Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
July 12, 2014

Massachusetts: Democratic Rabbi Mulls Senate Bid

Rabbi Jonah Pesner sounds a lot like a man who is about to launch a bid for the Senate.

He weaves a compelling biographical narrative, says he has the ability to raise a lot of money and a has a spark of passion when speaking about the issues and why he might be called to run.

“At this moment in history, when it feels so polarized, when there is so much discussion of what divides us,” he said. “I know there are models of elected leadership where we can bring people together for common purpose and overcome the obstacles of partisanship and narrow self-interest.”

“I believe that this may be a moment for me to take all the things that I’ve learned as a rabbi, as an organizer, as a politically and civically engaged leader,” Pesner said, “and put a new kind of stake in the ground and aspire to engage in a higher plane of politics.”

Pesner, currently a senior vice president at the Union for Reform Judaism — and formerly a congregational rabbi — said he was considering a bid and would make a decision on a Senate run “soon.” Pressed on the time frame, he chuckled. “It’ll be over in six months!”

A Bay State Democratic insider told CQ Roll Call that the rabbi was “serious” in exploring the potential bid and noted Pesner’s close ties to Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick.

For a political novice without an infrastructure, fundraising would be essential. But Pesner didn’t seem worried about raising the needed cash. “Fundraising to me has never been a challenge because asking people to invest in their values give people an opportunity to make the things they care most deeply about to come true,” he said. Pesner said a viable candidate would need to raise “in the millions, for sure.”

Pesner, 44, is married with four daughters. In a telephone interview with CQ Roll Call on Thursday afternoon from his home near Boston, Pesner cited the fight for the landmark 2006 Massachusetts health care law as a an example of politics working in the right way. The rabbi, who said he was deeply involved in the push for Bay State health care reform, noted how the effort was able to bring together Republicans and Democrats, as well as business, labor and the grass roots. The legislation was passed by a Democratic Legislature and signed into law by then-Gov. Mitt Romney.

He also talked about how he was formed by his experiences as a child.

When Pesner was 14, his father died. His mother, who went from being a receptionist to a small-business owner, continued to raise Pesner and his brother, but, the rabbi said, “she could not have done that alone.” He said the community and the synagogue nurtured and mentored him and his family. And that he became a rabbi to pay it forward.

But, Pesner explained, “the calling to rabbinate was as much about caring for individuals in moments of crisis like when I lost my father as it was about being a force for the common good for all people.”

The rabbi choked up while discussing his kids and the future they face and also telegraphed some of his political views.

“When I think about the world I am handing to them,” he said, his voice breaking, “this really matters.”

“A planet that is sustainable and thriving; an economy that is fair and just; women having every opportunity, whether it’s personal and control over their bodies or public economic opportunities,” he said.

“I gotta tell you: I’m a soccer dad, I coach my girls’ soccer team, I drive a minivan, I do carpool, I make their lunches in the morning,” he said.

Pesner explained that’s part of the reason he’s considering a Senate bid as well. “We need more people in Washington who make lunch every morning and drive their kids to school. Because they understand what’s real, what is out there, what people are really dealing with.”

Sen. John Kerry is expected to soon be confirmed as secretary of State, setting up a special election for his seat.

The Democratic establishment in Washington, D.C., is backing Rep. Edward J. Markey, who was the first to declare his candidacy. Markey has gotten the endorsements of Kerry, former Rep. Barney Frank and others. But Massachusetts Democratic Reps. Michael E. Capuano and Stephen F. Lynch — along with Democratic state Sen. Ben Downing — are still mulling Senate runs.

Patrick, for his part, welcomed a Senate primary.

“I like the idea of a primary. It’s all I’ve ever known,” he said at a press conference Thursday, according to State House News Service. “I’ve talked to a number of potential candidates. I don’t think that the field is complete yet. … I think that a primary isn’t a bad thing at all provided that it is about the issues, and the needs of the people of the Commonwealth, and not sniping and tearing people down.”

The news of Pesner’s potential run was reported earlier this week by the Boston Phoenix.

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