A rabbi and his family now live in the house where Katie McGinty and her nine brothers and sisters grew up in the Northeast’s Rhawnhurst section, but she wears a vivid reminder of those days on her hand.
“In the duplex next to our house was a woman who worked in a jewelry shop on Jeweler’s Row,” the Pennsylvania Democratic senatorial candidate told the Jewish Exponent during an exclusive sit-down interview. “My parents bought this ring for me — I might’ve been 16.
“I’m told it’s a ‘chai’ [it is]. So I wear a chai every day. To life!”
Besides the ring, there’s a lot of empathy for Jewish life and Israel from the 52-year-old from Wayne whose own children have faced similar types of discrimination.
So when she hears a certain political figure rail against immigration and ethnic groups and do little to discourage bigotry, it stings her both as a mother and as a politician. In her mind, there’s no place for that and, should she win the Democratic primary next month and defeat Republican incumbent Pat Toomey in November, a huge part of her agenda will be changing perceptions in Washington.
(The Republican Jewish Coalition has identified Toomey as particularly vulnerable in 2016, one of four GOP senators the group has decided to commit resources to defending.)
“We should never objectify people,” said McGinty, whose busy day included a meeting with the Black Clergy of Philadelphia, a visit with nurses concerned that hospital resources are often being misdirected away from patients and attendance at an LGBT event. “Each person is uniquely gifted by God and a unique gift to this world. I celebrate and honor the dignity of each person.
“It is personally offensive to me [when others express ethnic bias] … We must understand we all rise or fall together, or we’ll allow those who would hate and divide to rule the day.”
If there was any question in McGinty’s mind that this is the Christian — or Jewish — way to go about life, it was answered after she and her husband, Karl, adopted twin 8-month-old girls from Hyderabad, India.
“Frankly we’ve experienced communities that have been fully welcoming and also experienced communities that have not been quite as welcoming,” she said.
“Alana and Tara are rather dark complected, and there were places when they were 4 or 5 years old where they weren’t allowed in neighbors’ backyards. It cut like a knife through my heart,” added McGinty, who, months after losing in the 2014 Democratic gubernatorial primary to Tom Wolf, was selected by the victor as his chief of staff.
The teenage girl who used to babysit for Jewish families in Rhawnhurst can identify in other ways. One is her concern for Israel and her belief in the need to combat the growing outside forces of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.
“Israel is absolutely an essential and vital partner and ally for the United States,” said McGinty, who served as the first chairwoman on President Bill Clinton’s White House Council on Environmental Quality, then as an advisor during Al Gore’s unsuccessful 2000 presidential run. “I believe our security is Israel’s security and Israel’s is ours. That truth is only magnified at a time when Israel is such an oasis of democracy and freedom in a desert of conflict and terrorism.”
It’s an issue that drives McGinty, as well as her Democratic opponent, former U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak, who expressed similar concerns to the Exponent in an earlier interview.
“All you have to do is look at a map of Israel to appreciate the incredibly difficult situation Israel finds itself in,” said McGinty, whose own trip last summer had to be scrubbed when she decided to run for the Senate. “The idea of literally being in the midst of where rockets are being fired at you is so sobering.”
She questions if Toomey, who recently spoke before the Orthodox Union in support of Israel and expressed concern about the Iran nuclear deal, truly appreciates the issues.
McGinty questioned the sequester that cut military resources and Toomey’s votes against closing the terror loophole and allowing suspected terrorists in this country to access weapons.
For his part, Toomey, who voted against the Iran nuclear deal, in part because of the danger that regime poses to the Jewish state, casts himself as a vigorous defender of Israel.
“Congressman Sestak and I have assessed the situation very similarly in terms of the importance of Israel and the vital importance of taking on Iran and understanding Iran poses an existential threat to Israel,” said McGinty.
“We have to make it absolutely clear we will support no violations of the terms of that the agreement.”
McGinty, who said her children are learning about the Holocaust in school — even her girls at Villa Maria Academy — and have read books like The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, worries that BDS sympathizers are having success misleading the public.
“It’s really so dangerous, so misdirected,” said McGinty. “I am 100 percent opposed and shocked. It could not be more ill-conceived.”
McGinty said Pennsylvania’s residents deserve better than what they now have, especially the Jewish people.
“The Jewish community knows better than just about anybody how vitally important it is that we have zero tolerance for hatred, division and discrimination,” said McGinty, whose campaign is being managed by former Philadelphia mayor and Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell. She has received endorsements from Sens. Chuck Shumer (D-N.Y.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Brian Schatz (D-HI).
“So many people are feeling a deep economic anxiety and pain that the political system has let them down,” she said. “I feel strongly that Pat Toomey has to go because he’s been an obstructionist. He’s been divisive, and he’s taken away some of the critical tools we need to give to parents to afford college and to be able to count on Social Security and Medicare.
“This adds to the anxiety that makes people vulnerable to being swayed by a hate message,” she added. “We have to stand up against it and get real about not only promising hope, but delivering.”
McGinty is confident she can deliver — to the Jewish community and beyond. It’s a part of her makeup she seldom forgets.
In case she does, all she has to do is look at her hand.
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This article was updated at 4:20 p.m. on April 4 to reflect the fact that statements earlier attributed to Katie McGinty regarding rural voters in Pennsylvania has been corrected.