Democratic candidates in the 13th congressional district race have each expressed strong support for Israel, but have varied positions on the now-collapsed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran.
While their views on domestic issues are getting wide play, the Jewish Exponent is focusing on some of the less well-known positions among the four Democrats and two Republicans vying to replace U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, a Democrat who is Pennsylvania’s only Jewish U.S. representative.
The district, which covers parts of Northeast Philadelphia and Montgomery County, including Elkins Park, has a sizable Jewish population. The winner of the May 20 Democratic primary is widely expected to win the general election in November since the district has been in Democratic control since 1999 and has become even more aligned with the party because of congressional redistricting in recent years.
Five of the six candidates vying to replace Schwartz, who is running for governor, participated in a forum on March 30 at Congregations of Shaare Shamayim.
Former U.S. Rep. Marjorie Margolies, who is Jewish, did not attend the forum but agreed to a follow-up interview with the Exponent. She served one term in Congress in the early ’90s — until a deciding vote in support of President Bill Clinton’s budget led to her ouster in the next election.
State Sen. Daylin Leach, who is also Jewish, has been described as the most liberal candidate in the race. He has been one of the loudest critics of Margolies, taking her to task for not participating in a number of the candidates’ debates and recently accusing her of violating campaign finance law.
Leach and state Rep. Brendan Boyle, who is also in the race, traveled to Israel last year on a trip sponsored by the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition and the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. Boyle, the only candidate from the Northeast rather than Montgomery County, proposed a bill in 2012 to make Holocaust education mandatory in Pennsylvania.
Valerie Arkoosh, a physician who served as president of a health care advocacy group, the National Physicians Alliance, is the only candidate not to have previously run for public office.
The two Republican candidates, Dee Adcock, who owns a swimming pool equipment company, and Beverly Plosa-Bowser, a retired Air Force colonel, face a significant challenge against whoever wins the Democratic primary, but Adcock did surprise some observers in a 2010 race against Schwartz, capturing 43.7 percent of the vote.
To find out where the candidates stand on some of the issues important to the Jewish community, we attended the Shaare Shamayim forum, followed their views expressed elsewhere and conducted follow-up interviews with the candidates. The following are excerpts of their positions, culled from the forum and interviews.
Do you support increasing the minimum wage?
Leach: “Let’s pretend it were true that the minimum wage increase would cost jobs. The fact is that paying workers anything costs jobs. Saying it costs jobs is not an argument against raising the minimum wage; it’s an argument against paying workers anything.”
“I would absolutely support an increase in the minimum wage even if it cost a few jobs” because the vast majority of people “would benefit and the economy would benefit.”
Arkoosh: “What we have to do is look at a much bigger picture. We have to look at things that make life affordable in our community: child care, paid family and medical leave.”
“So those are some of the policies that I support, not only getting that minimum wage up but a much broader inclusion of some of the other things we need to make sure our lives are affordable.”
Boyle: “New York, New Jersey, Maryland, they all have a higher minimum wage than we do in this state, so raising the minimum wage either at the state or federal level would not put us at an imbalance in any way with our neighbors.”
“If you raise the minimum wage to at least $10 an hour, automatically overnight, you lift 4.9 million working Americans out of poverty. I think that’s the most persuasive argument for raising the minimum wage that you could think of.”
Margolies: “I’d like to remove the politics and create a federal minimum wage that increases routinely, depending on our GDP. Because our working and middle classes deserve to be treated with fairness.”
Adcock: “The reality is, the social safety net is about $14 or $15 an hour, so we need to raise the minimum wage to $14 or $15 an hour, apparently. There’s a shocker coming from a Republican! But let me tell you the downside of this: Maybe some younger people at this table aren’t going to get jobs in the summertime.”
Plosa-Bowser: “I believe supporting a minimum wage increase is not a good idea for our economy. I support decreasing taxes.”
What should be done with regard to the problem of illegal immigration?
Arkoosh: “We do need to make sure our borders are secure but I think we’re spending so much money on walls and fences and people — I’ve seen very little data to say they actually work.”
Boyle: “I think for humane reasons we need to figure out a path to legalization — however, we have to do so in a way that doesn’t reward those who broke the law. We have to do so in a way that doesn’t reward those who jumped ahead of those who are waiting legally.”
Margolies: “A bill in the Senate has been passed” providing a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants that “makes sense.”
“Is there an easy way to address this? No, there isn’t. I don’t know what the legislation will look like, but we cannot throw all of these people out.”
Leach: “There are so many things wrong with our immigration system. It must be more humane, more intelligent and more cost-effective. We need to work very hard to make that happen.”
Adcock: “The first step isn’t to make them citizens but to have them provide documentation, not for deportation but we need to at least identify them, so they’re out of the shadows, and within a period of time, maybe we can produce a pathway to citizenship.”
Plosa-Bowser: “Our immigration laws do need to be changed. I do think we need to secure our borders better and that isn’t just the visible borders where fence lines are” but also at airports.
What can be done to protect senior citizens financially?
Margolies: “The first step in protecting senior citizens is protecting the institutions on which so many rely. Programs like Medicare and Social Security are vital to our seniors, and they need to be defended now more than ever. I’ll stand firm on not raising eligibility ages or slashing benefits.”
Leach: “We can lift the cap on the FICA tax,” which goes towards funding Social Security. The current limit is $113,000. “The FICA tax is the most regressive federal tax we have. We need to increase the benefits of Social Security, not cut them.”
Boyle and Arkoosh both also called for lifting the tax cap.
Boyle: “Let’s not fall into the trap of those who have been saying that we need to make these changes to Social Security, that we need to raise the retirement age, that we need to cut benefits in order to save it, the facts show otherwise.”
Arkoosh: On Medicare, “The Affordable Care Act has instituted a number of changes for how we as physicians deliver care that is starting to stabilize spending in that program and has improved the quality of care our seniors receive. That work is difficult and is going to need to go on for years, and I believe I’m absolutely the best candidate in this race to address those issues.”
Plosa-Bowser: “I believe that the biggest threat to elder care is Medicare fraud.”
“I do think the Social Security fund is tempting and has been inappropriately used by some of the folks down in Washington. They have new ideas and access to funds that they should be leaving alone.”
Adcock: “The system needs to be addressed. It’s not unreasonable to expect that we need to increase the age” at which you qualify for Social Security “a few more years.”
Do you agree with Secretary of State John Kerry’s criticisms of Israel for announcing new settlers’ housing and his apparent blaming of Israel for the collapse of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations?
Boyle: “I thought Secretary Kerry was wrong to blame Israel for the latest breakdown in the peace talks. Israel has shown time and time again it wants peace and security. When will there be a Palestinian leadership that is finally willing to be a partner for peace?”
Arkoosh: “Although the announcement of additional housing is not helpful, many observers of this process also ignore the reluctance of the Palestinians to recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people as well as their attempt to skirt negotiations and gain statehood by going elsewhere.”
Leach: “I don’t support Secretary Kerry. How can he say that both the Israelis and the Palestinians are equally to blame? This is a false moral equivalency and Kerry should know better. The fact is that the Israelis do not have a partner in peace in the Palestinians.”
At the forum — which occurred prior to the complete breakdown in talks — Leach was the only candidate to say President Barack Obama has been unfairly criticized by Republicans for his policy toward Israel, saying military cooperation between the countries is the closest it has ever been.
Margolies: On Kerry, “I don’t think that’s a wise thing to say. We can’t as a nation do anything that puts Israel” in a difficult position.
Both Republican candidates have expressed their disapproval of how the administration has handled the negotiations.
On the subject of nuclear negotiations with Iran, Arkoosh and Boyle both said they would have supported legislation proposed earlier this year by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) to increase sanctions against Iran but now support efforts to give the current negotiations a chance “We need to look for diplomatic solutions on Iran, but should also be prepared to impose hard-hitting sanctions if they do not bargain in good faith,” Boyle said.
Margolies said she is not sure whether she would have supported Menendez’s bill — there may have been information not made public that warranted its delay — but she thinks the current negotiations need to be given a chance.
Leach said he would not have supported the bill.
Adcock supports stronger sanctions, saying that a nuclear Iran would “probably be the end of Judaism on earth within a few generations.