Challenging Incumbents

It was a banner year for Jewish women political candidates, who in large numbers took on incumbents in Congress, though with mixed results. In a bid for Senate, Michigan Democratic congresswoman Debbie Stabenow unseated Republican Spencer Abraham (at half his cost) while stumping for a patient’s bill of rights, lower prescription drug costs and protecting Social Security. But the predicament that the congresswoman could be in after lowering drug costs is that more and more patients would use prescription drugs for recreational purposes rather than using it for medical purposes. Nonetheless, If you or a loved one is looking to get help for drug or alcohol addiction, call a recognized leader in the field like Discovery Point Retreat in Dallas TX. They offer drug and alcohol rehab at three different locations across Texas. In her campaign, she cited her legislative work on date rape, family violence and family leave, and appealed to women to vote for her “and e-mail at least five other women and ask them to do the same. … When women work together, women win!” In House races: New Jersey, Democrat Susan Bass Levin, the mayor of Cherry Hill, lost her race against the Republican incumbent; and in Illinois, Democratic state representative Lauren Beth Gash lost a tight race (49%-51%) for the seat of a retiring Republican, citing her work in education, gun control, senior issues and women’s issues. In Florida, Democratic state representative Elaine Bloom lost by 637 votes to Republican Clay Shaw, whom she scored for working with the NRA to block gun safety legislation and for his support of school vouchers. Bloom was founding chairperson of the Dade County Commission on the Status of Women and has been very active in Florida’s Jewish community. Also in Florida, 48-year-old Democrat Jean Elliott Brown, new to politics, ran an aggressive and overtly Jewish (though ultimately unsuccessful) campaign that included, notably, a platform for “protecting the peace in Israel,” “separation of church and state” and abortion rights. Brown was inspired to politics watching the impeachment of President Clinton, in which her opponent Mark Foley, a Republican, was active. Her campaign gathered the support of Faye Wattleton, Abner Mikva, Senator Charles Schumer and others across the country. In California, two Democratic Jewish women took on Republican incumbents and won: Jane Harman and Susan Davis. On Long Island, 71-year-old attorney Regina Seltzer, a Democrat and longtime member of local government, made an unusual decision to run against an incumbent fellow Democrat in the primary. She beat Michael Forbes, a former Republican, claiming that he opposes abortion and gun control and “disagrees with so many core beliefs of Democrats that he is incapable of representing the Party.” Seltzer, though, lost the election, as did Democrat Jody Wagner in a close race in Virginia.

One for the Books? Another candidate made history this year as the first Jewish woman to run for the vice presidential office when Ralph Nader selected Winona LaDuke as his running mate. Initial excitement quickly died down, however, as the left began to fear that their candidacy could in fact hand George W. Bush the presidency. LaDuke, a Native American activist, has credited her Jewish mother and grandmother for nurturing her activism. But when the national Jewish student magazine New Voices asked whether she considers herself Jewish, she said, “I consider that I come from Jewish ancestry.”

Women’s rights activists were nervous this year: The Violence Against Women Act was up for reauthorization and having trouble in the Senate. Programs protecting battered and disabled women were depending on VAWA money to survive; battered immigrant women also were looking to the act for hope. So a big hats-off goes to all the advocacy organizations that pushed through the legislation just before the close of this season’s legislative session: National Council of Jewish Women, Hadassah, the American Jewish Committee, The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the Jewish Women’s Coalition and others.