By Glynis Kazanjian
The 2014 primary has a noteworthy number of high profile Jewish candidates running for statewide offices. Some are competing against each other, which could set off a secondary battle for candidates vying for the Jewish vote.
In a move that surprised other campaigns, rabbis from two of the state’s largest Jewish congregations in Baltimore and Montgomery counties have thrown their support behind attorney general candidate Del. Jon Cardin, the nephew of U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin.
Members of the tribe
“There is a natural interest for any and every synagogue when a ‘member of the tribe’ is running for election,” said Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg of the Beth Tfiloh Congregation in Baltimore County. “That interest is obviously heightened when that person is a member of your own synagogue!”
Beth Tfiloh is the largest synagogue in the Baltimore area, with 1,300 families. Wohlberg said he has known the Cardin family since Jon was seven years old.
“He is the kind of person that our state and country needs in positions of leadership. I support him in his race for attorney general,”Wohlberg said.
Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt of B’nai Tzedek Congregation in Potomac also endorsed Cardin last week. B’nai Tzedek has 630 members. Both rabbis offered personal endorsements not intended to represent their congregations.
Gubernatorial candidate Attorney General Douglas Gansler, who is Jewish, is running against Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown in the Democratic primary. Brown’s running mate, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, is also Jewish.
Three of the four attorney general candidates are Jewish. Cardin and Montgomery County Sen. Brian Frosh will face each other this June in the Democratic primary, along with Del. Aisha Braveboy of Prince George’s County.
The winner will meet Republican Jeffrey Pritzker of Baltimore County in the November general election. Pritzker is a member of the Beth El synagogue board.
Gubernatorial candidate Del. Heather Mizeur chose an African American pastor as her running mate.
4% of the state population
There are approximately 241,000 Jewish residents in Maryland, making up 4% of the state’s population, according to 2010 U.S. Census Bureau records. While small, the largely Democratic constituency is known for turning out the vote.
The greater Baltimore area, comprised of Baltimore County, Baltimore City and Howard County, is home to 100,000 Jewish residents, according to the Baltimore Jewish Council. That is nearly half of the state’s Jewish population – 93,400 in Baltimore County and Baltimore City where where many Orthodox Jews live and 17,000 in Howard County.
According to the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, the latest figures available from 2003 show 113,000 Jews in Montgomery, and 7,200 in Prince Georges.
Baltimore Jewish Council Executive Director Art Abramson said the candidate’s religion won’t determine how the election turns out, rather it is about how each candidate has supported the Jewish community. He also believes name recognition is a factor.
“I would say Doug Gansler and Anthony Brown both have their support locally, but I don’t think in either case does the fact that they’re Jewish [or not] indicate a majority of the votes are going to go one way or another,” Abramson said. On the attorney general’s race, Abramson said Cardin has a well known – and important – name throughout the state and in the Baltimore area, where the Cardins live.
“Jon is very well known,” Abramson said. “He’s part of this community.”
In December, a high-dollar fundraiser was held for Gansler in Silver Spring. The invitation included over two dozen Jewish committee host names.
Gansler has been on the board of the Jewish Community Center for Greater Washington for the last 15 years, and last month he was featured in the Baltimore Jewish Life, where he was described as having close ties with the Baltimore Orthodox community.
Gansler’s and the Jewish vote
“There’s no doubt that Doug Gansler has locked up the Jewish vote in Maryland, given his long involvement in our community and his commitment to causes near and dear to our heart: supporting Israel, divesting from Iran, and other non-Jewish-specific causes like caring for the elderly and expanding health coverage for treatment of autism,” said Stevel Sibel, an active member of the Jewish community in Baltimore County who belongs to Beth Tfiloh. “He’s a mensch.”
A prominent leader in the Jewish business community called Brown and Ulman’s efforts in supporting economic development in the Jewish community “instrumental.”
“There is a strong sentiment in the Jewish community for Anthony Brown and Ken Ulman,” said Abba David Poliakoff. “Anthony and Ken were each instrumental in recruiting Israeli companies to establish U.S. operations in Maryland, such as Elta Systems, a subsidiary of Israel Aerospace Industries, which landed in Ken Ulman’s Howard County.”
But the former executive director of the Friends of Israel Defense Forces, a charity organization, may have summed up average voter’s sentiments the best.
“Like most Americans, I am very disappointed with Washington,” said Baltimore County resident Charlie Levine who said he is frustrated with ‘Obamacare’ and wants to see term limits for elected officials.
“I am a Democrat, and I’m disappointed with my party. [Elected officials] promise us everything, but there are never details. It never changes. So all we ever vote on is a bag of wind.”
Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, said he didn’t think the Jewish factor would play a role in this year’s elections.
“The polls show us that a lot of voters have no idea who these candidates are – which likely means they have no idea whether they are Jewish, Catholic, or Hindu.”