Congressional Candidate Forum

Since 2006, Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El’s Men’s Club, Sisterhood and Israel Action Committee have jointly organized candidate forums to provide the community an opportunity to discuss issues with our Congressman and his challengers during each Congressional election.

This year we welcome the four Democratic candidates and one Republican candidate vying in the primary for Pennsylvania’s 2nd Congressional District.

  • 7:00-7:30: Dwight Evans (D) – Pennsylvania State Representative, 203rd district (Philadelphia), since 1980.
  • 7:35-8:05: Chaka Fattah (D) – Congressman, 2nd district (Philadelphia, Lower Merion, Narberth), since 1995.
  • 8:10-8:40: Brian Gordon (D) – Lower Merion Township Commissioner, 12th ward (Merion), since 2008.
  • 8:45-9:15: Dan Muroff (D) – Democratic Ward Leader, Philadelphia’s 9th ward
  • 9:20-9:50: James Jones (R) – businessman, ran for Congress in 2010

Please come and engage the candidates on the issues.

The forum is free and open to the community. Please tell us if you are interested in attending. (RSVP suggested but not required.)

Fattah in Israel, Calls for Commitment to Brain Research

פתאר-וגידרון.-1.-קרדיט-חן-גלילי

Fattah (right) with Dr. Rafi Gidron, leading Israeli entrepreneur and founder of Israel Brain Technologies. Photo by Chen Galilee.

Congressman Chaka Fattah (PA-02) joined leaders of brain initiatives around the world in Israel and stressed the need for more international collaboration as a means of making significant progress in developing new technologies and tools to explore and repair the human brain.

Speaking at Brain Tech 2015 in front of an audience of neuroscientists, entrepreneurs, government leaders and other stakeholders, Fattah reasserted his efforts to grow the U.S.’ commitment to brain research and neurotechnology:

Fifty million Americans have dementia and other brain illnesses. To gather together the minds that exist and see how we can tackle these ailments together, that is the work that is in front of us; to have a map of the human brain, an understanding of the roadways and an understanding of the traffic on the roadways.

The remarks came during the panel, “Global Meeting of the Minds: Brain Initiatives Around the World,” featuring Congressman Fattah and leaders from respective brain projects in the European Union, the United Kingdom, Israel and Canada.

The Israel visit and panel discussion are an extension of the Congressman’s continued efforts through the Fattah Neuroscience Initiative to build more partnerships between the U.S. BRAIN Initiative and other major brain initiatives around the world.

Also addressing the first day of the conference were Israel’s fomer president, Shimon Peres, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and autism activist Ron Suskind, and the chief scientist of the Ministry of Economy in Israel, Avi Hasson.

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Fattah and Gidron with Israel’s former president, Shimon Peres.

 

Jewish Population by Congressional District

Joshua Comenetz has broken down the American Jewish population by Congressional district.

Here are the local numbers:

District Representative Jews %
PA1 Robert Brady (D) 17,000 2.41%
PA2 Chaka Fattah (D) 36,000 5.10%
PA6 Jim Gerlach (R) 19,000 2.69%
PA7 Pat Meehan 36,000 5.10%
PA8 Mike Fitzpatrick (R) 44,000 6.24%
PA13 Allyson Schwartz (D) 63,000 8.93%
NJ1 Robert Andrews (D) 35,000 4.78%
DE John C. Carney, Jr. 15,100 1.68%

The estimate of the Jewish population in all Congressional Districts is 6,735,830, approximately 2.18% of the total U.S. population. This estimate is consistent with the 6.7 million Jewish persons reported in the 2013 Pew Research Center Portrait of Jewish Americans….

The American Jewish population is simultaneously more densely clustered geographically than the overall American population and very geographically diverse — at least a few Jews live in every one of the 436 CDs. Half of all American Jews live in just 37 CDs, and 93 CDs contain three-quarters of all Jews. In contrast, the 266 districts with the fewest Jews collectively have only 10% of the Jewish population. The most-Jewish district, New York’s 10th, has as many Jews (197,000) as the 170 least-Jewish CDs combined.

There are 13 CDs with 100,000 or more Jews, nine in New York and two each in California and Florida — the three states with the highest total Jewish populations. In general, the most-Jewish CDs are in the northeastern states, California, Florida, and a few other large urban areas such as Chicago and Atlanta. The least-Jewish CDs are mostly in the rural parts of southern states.

Pennsylvania’s 13th Congressional District has the most Jews in the state and is ranked 24th nationally while the 3rd, 5th and 9th District have only 1000 Jews.

Where is the Jewish vote the most decisive?

There are 27 Congressional Districts in which the Jewish population exceeded the margin of victory in the 2012 Congressional election. Heading the list is:

  • Illinois’ 10th Congressional District whose 76,500 Jews (10.73% of the population) is about 23 times the 3,326 vote margin by which Democratic challenger Brad Schneider defeated Republican incumbent Robert Dold.
  • Florida’s 32th Congressional District whose 32,000 Jews (4.60% of the population) is about 17 times the 1,904 vote margin by which Democratic challenger Patrick Murphy defeated Republican incumbent Allen West.
  • New York’s 11th Congressional District whose 129,000 Jews (17.97% of the population) is about 12 times the 10,688 vote margin by which Republican incumbent Michael Grimm defeated Democratic challenger Mark Murphy.

Runners up are NY-9 (6.95x), AZ-2 (6.93x), MA-6 (6.12x), NY-18 (5.19x), CA-52 (5.08x), NY-3 (3.45x), CT-5 (3.35x), CO-6 (3.29x), UT-4 (3.26x), CA-26 (3.03x), NY-1 (2.95x), FL-22 (2.73x), NY-6 (2.03x) and IL-13 (2.00x).

Voters Don’t Decide Who Wins; Map Drawers Do

Top: Republicans control 13 of Pennsylvania’s 18 Congressional Districts. Bottom: Alternative map, drawn by State Senator Daylin Leach, gives Democrats control of 13 districts.

Top: Republicans control 13 of Pennsylvania’s 18 Congressional Districts. Bottom: Alternative map, drawn by State Senator Daylin Leach, gives Democrats control of 13 districts.

As a democracy, we are proud of our electoral system: We assume that citizens, through their vote, wield the ultimate power over our government and determine who shall represent them.

However, this is not the case in reality. Rather, legislatures, through their redistricting authority, draw electoral maps specifically engineered to re-elect themselves and their colleagues.

In 2012, the majority of Pennsylvanians (50.24%) voted for Democratic candidates for Congress while 48.74% who voted for Republicans, and 1.02% who voted for other candidates.

However, Democratic candidates prevailed in only five of the 18 congressional districts: Bob Brady and Chaka Fattah in Philadelphia, Mike Doyle in Pittsburgh, Allyson Schwartz in the Philadelphia suburbs, and Matt Cartwright in northeastern Pennsylvania.

Was this simply a matter of luck?

Packing and Cracking

The district map was designed to pack as many democrats as possible into these five districts. Fattah, for example cruised to victory with 89.28% of the votes, versus 9.37% for Robert Mansfield and 1.35% for James Foster.

By forcing the Democratic voters to “waste” votes in districts where they are a super-majority, the Republican politicians are able to construct 13 districts with sensible Republican majorities.

Conversely, Democratic seats in other Democratic strongholds such as Harrisburg and the Pittsburgh suburbs were prevented by cracking those areas into pieces and diluting them with outlying areas that lean Republican.

In other words, voters do not choose the representatives who share their values; rather, the legislators wielding their pens choose the constituents whose support they can count on in the voting booth.

The rest of the article, and TED Talk by State Sen. Daylin Leach, follow the jump.
Since the redistricting process was controlled by Pennsylvania’s Republican governor, Tom Corbett, and the Republican majorities in the state House, State Senate and Legislative Reapportionment Commission, it is not surprising that the results are skewed in favor of the Republicans as far as mathematically and legally possible.

If Democrats Drew the Map

To illustrate how easily the results can be skewed in the opposite direction, Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach drew a map, which shows Democratic majorities in 13 congressional districts, and Republican majorities in the remaining five districts.

In other words, if the map had been different, the congressional election could have been completely reversed — 13-5 instead of 5-13 — without a single Pennsylvanian changing his vote. What a farce our elections have become!

In fact, one could draw an even more skewed map, with more homogeneous districts, giving Democrats small majorities in every single district, and leaving the Republicans with no representation at all.

Could it be argued that the Republican-skewed map was dictated by the rules and the demographics, rather than by political interests?

Both Leach’s map and the actual map feature contiguous districts almost equal in population. However, Leach’s map has more “compact” districts, whereas the actual map has districts which meander across the state in search of pockets of Democrats or Republicans as the case may be.

Furthermore, the Pennsylvania State Constitution requires legislative districts to avoid splitting counties, cities, towns, boroughs, townships and wards “unless absolutely necessary.” Some splitting is necessary, because Philadelphia is too large to fit inside single district. However, Leach’s map has three fewer splits than the  map adopted by the state assembly.

Our state’s congressional delegation should be truly representative of the makeup of our state, and the Pennsylvania State Constitution should be amended to enshrine this principle into law.

The B Team: PA’s 2nd Congressional District Candidate Forum

Since 2006, Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El’s Men’s Club, Sisterhood and Israel Action Committee have jointly organized candidate forums to provide the community an opportunity to discuss issues with our Congressman and his challenger during each Congressional election. Until the recent redistricting, our township Lower Merion was located in Rep. Jim Gerlach’s 6th district. The 6th District was one of the most competitive districts in the country. While the Republican incumbent was always reelected it was usually by small margins and the district was carried by the Democratic Presidential candidate.

Year PA 6th Congressional District Presidential Race
2002: 51.4% Jim Gerlach, 48.6% Dan Wofford
2004: 51.0% Jim Gerlach, 49.0% Lois Murphy, 48% George W. Bush, 52% John F. Kerry
2006: 50.6% Jim Gerlach, 49.4% Lois Murphy
2008: 52.1% Jim Gerlach, 47.9% Bob Roggio, 41% John McCain, 58% Barack Obama
2010: 57.1% Jim Gerlach, 42.9% Manan Trivedi

Since the redistricting, Gerlach has replaced Democratic leaning Lower Merion with Republican leaning parts of Berks county in order to give himself some breathing room. Lower Merion is now part of the heavily Democratic 2nd Congressional District. The 2nd District is represented by Chaka Fattah who has been elected and reelected by enormous margins.

Year PA 2nd Congressional District
1994: 86% Chaka Fattah, 14% Lawrence Watson (R)
1996: 88% Chaka Fattah, 12% Larry Murphy (R)
1998: 86% Chaka Fattah, 14% Anne Marie Mulligan (R)
2000: 98% Chaka Fattah,  2% Ken Krawchuk (L)
2002: 88% Chaka Fattah, 12% Tom Dougherty (R)
2004: 88% Chaka Fattah, 12% Stewart Bolno (R)
2006: 89% Chaka Fattah,  9% Michael Gessner (R)
2008: 89% Chaka Fattah, 11% Chris Kunc (R)
2010: 89% Chaka Fattah, 11% Rick Hellberg (R)

The lopsided demographics in this district lead to insurmoutable odds which discourage any serious challengers. In fact, the Republicans did not even bother fielding a candidate in 2000. (Ken Krawchuk was the Libertarian party’s candidate.) I have long argued that redistricting should be nonpartisan and have the goals of eliminating such non-competitive districts and creating a state map that reflects the partisan balance of the state.

The country is best served when both parties field the best candidates they have to offer and provide the voters with a real choice. This year Rep. Fattah is facing a pair of political neophytes: the Republican Robert Mansfield and Independent candidate Jim Foster. According to the Federal Election Commission, Fattah has raised over a half-million dollars while Mansfield has raised about ten thousand, and Foster has not reported any campaign contributions.


Photo: Richard Chaitt.

Rep. Chaka Fattah

A fair crowd was on hand to get acquainted with our new Congressman. However, due to a couple of simultaneous events at the synagogue and the lack of a competitive contest the attendance fell short of the previous candidate forums organized at the synagogue. Rep. Fattah spoke first and a sizable fraction of audience excused themselves after his remarks.

Rep. Fattah described the annexation of Lower Merion by his district as “a shotgun wedding arranged by the Pennsylvania Republicans” but he was happy to meet his new constitents. His first political campaign was to represent the Overbrook neighborhood (in Philadelphia about one mile from our synagogue) in the Pennsylvania General Assembly. He won that 1982 primary by a mere 58 votes out of over 10,000 votes cast, so he is well aware of the value of every vote.

AIPAC has described Chaka Fattah as one of the most reliable and stalwart pro-Israel members of Congress. His chief of staff has just returned from a mission to Israel, and the Congressmen will soon embarking on his first trip to Israel. As the ranking member of the Appropriation Committee’s Science Subcommittee, he will be leading a delegation from the National Science Foundation to launch new collaborations between the US and Israel in the field of Neuroscience. Fattah has spearheaded this funding which is destined to improve our understanding of age-related degenerative diseases of the brain and traumatic brain injuries. The leadership of the local Hadassah chapter was on hand and encouraged the Congressman to visit Hadassah Hospital which is a pioneer in medical research and an example of how Arab and Jewish doctors can cooperate to improve the health of patients of all races, religions and nationalities.

Chaka Fattah is married to NBC10 anchorwoman Renee Chenault-Fattah and has four children. He is now running for his 10th term in Congress and emphasized the value to the district of having a senior member of Congress on the Appropriations Committee. The Congressman was happy to get acquainted with his new constituents and promised to return after the election and continue the conversation at greater length.


Photo: Richard Chaitt.

Sgt. Robert Mansfield

The Republican challenger Robert Mansfield is a combat veteran having served thirteen years in the US Army and National Guard. His service was ended by trauma from an I.E.D. explosion. In a spirit of true bipartisanship he thanked Rep. Fattah for his dedication to funding research on traumatic brain injuries.

Mansfield has been a champion of adversity:

  • At birth he had to overcome a dependance on heroin he had acquired from his mother who used drugs during her pregnancy.
  • He  endured a tumultuous childhood in foster care.
  • He overcame kidney cancer.
  • And he suffered from the homelessness all too common to our returning veterans.

As a fervent member of the Episcopal Church, he expressed dismay at Christian groups boycotting Israel. For Sgt. Mansfield support for Israel is founded in the teachings of the Bible.

He fears that Obama is not taking the Iranian nuclear threat seriously and that Obama has agreed to negotiations with Iran. He says Iran is “four years closer” to making a bomb. He says that the US has sat idly by with ineffective sanctions. He recommended imposing “real sanctions like we had against South Africa”.

During the Question & Answer session, I commented that the sanctions are having a real economic effect on Iran, with the Iranian Rial losing 80% of its value in recent months with strikes and real unrest in the streets. I added that I didn’t remember the sanctions against South Africa as being so universal and so effective. (The biggest annual drop in the South African Rand was a drop of 34% in 1985.)

While Iran was said to be “months” away from a bomb when Obama took office, his administration is clearly responsible for the CIA working hand-in-hand with the Israeli Mossad to sabotage Iranian centrifuges, missiles and most recently computers. Meanwhile, Iranian physicists are dying in the streets of Tehran and this is not from the common cold. I concluded by asking specifically what additional steps would Mansfield recommend if he was in Congress? If he were Congressman or President, would he recommend an immediate tactical nuclear strike on the underground bunkers where the Iranian enrichment facilities are hidden?

Sgt. Mansfield pondered my question for fifteen seconds and then gave a one-word response: “Yes.”

Some of Mansfield’s other remarks ran afoul of the truth:

  • He repeated the discredited meme about Obama’s “apology tour”.
  • He warned that the bridge from Yemen to Somalia “to be completed by 2020” would strengthen al Qaeda. While such a bridge (The Bridge of Horns) was proposed, it is not under construction and has not been funded. The fanciful bridge would be 18 miles long and in order to avoid disrupting navigation it would have the longest suspension span in the world (3 miles long). The Saudi and Yemen government oppose the African refugees that such a bridge might bring to the region. Moreover, Yemen and Somalia are two of the poorest countries in the world, so a bridge connecting them would not be “a bridge to nowhere” but rather “a bridge from nowhere to nowhere”.

Photo: Richard Chaitt.

Jim Foster

Jim Foster is running as an independent although he had to win a lawsuit against the Pennsylvania Election Commission in order to do so. He has published the Germantown Chronicle since 2009.

He spoke entirely about Philadelphia issues such as broken schools, cronyism, and pay-to-play. During the Question & Answer period several people tried to redirect the conversation towards questions of foreign policy or national domestic policy. He gave only the most general of answers, for example, “some extremists want no taxes at all, and some want a 97% tax rate for the wealthy. Whatever rate we pick, I just say I want accountability.”

He also mentioned that he “saw Israel as self-supporting and honest with a legitimate government, and Iran and others without one.”

He said he “would use all means to keep Iran from getting the means to make a bomb.”

He would then steer back to local Philadelphia politics. I almost got the impression that Foster was running for Mayor Nutter’s job, not Representative Fattah’s job.

Musical Chairs: GOP Plans for Pennsylvania Redistricting


This coming week the Census Bureau will be releasing detailed data required for the redistricting of Arizona, California, Connecticut, Idaho, Pennsylvania, and Washington.

In Pennsylvania, the Republicans control all the levers of power; they control the Pennsylvania House of Representative 112-91 and  the Pennsylvania Senate 30-20 while Republican Tom Corbett is Governor.

According to Keegan Gibson at PoliticsPA, “the Republican delegation is coming to Harrisburg” today to plan the redistricting which will change this district map and shape the elections over the next 10 years.

Here are some scenarios that PA’s Republican Congressmen are talking about, according to sources close to the delegation:

  • Schwartz vs. Fattah
    Republicans are eying the possibility of matching up two of PA’s most powerful Democrats in a fratricidal showdown. Allyson Schwartz has millions of campaign dollars and the support of the white collar liberals of the Philly suburbs. Her district currently abuts that of Chaka Fattah, the most liked public figure in Philadelphia. It’s unlikely either would be willing to budge from their seat if their districts were combined, and that would mean a knock-down, drag-out fight between the liberal white Democrats of the suburbs and the African-American Democrats of Philly. What Republican wouldn’t love to see that?
  • Go West, Suburban Republicans
    Each of the Philly area Republicans hopes to have his district made more secure, and they’re looking west to do it.  The state’s population growth is disproportionately found in south central PA, meaning that the Lancaster-based 16th district is likely to contract. That would leave room for Reps. Gerlach and Meehan to move west into the conservative parts of Chester County. Rep. Joe Pitts is the X-factor. The 71 year-old dean of the GOP delegation, Pitts lives in Chester County and would prefer to keep the seat based there.
  • Shuffle Southwest PA Dems and Beat Altmire the Old-Fashioned Way
    The GOP sees Rep. Jason Altmire as the most vulnerable Democrat in PA, but Republicans (read: Reps. Tim Murphy and Bill Shuster) don’t want to pick up Democratic voters from his district.  The GOP is looking at ways to move Democratic voters from Altmire’s district into either that of Rep. Mark Critz or Rep. Mike Doyle in an effort to tweak the 4th district and ensure a GOP win there. And they’re paying attention to rumblings of a Democratic primary challenger for Altmire.
  • Barletta Blues
    No Republican plan currently on the table will make Rep. Lou Barletta’s Scranton and Wilkes-Barre-based district a sure bet for the freshman Congressman. Barring some radical shift in Tim Holden’s 17th district to include the city of Scranton (which is regarded as a distant possibility at this point), Barletta’s district will become only slightly more favorable for Republicans and will still contain the city of Scranton.
  • Democratic Winners
    GOP plans to secure their districts will come as good news to some Democrats, who’s districts are likely to absorb the Democrats that Republicans don’t want. Some of those winners include (as of the current plans): Rep. Mark Critz, Rep. Tim Holden, and Rep. Mike Doyle. Each of their districts is likely to get more blue.

2010 Census Details about Pennsylvania and other states are available after the jump courtesy of the Census Bureau as they become available.