Robert “Heshy” Bucholz’s story has gotten a lot of national media coverage in the past few days. The news? Bucholz, a 39-year-old engineer, became the first person in 157 years to win elected office in Philadelphia as a member of the Whig Party.
What hasn't been reported is the fact that Bucholz, elected a judge of elections, is an active member of the Orthodox community in Northeast Philadelphia and a gabbai at Congregation Beth Medrash Harav B’nai Jacob, a Rhawnhurst-area synagogue. And that his wife, Dinah, a cookbook author, was elected to serve under him. But she’s a Republican.
“We don’t share politics. It makes for interesting dinner conversation,” said the father of four who won his seat on Election Day with a grand total of 36 votes. As a judge of elections, he’ll be responsible for overseeing a single polling station on the next four Election Days. If someone comes to his site and isn’t listed as registered, he’ll have the final say over whether and how that person can cast a ballot.
To put it in perspective, he’ll be one of 1,600 judges of elections in Philadelphia — but the only one affiliated with a party that disbanded in 1860 and briefly counted Abraham Lincoln as a member.
“Being part of a third party is always pretty hard,” Bucholz said. “Most electoral laws are stacked against third parties.”
He managed to win by a margin of 12 votes by going door to door in the neighborhood. Most people, he said, didn’t even realize it was Election Day. So he even volunteered to watch the children of several neighbors while they went out to vote — presumably for him.
The native of Brooklyn, N.Y., who moved to the area 11 years ago, said he’s never been enamored of the Democratic or the Republican parties. Several years ago, he came across the website of the Modern Whig Party, which claims 30,000 members across the country.
It’s a nod to the historic Whig Party, which arose in the 1830s in opposition to the policies of President Andrew Johnson, a Democrat. The party managed to get two candidates elected president: William Henry Harrison and Zachary Taylor. Two others from the party, John Tyler and Millard Filmore, ascended to the presidency after Harrison and Taylor, respectively, died in office.
Bucholz wasn’t enticed by history, but by the Modern Whig Party’s presentation of itself as a centrist and pragmatic alterative to today’s political polarization. The current group was founded in 2007 by military veterans.
The party’s platform focuses on fiscal responsibility, a strong national defense, increased state’s rights and liberal attitudes on social issues. According to its website, the Whigs are “a pragmatic, common-sense, centrist-oriented party where rational solutions trump ideology and integrity trumps impunity." The party actually ran a candidate for president, T.J. O’Hara, in the 2012 election.
Bucholz sees Washington as “hopelessly gridlocked” and might be beyond saving, but he thinks local government can be made to work more efficiently. He decided to run for the position — which pays $100 for one day’s work a year — in part because of the controversial voter ID law, which still hasn’t taken effect.
Though he’s not necessarily a fan of the law — it requires all voters to show photo identification before being allowed to vote — he was bothered by the fact that some election officials publicly said they wouldn’t enforce it. A public official, he said, has a duty to follow the law or resign.
Asked if his Jewish observance has informed his out-of-the box political affiliation, he said he’d never considered the question.
“I do come from a point of view. I am a product of my environment and my heritage. But I really haven’t thought about how I separate” religion and politics, he said.
Since he’s neither a Democrat nor a Republican, he said he’ll be a fair arbiter of elections and doesn’t have a dog in any local fights.
Bucholz’s wife, the author of The Harry Potter Cookbook, never considered running for office. But several college-aged Republicans knocked on her door one day and said they couldn’t find any Republicans to run for the post of inspector of elections in her neighborhood. (Two inspectors are elected to serve under the judge of elections at each polling place; this husband and wife will be at the same spot come Election Day 2014.)
She won, thanks in part to her husband’s campaigning.
She said the fact that he’s representing a party associated with the 19th century is “hilarious.”
“I wasn’t sure anyone would vote for him,” she said. “The whole thing is awesome. We certainly weren’t expecting this kind of publicity.”
Bucholz said he’s “under no illusions” that he’s started a third-party revolution that will upend America’s entrenched two-party system. “I am not running to have a Whig in the White House,” he said. “It is not going to happen anytime soon.”