Rabbi Jonah Pesner said he may be interested in running for John Kerry’s vacated Senate seat in the special election. Some believe he should jump in with both feet, up to his neck, and go for it with the belief of a zealot. This is a bad idea.
If the report in The Boston Phoenix about this run was a test balloon, I hope this blog post at least starts a leak.
Rabbi Pesner—for all his political maneuvering in the Jewish world—is not a politician. He is a community organizer sure, but a politician with national chops he is not. Blah blah, President Obama, blah, blah. These two men should not and cannot be compared in the same breath. Now that this is out of the way, we will get into the meat of this disastrous move.
For a special election primary Rabbi Pesner will need to be bigger, faster, stronger, and most importantly, better funded by establishment types to beat liberal stalwart Congressman Ed Markey. Currently Markey, who has spent a generation in Congress, has the support of everyone who matters, including the Kennedys and John Kerry, and a war chest ready to go. There are others who said they might make a run in a primary. They may or may not be as liberal as Rabbi Pesner. Assuming Rabbi Pesner was a serious candidate, the only impact he could have in this race is to split the liberal base of Markey’s power in his home district and among the Jews in the state.
Anyone not paying attention to Massachusetts politics over the past few years may forget that Teddy Kennedy’s seat was lost to a pretty conservative Republican and that a significant portion of that state is not so liberal. Splitting the liberal vote in a primary will lead to a conservative Democrat winning the primary and losing the general to Scott Brown.
Splitting the liberal Democratic vote in Massachusetts will take a seat away from the Democratic Party in the Senate. That is bad.
Not for nothing but Rabbi Pesner said he would lead a revolution in Reform Jewish youth engagement that would take about ten years to implement. During his speech at the last URJ Biennial he told the assembled leaders that he would help usher the organization through this process right before he passed the Resolution creating the Campaign for Youth Engagement (without providing time for debate or dissenting votes).
Ensuring the success of this project—in whatever form—is imperative for the future of the Reform Jewish community, my community. Without this change, we will lose any chance of cultivating a new generation of leaders within the Reform movement and thus the Reform movement will go the way of Whig Party. And from what I hear, there hasn’t been much of a revolution across the board, just a lot of talking about it. By floating this run, he clearly isn’t invested in seeing this through when there are more interesting personal opportunities for him to pursue.
Rabbi Pesner also said he would revolutionize social action programs in Reform Jewish congregations in his last post as head of Just Congregations. Last time I checked, he didn’t accomplish that either. A vast majority of congregations around the country continue to engage in direct action and advocacy above Faith-Based Community Organizing for any number of reasons, one of them being the fact that the guy running the program took another more visible and prestigious job.
Prior to that, Rabbi Pesner served as a congregational rabbi. I did not see him in this role but it is the most relevant line on his resume for his current aspiration. (If you have ever sat through a congregational board meeting you know what I am talking about.)
Rabbi Pesner’s work with the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization and that he co-chaired its campaign for health care reform, leading to the landmark state law, gave him a taste of campaigning but not for office or for himself. A personal political campaign is completely different than issue based advocacy. Reporters and opposition researchers will dig into him personally and they might even find this blog post. What they will find for sure is every detail about his life. These facts, good, bad, or irrelevant, will become part of the public record. While I have no reason to assume anything out of line with him, do we really want another Native American controversy to deal with?
So let’s review:
- He doesn’t have the chops or fundraising capabilities ready to go.
- He has an important job to do but it is clear he isn’t really interested in doing it. And this isn’t the first time.
- He has no experience that makes him a good candidate nor has he ever been vetted.
- Most importantly he will split the liberal vote and lose the seat to the Republicans.
These seem like four good reasons not to have Rabbi Jonah Pesner on the ballot for Senate.