Incoming Lieutenant Governor ‘Stacks’ Up in Jewish Community

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State Sen. Mike Stack's longstanding relationship with prominent Jews in the Northeast has been important to both the politician’s success and the interests of the local Jewish community.

There was one non-Jewish politician noticeably absent from Yom Kippur services at Congregation Beth Solomon in the Northeast this year.
 
State Sen. Mike Stack, who is Catholic, usually attends High Holiday services “as a gesture,” said Rabbi Solomon Isaacson, the Beth Solomon leader whose political influence in the region is well known. But this October, Stack, the state’s lieutenant governor-elect, happened to be serving in the Pennsylvania National Guard, where he is a captain, during the holiday.
 
However, his running mate, Tom Wolf, the Protestant governor-elect, was there to represent them both. Wolf was brought to the services by former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, who is Jewish and has attended services at the congregation for years. 
 
Stack’s longstanding relationship with the synagogue and Isaacson — the rabbi calls him “Sen. Stack-stein” — has been important to the politician’s success, both Stack and the rabbi agreed.
 
But it’s not a one-sided arrangement — members of the Orthodox congregation have also benefited from having such close contact with the local politician.
 
When Stack defeated State Sen. Frank Salvatore on his third try in 2000, Salvatore told the Philadelphia Inquirer that vice presidential candidate Joe “Lieberman being on the ticket, with a lot of Jewish voters in the Northeast, hurt me with the Russian vote,” implying that Stack rode those Democratic coattails to victory.
 
That Russian vote includes Beth Solomon, which Isaacson said drew 3,000 people on Yom Kippur. He described it as “the largest Russian synagogue in the country.”
 
“We have a lot of influence,” he boasted, and politicians “listen.”
 
Stack said he first built strong connections to the Jewish community because of his dad, Mike Stack Sr., a longtime Democratic ward leader in Northeast Philadelphia. Jewish teachers and others involved with a variety of committees were a regular presence at Stack’s house.
 
“I was always working with committee people from the Jewish community and was in politics at an early age and have always been at home in the Jewish community,” Stack said in a phone interview. “Jewish cultural and political life is very important to me.”
 
According to Stack and others, his 5th District includes the largest number of Jews in all of Pennsylvania. He said he expects to continue representing the district as well as serving as lieutenant governor until a special election is held early next year to replace him.
 
“I’m grateful to say that in this election and in every election, I’ve had really strong backing from the Jewish community, so I consider this a win for all of us in advancing issues that are important to the Jewish community and to Israel,” Stack said.
 
Isaacson said he’s been impressed that Stack has consistently shown concern for the community, not just during campaign seasons.
 
In 2005, for example, Stack helped secure a $20,000 state grant to help fund scholarships when Beth Solomon opened its day care center. 
 
Then last year, a member of the congregation who owns a business specializing in diabetic shoes reached out to Stack with concerns about a new law requiring such shoe fitters to obtain a license. Sofya Tamarkin, owner of Foot Comfort Center, said the measure would have put a lot of people out of work.
 
Stack worked with Rep. Tarah Toohill to amend the law to allow people who already have sufficient experience in the industry to take additional classes and then be grandfathered in. 
 
“As a medic and business owner, I don’t know” much “about the legislation process and how this component of government works, and so he was a good and attentive senator who was able and willing to listen,” said Tamarkin, who had initially met Stack at a congregation fundraising dinner several years ago. 
 
Stack’s ties to area Jews extend outside the Orthodox community, too. He is also a member of the men’s club at Conservative Congregations of Shaare Shamayim, where members said he has come to political events for years and follows through on his commitments.
 
He also helped secure a $200,000 state grant in 2008 for the Jewish Federation of Grea­ter Philadelphia’s Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities program, which provides seniors with support services so they can remain in their own homes.
 
He also was one of the lawmakers behind recent legislation that prevents companies that have more than $20 million invested in Iran’s energy sector from receiving state contracts.
 
“He’s just always been a good advocate for the Jewish community,” said Robin Schatz, the federation’s director of government affairs. “We know that our voice will be heard with Mike Stack.” 
 

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