Jewish Republicans and many local pro-Israel advocates said they were stunned and disappointed by the surprise announcement that U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach, a Republican from Chester County, won’t be seeking re-election.
The 58-year-old, six-term congressman was considered a pro-Israel stalwart. He was a frequent target of Democrats and had survived several close contests that drew national attention to the Pennsylvania suburbs.
“The news that Jim Gerlach is leaving is a tremendous loss to the Southeast Pennsylvania congressional delegation,” said Robin Schatz, director of government affairs for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.
Gerlach has “always been great on Israel,” Schatz said, but he’s also been open to Federation’s concerns on a range of social issues, even if he hasn’t always backed the organization’s stance. She cited Gerlach’s vote in September to cut $40 billion from the federal food stamp program as an example where Gerlach heard the organized Jewish community’s concerns but ultimately voted the other way.
In a prepared statement released Monday, Gerlach, who previously spent 12 years in the Pennsylvania General Assembly, said: “It is simply time for me to move on to new challenges and to spend more time with my wife and family, who have been extremely supportive and have made significant sacrifices during my tenure in public office.”
Gerlach’s planned departure follows on the heels of U.S. Rep. Jon Runyan’s (R-N.J.) announcement several months ago that he also won’t be seeking re-election. Both Gerlach and Runyan have expressed frustration with the current state of gridlock in Washington.
First elected to Congress in 2002, Gerlach has been considered a go-to lawmaker on issues related to Israel. Just this past week, Gerlach called for American funding to the Palestinian Authority to be halted until a reported stipend program the authority has used for convicted terrorists is ended.
For his efforts, Gerlach got a shout-out from the Zionist Organization of America.
Scott Feigelstein, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition’s Philadelphia chapter, said “It is very disappointing to see someone as talented and as effective as Jim” leave public service.
On the other hand, Democratic activist Betsy Sheerr said “no tears were being shed” over Gerlach’s exit. David Broida, a Democrat from the Main Line, said that while he may have sometimes reached across the aisle, Gerlach was a reliable Republican vote.
Gerlach first traveled to the Jewish state in 2005 on an RJC trip led by Philadelphia lawyer Steven Friedman. He returned on an official congressional trip.
In June 2006, in a tough re-election year, he caused a controversy by hosting a public program in Ardmore with Danny Ayalon, then Israel’s ambassador to the United States.
Though it was done under the auspices of his congressional office and was not a campaign event, many Democrats, including his opponent, Lois Murphy, said the program appeared to be an endorsement of Gerlach.
Gerlach, whose district used to include the Jewish enclave of Lower Merion but no longer does, briefly ran for governor in 2010. But he dropped out of the race and ran for another term in the House.
The district is still considered competitive and, with Gerlach’s departure, Democrats see a new opening. One declared candidate is Michael Parrish, the 49-year-old CEO of a financial services firm.