her office, Kats said she has formed a committee and is weighing whether or not to officially enter. But she also acknowledged that a Republican would be a heavy underdog in the district.
It’s nearly impossible to determine an exact figure for Jewish donations to the candidates; that would require speaking to every one of the hundreds of donors to the race and confirming their religious identity. But on the Federal Election Commission site (www.fec.gov ), one can look for Jewish-sounding names, or names that are well known in political circles, to get an early sense of where the chips are falling in an era when big money is needed to run a competitive congressional campaign.
Federal campaign finance rules limit individual contributions to $5,200 per election cycle. Though the entire amount can be given at once, campaigns can only use up to half for the primary election.
To be sure, giving money to a particular candidate, especially early in the cycle, doesn’t necessarily mean full-fledged support. Giving donations happens for all kinds of reasons, including personal connections, returning political favors and identifying with a candidate’s stance on a particular issue. One politically well-connected Boyle donor conceded off the record that he was still undecided who would benefit from his active fundraising as the election gets closer.
Still, an unscientific analysis of FEC-listed donations to all the candidates provides some insight into how Jewish support is lining up at this point in the race.
Leach, 52, has been described as the most liberal lawmaker in Harrisburg. He is a member of the pro-Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and sometimes attends its policy conferences.
He led the second quarter fundraising efforts, taking in $357,590 in donations, according to his filings with the FEC. After his spending for the same period, he was left with $277,000.
He appears to hold a plurality of Jewish financial support among well-known political insiders and rank-and-file donors. Asked to identify some Jewish donors, Leach’s campaign provided the Jewish Exponent a list of 79 Jewish contributors, totaling $73,799 in donations.
Aren Platt, a campaign spokesman, said the campaign had identified more than 190 Jewish donors, but is only required to publicly disclose those donors who gave more than $200.
His notable local Jewish donors include real estate developer Ronald Kaiserman; retired Pennsylvania Superior Court Judge Phyllis Beck; venture capitalist and Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia board member Wayne Kimmel; Shanin Specter, son of the late U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter; and communications consultant and Democratic activist Betsy Sheerr.
Bonnie Squires, a communications consultant with deep ties to the Democratic Party, said she’s supporting Leach because he has been a leader on issues such as support for gay marriage and funding for public education.
“I love Marjorie, I have known her forever,” said Squires. “It is just surprising that, all of a sudden, she wanted to run for that seat again. Daylin has been steadily building toward this race.”
Margolies, 71, a journalist-turned-politician who held the seat from 1993 to the end of 1994, made a big splash when she entered the race. She is a longtime member of Har Zion Temple, where her sons Marc and Andrew — two of her 11 children — had their Bar Mitzvahs and were later confirmed. She first visited Israel in 1964 and volunteered on Kibbutz Kfar Giladi.
It was assumed that the mother-in-law of Chelsea Clinton could count on Bill and Hillary Clinton to help bring in big donors. But so far, Margolies is trailing the other candidates; she actually finished last for the second quarter, raising $185,345. After expenses, that’s left her with $159,966.
Margolies, who in 1998 founded an organization devoted to women’s political advancement around the world, had far more out-of-state donors than Leach. But she also received contributions from notable local Jewish donors, including Marcel Groen, who chairs the Montgomery County Democratic Committee; former mayoral candidate Sam Katz; Connie Smukler; and Joan Specter, a former City Council member and widow of Arlen Specter. The campaign declined to specifically highlight any Jewish supporters.
Katz said he has “known and admired Marjorie for many years. Her public service, in this community and around the world, has singled her out as a great leader and a compassionate person.”
Despite his contribution to Margolies’ campaign, Groen declined to say if he was endorsing a particular candidate yet.
“I think it’s still early in this race. The primary isn’t for another nine months,” he said. “No one has really focused on it. All the candidates are working hard. We’ll see how it looks after this year’s elections.”
Boyle, the youngest candidate in the race at 38, is the only contender from the city. He lives in Northeast Philadelphia, where most of his political backing comes from. The centrist has the support of more than a dozen unions, as well as U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, the powerful head of Philadelphia’s Democratic Party.
Boyle ranked second in contributions in the last quarter, taking in $252,727. After spending, he was left with $224,661 in his campaign war chest. Since being elected to the state House in 2008, he’s taken up causes important to the Jewish community. He’s pushed for legislation that would mandate Holocaust education and, in his first act in office, he introduced a resolution expressing solidarity with Israel. He and Leach traveled together to the Jewish state earlier this year on a trip sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.
His campaign provided a list of 17 names that it said represented some of the candidate’s Jewish donors.
Boyle’s notable Jewish contributors are mostly city-based and include Philadelphia City Controller Alan Butkovitz; former State Rep. Babette Josephs; attorney and American Jewish Committee board member David Hyman; and Joel Greenberg, a principal in a financial services firm and a philanthropist who supports pro-Israel activity and school choice.
Butkovitz said choosing someone to support was difficult because he considers all four candidates as friends.
“Boyle worked very hard for me in my recent primary election. He is very young and energetic,” he said. “He’s an extremely strong grass-roots politician. He’s been a very strong supporter of mine.”
Chuck Feldman, a Northeast Philadelphia resident who has been active in Democratic politics for decades, first volunteered for the politician during Boyle’s losing 2004 campaign for state representative. Feldman, who is president of the Holocaust Awareness Museum at the Klein JCC, said he’s been impressed by Boyle’s commitment to Holocaust education and Israel.
“It would be naive to think that people of all ethnic backgrounds don’t consider ethnicity when they vote,” said Feldman. “I think he will get a very healthy percentage of the Jewish vote despite that there are two other candidates in the race who are Jewish.”
The least-known candidate in the field is Arkoosh, 52, but she has impressed observers with her fundraising thus far. She raised $285,298 for the second quarter — second to Leach — and currently has the most total cash on hand with $459,665.
The physician and University of Pennsylvania professor has little direct political experience but has been a prominent health care advocate and has been widely quoted in the media. She is married to Jeff Harbison, who served as treasurer during Schwartz’s House campaign and is widely considered a protege of Schwartz, though the congresswoman has said she doesn’t plan to endorse in the race.
Arkoosh’s fundraising network includes a number of individuals connected to Penn. Her most prominent Jewish donor at this point appears to be Peter Buttenweiser, an early supporter of President Barack Obama in his first presidential campaign.
Michele Weiner Lockman, an educator from Springfield Township who is active in Old York Road Temple-Beth Am in Abington, said the minute she heard Arkoosh was running for office, she knew she’d be doing all she could — from volunteering to hosting a fundraiser at her home — to help Arkoosh win.
“I also really feel it’s time we get a woman physician in Congress,” Lockman said, asserting that Arkoosh would make the best representative for both women and families in Congress. Still, she’s not taking anything away from Arkoosh’s opponents.
Echoing the view of many interviewed, she said, “I am impressed with the Democrats having such great candidates.”