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.
Rep. Chaka Fattah
Photo: Richard Chaitt.
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.
Sgt. Robert Mansfield
Photo: Richard Chaitt.
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 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.