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.

Our Forgotten Warriors

On MSNBC, Iraq war veteran and former Pennsylvania Congressman Patrick Murphy (D-PA 7) discussed Mitt Romney’s decision not to mention Afghanistan in his speech at the Republican National Convention and the passing reference he made to the war in his speech at the American Legion. President Obama ended the war in Iraq and will end the war in Afghanistan by the end of 2014. Romney called the end of the Iraq War “tragic” and has failed to lay out a plan to end the war in Afghanistan and bring our troops home.

Friday, Murphy rebuked Pat Toomey and 39 of Mitt Romney’s other allies in the Senate Republican caucus for killing the Veterans Jobs Corps Act that would create jobs for veterans and put in place programs to help our brave men and women reenter the work force when they come home:

These Senate Republicans should be ashamed of themselves. They are a disgrace. To put their political priorities ahead of veterans who risked their lives to protect our country is the lowest form of cowardice. I understand that their number one priority is not jobs or veterans or seniors. I know their number one priority is to deny the President a second term. But I never thought they would take it this far. We’re talking about helping to put tens of thousands of our nation’s heroes to work, and Republicans can’t set aside the political games for 5 minutes to support our troops when they come home from war? Helping our warriors settle back into civilian life is the least we can do. We’re talking about job training programs and priority hiring for first responder jobs, police officers, firefighters or rescue workers – but Republicans would rather kick up their heels and do nothing. It’s pathetic.

It’s particularly disappointing to hear Senator Toomey joined in the political gamesmanship immediately after holding public events with Pennsylvania veterans. Our veterans don’t need more lip service from opportunistic politicians, they need action.

Speaking of opportunistic politicians, where was the Republican Party’s alleged leader Mitt Romney during all this? Not a word.  After neglecting to mention veterans or our troops fighting in Afghanistan during his convention speech, it’s no surprise Romney took the easy way out and stood silent as his Republican colleagues killed an important jobs program for our nation’s heroes.  Apparently, veterans are an even lower priority for Romney than previously thought.

Video transcript follows the jump.

ANCHOR: Former Pennsylvania Congressman Patrick Murphy is a Democrat, also the first Iraq war veteran to serve in Congress. Patrick, good morning to you. Let’s note here first of all what Mitt Romney did say at the American Legion. This was a speech he gave on August 26th. Let’s put it up on the screen here. He said in part, “of course, we are still at war in Afghanistan. We still have uniformed men and women in conflict risking their lives just as you once did. How deeply we appreciate their service. We salute them, we honor them, we respect and love them.” Now, that’s a 16-second quote out of about a 16-minute speech, but again no specifics about policy there. Why do you think that there’s been such a fear or reluctance to get specific?

MURPHY:  Because then he has to take a stand, Craig, and he refuses to do that. I mean, it’s like what John Kerry said in his speech the other night: You know, Mitt Romney has to debate himself before he actually debates Barack Obama in a couple weeks. I mean, Craig, the quote that you played where Mitt Romney said, “I talked in my speech about the things that I thought were important.” We know that there’s 68,000 sons and daughter of American families that are fighting for us in Afghanistan. That’s not important to Mitt Romney? I mean, he wants to be Commander-in-Chief. And not just a Commander-in-Chief as President, but a wartime Commander-in-Chief – what Barack Obama has been and a true friend to our veterans. I mean the contrast couldn’t be more clear.

A Philadelphia Hero: Michael Levin 1984-2006

A Voice Called: Stories of Jewish Heroism
Editor’s Note: On the eve of Yom Ha’atzmaut — Israel Independence Day — Jews throughout the world mark Yom Hazikaron — Israel’s Memorial Day — to remember the soldiers who gave their lives. Israel needed heroes like these to win its independence and facing existential threats around it, Israel continues to need heroes like these to safeguard its independence.

I just read A Voice Called: Stories of Jewish Heroism by Yossi Katz. I heartily recommend this collection of articles about some of the great Jewish heroes of modern times. The stories are written to shed light on Jewish history and to inspire the reader to live in the present with pride and dignity and to help build a better future.

The Philadelphia Jewish Community can be proud to count among its ranks one of these heros: Michael Levin. We thank Yossi Katz and Gefen Publishing for permission to reprint his story. (All rights reserved by Gefen Publishing.)

You can't fulfill you dreams unless you dare to risk it all.
Michael Levin: Acharai!

  • Born in Philadelphia 1984 — Made Aliyah to Israel in 2003
  • Joined Israeli Paratroops, fulfilling a personal dream
  • Rushed back to Israel to rejoin fellow soldiers in battle when Israel attacked
  • Fell in battle against Hizbullah terrorists on August 1, 2006

“You can’t fulfill your dreams unless you dare risk it all”

Yossi Katz— by Yossi Katz

Michael Levin grew up like most American-Jewish kids. Born on February 17, 1984 and raised in Philadelphia, he graduated from Council Rock High School in 2002. Michael’s maternal grandparents were survivors of the Holocaust and passed on to him a legacy of pride and strength in his Jewish heritage. As a teenager Michael was active in the HaGesher Region of United Synagogue Youth (USY) and attended Camp Ramah in the Poconos. He loved sports and was an avid fan of Philly teams especially the Philadelphia Phillies.

In February 2001, Michael came to Israel for two months to study the 4000-year history of the Jewish people at the Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI). While in Israel Michael expressed his desire to make Aliyah (move to Israel and become an Israeli citizen) and serve in ZAHAL-the Israel Defense Forces. Michael proved to be an outstanding student at AMHSI and was especially moved by the stories of Jewish heroes like Judah the Maccabee, Shimon Bar Kochba, Rabbi Akiba, Hannah Senesh, Eli Cohen, Avigdor Kahalani and Yonaton “Yoni” Netanyahu. The most moving moment at AMHSI for Michael was on the last day of the program when his class visited the grave of Yoni Netanyahu, hero of the 1976 Entebbe rescue mission, at Mt. Herzl in Jerusalem. Michael looked up to Yoni as a role model and a hero and was touched by Yoni’s words from a 1975 letter:

By ‘past’ I mean not only my own past, but the way in which I see myself as an inseparable part, a link in the chain of our existence and Israel’s independence.

Like Yoni, Michael also saw himself as a link in the chain of Jewish history and felt an obligation to defend his people and dreamed of serving in the Israel Defense Forces.

After graduating high school, Michael attended “Nativ” — USY’s Year Course in Israel and in his “Nativ” yearbook wrote the words that would become his motto:

“You can’t fulfill your dreams unless you dare risk it all”

Michael was neither a daredevil, nor a gambling man. He was a sweet, funny, humble, kind, loving human being who loved life and lived it to the fullest. He simply believed that life wasn’t worth living unless there was some ideal
you loved so much that you’d be willing to sacrifice your life for it. For Michael — that ideal was Israel.

In 2003 Michael made Aliyah to Israel and began studying Hebrew at an Ulpan (intensive course in speaking Hebrew) on Kibbutz Yavne. Like all Israelis, Michael was drafted into the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and reported to the Army Induction Center at Tel Hashomer. As he was being processed, the officer in charge noticed his papers had not been finalized due to his new status in the country. The officer told him that he couldn’t ben drafted at this time. Undeterred, Michael went outside the Army Induction Center and climbed up a trash dumpster and snuck into the 2nd floor of the building. When the officer discovered him, he hollered at Michael and said, “No one can get thru the front door here without papers” to which Michael smiled and replied, “What makes you think I came thru the front door?!!” The officer pulled some strings and arranged for Michael to be processed as an Israeli soldier. He later remarked, “I’ve been here at the army induction center for 20 years and some kids don’t want to be here and look for ways to get out but Michael was the first kid I ever met who ‘broke in’ to be inducted into ZAHAL!”

Once in ZAHAL, Michael volunteered for the IDF’s finest combat unit, the red-bereted Paratroops. During his basic training Michael learned to parachute. Small in size, 5’6″ and weighing only 118 lbs, Michael was blown off course on his first jump. Afterwards his officers had to tie weights to his parachute to keep him from drifting. Despite his small size, Mike was a fierce fighter with a lion’s heart. At the end of their basic training the Paratroops go on a 90-kilometer march to Jerusalem where they receive their red berets at Ammunition Hill, a famous battle site from the 1967 Six Day War. In 2001, while at AMHSI, Michael had learned about the heroism of the Paratroops in
that battle from one of the surviving veterans who spoke to his class. Now he was receiving his red beret on that hallowed ground. Michael described that day as one of the happiest in his life!

Mike was not only a brave soldier but he remained a loving son and brother. He once said, “I’m not worried about dying! I’m just worried about what
it would do to my family.” Michael held a special status in ZAHAL called Chayal Boded, given to lone Israeli soldiers whose parents do not live in the
country. Military service is tough enough for most young Israelis but they are comforted knowing they will come home on their Shabbat leaves to a warm and loving family. Michael had none in Israel, making his service that much tougher.

In June 2006, Mike received a 30-day leave from the IDF to visit his family back in Philadelphia. Michael, who had a great sense of humor, wanted
to surprise his mom and dad and worked out a cute prank with his older sister, Elisa. When he arrived in Philadelphia that summer he had Elisa put a gigantic cardboard box with real Fed-Ex markings on the front steps of their home. Michael got into the box and had his sister tape it up and ring his parents’ doorbell. When Mrs. Levin saw the package, she tried to carry it into the house, but it was too heavy. Suddenly Michael jumped out of the box and screamed, “Surprise!!” This story is indicative of Michael’s loving heart and playful spirit.

Michael spent quality time with his family and visited friends at Camp Ramah in the Poconos. When some friends expressed their worries to Michael about his safety in an elite combat unit of the Israeli army, he responded philosophically, “I’m doing exactly what I want to do and going exactly where I want to be, and if God should decide to call me home, I’m fine with that.” During his visit to Philadelphia, Michael told his parents that if anything ever happened to him, he wanted to be buried on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. On July 12, 2006 the Lebanese terrorist organization, Hizbullah attacked Israel and kidnapped two Israeli soldiers — Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. The Hizbullah, dedicated to Israel’s destruction and armed by Iran, began shelling Israel’s northern cities. Michael heard that his unit was sent into battle and he promptly told his family that he had to cut his visit short to rejoin his comrades at arms. He rushed back to Israel and rejoined his unit —  the 890th battalion of the Israeli Paratroops, then fighting inside Lebanon. Michael’s unit was on a mission in the Lebanese village of Ayta al Shab, a Hizbullah stronghold, when they came under heavy missile — gunfire. Held up in a house, Michael fought bravely but on August 1, 2006 he was tragically killed by a Hizbullah sniper. His fellow soldier and friend, Shlomi Singer,
described Michael’s last moments:

I heard a round of gunfire and saw Michael lying on his stomach. I knew in my heart he was dead. I lifted him to one of the houses where I tried to revive him, but there was no chance. I said quietly in English, “I love you Michael and I am so sorry.” He was wearing a big green kippah and before we went into Lebanon, I put his kippah on my head and said the Shema… praying that we all come back safely. After Michael was killed we placed his body on a stretcher and carried him for several kilometers between the cliffs and rocks to bring his body to safety. It was the final honor and respect that we could give him.

Michael’s family was notified in Philadelphia of his death in battle and they immediately flew to Israel for his funeral. One of their biggest worries was if they’d be able to find a minyan (a quorum of 10 necessary for communal
prayer) for the ceremony, as they had no family in the country. They arrived at Ben Gurion Airport on August 3, 2006 and drove right from the airport to the National Military Cemetery on Mount Herzl. When the car arrived at the cemetery, the Levins saw thousands of people gathered there. Michael’s father was confused by the large crowd and thought there were 10 or 15 other funerals taking place at the same time. The soldiers escorting the family told them that Michael’s was the only funeral being held at this time and all the thousands of people in attendance, most of whom who had not known Michael, were there to honor their fallen son. Immersed in their shock and grief but embraced by a loving and grateful nation, the Levins buried their son on the hills of Jerusalem, the city he loved with all his heart… just a few yards from the grave of his hero — Yoni Netanyahu.

Michael’s mother, Harriet, at first had wanted her fallen son buried near her home in Philadelphia but her Rabbi convinced her that it was Michael’s last wish to be buried in the land he loved. She said that when she and her husband, Mark, saw all the people who had come to honor Michael; they knew they had made the right decision.

Harriet said that about a month after the funeral, a friend of hers from Philadelphia went to visit Michael’s grave on Mount Herzl. When the friend reached the burial site, she was shocked to see there was an Israeli soldier sitting on the grave drinking a cup of coffee with a small gas burner and finjan (coffee pot) next to him. Thinking he was acting improperly in the cemetery, the woman asked him what he was doing there. The young warrior answered softly, “Michael was my best friend in the army and every Friday afternoon just before Shabbat, we’d sit down and drink a cup of coffee together and shmooze about life. Now, just like before, I come visit Michael every week just before Shabbat and drink a cup a coffee and chat with my best friend.”

Harriet Levin said that if Michael had been buried in Philadelphia, probably only a handful of family would visit his grave but at rest at home in Israel, hundreds come every week to pay their respects to the young hero from Philly with the contagious smile and the heart of a lion.

Michael was buried on the afternoon of Tisha b’Av on August 3, 2006. Tisha b’Av is a fast day where we commemorate the many tragedies that have befallen our people on this black date in our history: the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem, the fall of Betar during the Bar Kochba revolt, the expulsion of the Jews of Spain in 1492 and the transportation of over 300,000 of Warsaw’s Jews to the gas chambers in Treblinka in July 1942. As a sign of mourning we do not wear Tefillin during the morning service on Tisha b’Av but we do put on Tefillin during the afternoon service that day as a sign that life must continue and we must move on from destruction and mourning to comfort and rebirth. It is fitting that Michael was buried on the afternoon of Tisha b’Av and not in the morning. His death was a tragedy that tore into the hearts and souls of all who loved him but Michael’s legacy to us is one of hope and commitment. As he smiles down on us from above, his memory will best be honored not by remembering so much how he died but more importantly how he lived. The motto of the Israeli Paratroops is “Achari!” (“Follow Me!”) Michael set a dugma isheet — a personal example of how to live a life as a committed Jew with passion and pride dedicated to the Jewish People, to the Torah and to Israel. His legacy commands us all — “Achari!”

Postscript: Michael Levin’s mother, Harriet Levin, once told this author that Michael was a normal American-Jewish kid. She said he was just like you and me and added,” You know he wasn’t always an angel… at times he made mistakes and could get into trouble.” In many ways though, that makes Michael even more inspiring. He wasn’t a “Superhero”! He was just the kid from down the block, but when his people and Israel needed him- he was there!

A moving documentary film by Sally Mitlas has been made about Michael Levin called A Hero in Heaven. For more information on the film go to www.aheroinheaven.com/.

Progressive Summit This Weekend

(JSPAN) The third Progressive Summit in Philadelphia begins Friday night with a debate between Kathleen Kane and Patrick Murphy at 6:30 pm at Arch Street United Methodist Church, 55 N. Broad St. (just north of City Hall).

On Saturday and Sunday there will be workshops and panels about critical issues progressives are working on this year, and some of the best practices in progressive organizing. Saturday evening is a night of comedy and a variety of parties. The full agenda is here. Here is a link to register for the Summit.

The Summit is a place to build relationships and network with other progressives. Start with JSPAN Board member Marc Stier who will be on two panels, Don’t Stop Believing: Managing Activism Fatigue, and Building Coalitions That Win.

US Joins Israel Today in Allowing Gay Soldiers to Serve Their Country

— President Barack Obama

Today, the discriminatory law known as ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is finally and formally repealed.  As of today, patriotic Americans in uniform will no longer have to lie about who they are in order to serve the country they love.  As of today, our armed forces will no longer lose the extraordinary skills and combat experience of so many gay and lesbian service members. And today, as Commander in Chief, I want those who were discharged under this law to know that your country deeply values your service.

More after the jump.
I was proud to sign the Repeal Act into law last December because I knew that it would enhance our national security, increase our military readiness, and bring us closer to the principles of equality and fairness that define us as Americans.  Today’s achievement is a tribute to all the patriots who fought and marched for change; to Members of Congress, from both parties, who voted for repeal; to our civilian and military leaders who ensured a smooth transition; and to the professionalism of our men and women in uniform who showed that they were ready to move forward together, as one team, to meet the missions we ask of them.

For more than two centuries, we have worked to extend America’s promise to all our citizens.  Our armed forces have been both a mirror and a catalyst of that progress, and our troops, including gays and lesbians, have given their lives to defend the freedoms and liberties that we cherish as Americans.  Today, every American can be proud that we have taken another great step toward keeping our military the finest in the world and toward fulfilling our nation’s founding ideals.

Upset Victory By Kathy Hochul in NY-26 Special Election

Democratic candidate Kathy Hochul arrives at a campaign stop at a restaurant in Amherst, N.Y., on Tuesday, before her upset win.— by Marc R. Stanley and David A. Harris, NJDC

Throughout the campaign, Representative- Elect Hochul showed Jewish families in Western New York that she was the only candidate in the race committed to protecting Medicare and Medicaid; two programs that have been under attack by Republicans in Congress and are relied upon by many elderly Jews for their medical care.

Rep.-Elect Hochul will be a strong defender of social programs that Jewish voters in Western New York rely on for their medical care. She has shown without a shadow of a doubt, that she will stand up to Speaker Boehner and stand for the people of Western New York. We are delighted to have such a wonderful advocate representing Western New York Jewish families in Congress.

The National Jewish Democratic Council contacted Jewish Households over the past week in an effort to get out the vote. Since Thursday, nearly 10,000 Jewish voters in Western New York were called to remind them of the special election that took place today. The Associated Press called the race with Kathy Hochul beating opponents Republican Jane Corwin and Green Party Candidate Ian Murphy and Independent, Tea Party backed candidate Jack Davis with 48% of the vote.  

Israel 63rd Anniversary at National Museum of American Jewish History


— by Bonnie Squires

Philadelphia Israeli Consul General Daniel Kutner held a celebration of Israel’s 63rd anniversary at the National Museum of American Jewish History, and hundreds of area residents and VIPs turned out.


Mayor Michael A. Nutter (left) joined Consul General Daniel Kutner (right) for the celebration.

Sam Katz, Rabbi Aaron Landis, Councilman Jim Kenney, and Joseph Zuritsky (left to right) were among the people who came to the National Museum of American Jewish History to celebrate Israel’s 63rd anniversary.

More after the jump.

The Honorable Daniel Kutner (left) welcomes Dean Moshe Porat of Temple University’s Fox School of Business  (right) to the reception. Mayor Michael Nutter offered his well wishes to Israel on the occasion of its 63rd anniversary. (Left to right) Rabbi Eliseo Rosenwasser, of Har Zion Temple, and Liliana Elkouss were pleased to see former Congressman Patrick Murphy at the celebration.

“Look Me in The Eye and Tell Me Why You’re Taking My Vote Away

Fitzpatrick, GOP Continue Florida-style Attack as Testimonies of Disenfranchised Voters Pour In; A woman nine-months pregnant, Iraq war veteran, retired cop, among targets of Republican’s voter witch hunt.

Bucks County voters continued to speak out over the weekend as more learned that they had been caught up in the Fitzpatrick campaign’s witch hunt against Democratic votes that have already been cast. The votes are now being held “under lock and key,” threatening to disenfranchise hundreds – if not thousands – of ballots that have already been cast because Fitzpatrick doesn’t like how they voted.

These are their stories.

Stephen Capaldi, Veteran of OIF and OEF, Levittown
video here

“I served in Operation Iraqi Freedom. I fought for the right to vote. Whoever is trying to take that away needs to look me in the eye and tell me why. They’ll have to look me in the eye and explain how they can possibly do this, because they’re wrong.”  

More after the jump.

Tony Rakoczy, decorated Marine who served in Battle of Fallujah, 2004
video here

“Six years ago, I put the Marine uniform on for my country and shipped out to fight in Iraq at the battle of Fallujah. I almost lost my life several times in IED blasts and fire fights. Mike Fitzpatrick, I’m asking you to step up, be a man, and stop playing political games. Let my mom’s vote count. I served my country. And I served for your freedom.”

April Perry, 42, Yardley

“It’s ridiculous that in this country we cannot trust our election process.  This is America, and I cannot believe they are trying to take away my vote. To make it worse, my husband was wrongly denied a ballot because they said his signature didn’t match.  I saw him sign his application and it was indeed my husband’s signature.”

Jillyan Magerman, 20, New Hope

“It’s an uncomfortable feeling to think that your vote counts, when apparently it doesn’t. How can they do that? I’m outraged to think that I voted only to find out that my vote doesn’t matter. I voted in order to be a morally responsible citizen and now I don’t matter? It’s an awful feeling. I go to school at the University of Pittsburgh. I’ll be six hours away on Election Day and I find out on Saturday that my vote doesn’t count. I am so angry about this. So angry.”

Lynn Roccograndi, 63, Richboro

“My daughter Dana is away at Northeastern University pursuing a degree in pharmacology. I mailed her an absentee application at school and her ballot was sent to her in Boston. She filled out her ballot correctly and sent it back to Doylestown to ensure that her vote would count. I am furious that this legitimate voter is being intimidated by the Republican Party whose goal it is to disenfranchise the elderly, students and the infirm so that the fat cats’ vote counts twice.”

Gary Bodner, 55, Bristol

“As a registered voter, I’m outraged that my ballot is being challenged. I just want to vote.”

Israel Rodriguez, 69, Bristol

“I came to the United States in 1969 and have been registered to vote ever since. I always vote, but work takes me out of town. I want to make sure my vote counts.”

Michael Brookins, 21, Morrisville

“I am registered to vote, and I filled out an absentee ballot the right way to exercise my right to vote. I am very upset that this right is being challenged.”

Robert Ashmont, 57, Langhorne.

“I don’t understand why it would be challenged. I’m scheduled to be in Chicago for a conference and my vote is being taken away by Republicans.”

The following people have spoken out over the past week:

Amie Proctor, Morrisville

“My name is Amie Proctor and I live in Morrsiville. I voted absentee because I’m nine-months pregnant and am due next week. So, I might be a little preoccupied on Election Day. Just in case there was any question, I even sent the Board of Elections my doctor’s business card so they could check. Now I’m on their target list to have my vote tossed out. Who on earth do these Republicans think they are, to tell me while I’m nine-months pregnant that I can’t vote?”

Patricia Rakoczy, Tony’s Mother, Levittown

“I did everything I was supposed to do and sent in my vote, but Mike Fitzpatrick and the Republicans are trying to take that away. My baby fought for his country. This isn’t right.”

Sam Kiernan, Levittown

“Even though I’m at college, I was determined to have my vote count. I made sure to apply on time for my ballot. I filled out my vote, signed it, double checked it, and stuck it in the mail – just like I was supposed to do. Now Mike Fitzpatrick tells me, if he gets his way, my vote won’t count because he doesn’t like how I voted. Unfortunately, Mr. Fitzpatrick, I learned in my political science intro class that it doesn’t work like that. I’m asking you to do the right thing. Stop playing political games with my right to vote.”

Bill Kiernan, Levittown

“Mike, how dare you try to disenfranchise my daughter – a registered eligible voter – because you will do anything to win your election. I know that I can look my kid in the eye and tell her I’m doing everything I can to protect people’s right to vote. Can you?”

Dorothy Wax, Langhorne

“I’ve voted in Bucks County for years, and when I found out last-minute that I would be out of town for business, I immediately applied for my absentee ballot, filled it out, and sent back my vote. Yesterday, I heard I’m on Mike Fitzpatrick’s target list of the votes he’s trying to toss out – and I won’t have another chance to vote. How can he get away with this? Mike Fitzpatrick, I’m asking you to do the right thing. Stand up, be a man, and stop playing political games with my right to vote.”  

   

Vincent Plebani, 57, retired cop, Langhorne

“It’s my ballot. I requested it. I signed it. I sent it in. No one sent me anything or asked me to do anything. I’m disenfranchised, and I’m angry about it.”

Dana Roccograndi, 20, Richboro

“I did fill out an absentee ballot application and I did fill it out correctly and honestly, since I am in school in Boston. I am very concerned and dismayed that Mike Fitzpatrick has discounted my vote. I wish that I were home or could get home so that my vote would count.”

Board of Election Tampers with Absentee Ballot Applications

Bucks County Board of Elections employees fixed incorrect and incomplete absentee ballot applications submitted by Republicans; Denied six Democratic applications for every one Republican – over 80%.

Stunning new evidence came to light this afternoon that the GOP-controlled Board of Elections tampered with Republican absentee ballot applications, altering and fixing those that were incorrect or incomplete to keep them from being rejected. At the same time, the Board has been rejecting hundreds of Democratic applications, often based on the same problems that they fixed on the Republican applications.

More after the jump.
The new revelations continue to demonstrate a deeply troubling pattern by Mike Fitzpatrick’s GOP allies to target Bucks County Democratic “>absentee ballot applications for rejection and suppressing the Democratic vote. Over 600 absentee ballot applications have been rejected by the GOP Board – over 80% of which were from Democratic voters. In other words, the partisan Board of Elections is rejected 6 Democratic applications for every 1 Republican.

Michelle Merrick, a registered Republican from Bensalem, submitted an application for an absentee ballot, which included incorrect and missing information. The Board of Elections actually corrected the application for her. Michelle registered to vote under her maiden name “Michelle Merrick,” but she filled out the application under her married name, “Michelle Rubin.” In an attempt to salvage the application, the Board of Elections altered the pplication to read “Michelle Rubin Merrick.”

Despite the Board of Elections’ blatant attempt to salvage this Republican’s absentee ballot application, she still failed to include her birthdate, which should have invalidated her application. It didn’t. Meanwhile, Democratic applications have been denied for innocuous mistakes relating to the date of birth, like filling in “today’s date” instead. But unlike Michelle, they will not have the opportunity to vote absentee or have their voice heard in Tuesday’s election – simply because of their political party.

Among the Democrats rejected was Wade Messer. In the space for birthdate, Wade made a mistake and wrote in the date that he filled out the application: 8/15/10. But Wade is a registered Democrat, and he didn’t get the same special treatment as Michelle. Wade’s ballot application was rejected.

Scott Leossy made the same mistake, putting the date he applied – 8/25/10 – on the line for the applicant’s date of birth. But Scott is a registered Democrat and he didn’t get the same special treatment as Michelle. Scott’s ballot application was rejected.

These facts add to the pattern of GOP voter fraud and partisan politics at the Republican-controlled Board of Elections, coming on the heels of revelations that GOP candidates Mike Fitzpatrick and Rob Ciervo sent a letter to Bucks County voters instructing parents on how to commit voter fraud on behalf of their kids.

Teaching Parents to Commit Vote Fraud

Letter from campaigns unlawfully encourages parents to forge signatures if their kids are away at college.

Republican candidates Mike Fitzpatrick (running in 8th Congressional District) and Rob Ciervo (running in Pennsylvania’s 31st Legislative District) are facing serious new allegations of voter fraud due to a letter they sent to Bucks County residents instructing parents on how to forge ballot applications for kids away at college. Tucked inside a Mike Fitzpatrick for Congress envelope, the letter is written by GOP State House candidate Rob Ciervo and says, “Mike Fitzpatrick and I need your help.” The letter explains the absentee ballot process in case someone is unable to vote in person:

All you need to do is request an absentee ballot with the enclosed application, and when it comes back in the mail, fill it out and send it back.

But what if your kids are away at college? How would they sign the absentee ballot request, as is legally required? Not to worry.

If the application is for a student who will be away in November, be sure to use their college address to ensure they receive the ballot in a timely manner.

More after the jump.
The new revelations that the Fitzpatrick campaign blatantly violated election law surfaced just days after Fitzpatrick tried to accuse his opponent of wrongdoing – despite all factual evidence to the contrary.  

“Well, that’s ironic. While their kids are away in college taking classes, Mike Fitzpatrick is teaching their parents a different kind of lesson: how to commit voter fraud,” said Sara Schaumburg, Murphy’s Communications Director.

Fitzpatrick’s and Ciervo’s actions contribute to a deeply troubling pattern of voting irregularities perpetrated by the Bucks County GOP. Recently, startling revelations surfaced that the Republican-dominated Bucks County Board of Elections has been systematically rejecting absentee ballot requests from Democratic voters. According to recent press accounts, the GOP has rejected over 600 absentee ballot requests, demonstrating a deeply troubling pattern of specifically targeting Democrats for rejection. A staggering eighty-two percent of the rejected requests were from Democratic voters asking for their absentee ballot. In other words, the Republicans in charge of protecting Bucks County residents’ voting rights rejected six Democrats for every Republican absentee ballot request.

In response, the Pennsylvania Democratic State Party has filed charges against the GOP Board for illegal voter suppression.

This isn’t the first time that the Bucks County GOP has worked to disenfranchise voters, as laid out in the PA Democrat’s release.

  • In 2008, the Bucks County Board of Election relocated a minority serving polling location, a move that led to a lawsuit from concerned voters. [Philadelphia Inquirer, September 28, 2008]
  • Across the state, Pennsylvania Republicans have engaged in widespread efforts to intimidate and disenfranchise voters. In 2004, Republicans tried to relocate 63 Philadelphia polling places, mostly in Democratic and minority serving areas. [Philadelphia Daily News, October 18, 2004]
  • In 2004, Republicans tried to challenge tens of thousands of voters in Philadelphia, a desperate move that was condemned by a legal counsel to the Republican City Committee who said Republicans were being “chicken littles.” [Philadelphia Inquirer, October 25, 2004]
  • In 2008, Republicans attempted to institute a “dress code” for voters. Republican Party Chairman Rob Gleason worried that voters could wear “musical hats” to the polls. This move was clearly targeted at intimidating voters. [AP, October 5, 2008]