Jewish candidates Dan Muroff and Brian Gordon are challenging incumbent Democrat Chaka Fattah in Pennsylvania's second congressional district.
Two Jewish candidates are among the three challengers incumbent Democrat Chaka Fattah faces as he attempts to retain Pennsylvania’s second congressional district seat despite several criminal indictments.
Those candidates may be newcomers to a federal seat, but are familiar to at least some local voters — Dan Muroff, the Democratic ward leader of Philadelphia’s Ninth Ward, and Brian Gordon, the Lower Merion Township commissioner in the 12th Ward.
The other candidate in the race — another familiar name — is Pennsylvania State Representative Dwight Evans of the 203rd District, who has served since 1980.
The primary election is April 26. The winner will face Republican James Jones in the Nov. 8 general election.
Here is some background about Gordon and Muroff.
Gordon, 55, is a civil rights lawyer and a member of Congregation Rodeph Shalom in Center City. He was raised in Philadelphia and the Main Line by parents Tamara Steerman Gordon and Leonard Gordon, who were lawyers.
From a young age, he learned about being active and aware of what’s going on in life. He jokingly said that a family vacation was attending an “impeach Nixon” demonstration.
Judaism remains an important part of his life, he said, noting that Rodeph Shalom rabbis William Kuhn, Jill Maderer and Eli Freedman provide the shul with a warm friendly atmosphere, he said. He was president of the Young Friends group.
“Reform Judaism spoke to me because it put the responsibility of your level of observance on you as an individual,” Gordon said.
Gordon’s political career began at 19, when he worked for Rep. Michael Harrington of Massachusetts, researching economic success in Germany and Japan and how that could be translated into similar results at home.
Gordon earned a law degree from the University of Wisconsin, and worked as a union-side labor lawyer in Seattle for the Machinist Union and Building Trades Union.
In 1987, he returned to Philadelphia where he began to work in civil rights, trusts and estates and business law, which he continues to this day.
While this is his first time vying for Congress, he learned what politics were like when he ran unsuccessfully for Philadelphia City Council in 1999.
He realized it was time to make a change so, in 2006, he won a seat as township commissioner in Lower Merion.
Gordon said he would focus on three problems, all of which can be corrected — poverty and economic development, education and reducing violence.
He noted that schools are overcrowded and have seen their services trimmed, which makes it less likely that students will be prepared for college. And the more poorly funded a school is, the more likely its students will get into trouble.
Gordon also touched on the need for justice system reform.
When people leave prison they are supposed to be rehabilitated and return to society a better man or woman. But far too often, they are mislabeled and treated unfairly, he said.
“We really need to rework the goals of the justice system,” Gordon said. “We need to dramatically reduce the number of people we have in prison beds.”
As he looks ahead to the election, he said his Jewish background will help him succeed.
“I’m truly motivated, and my orientation toward government is one of tikun olam and repairing the world, and that has been with me since I was a kid,” Gordon said.
Muroff, 48, of Mt. Airy, also is running for Congress for the first time. He believes his experience as an advocate, litigator and activist will help prepare him for the job.
In addition to spending seven years as a legislative aide and chief of staff on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., he served as the president of the board of CeaseFire PA, Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania and the East Mt. Airy Neighbors community organization.
Muroff said Fattah’s indictment had no bearing on his decision to run.
“Do I make a judgment on him and say that I shouldn’t run because he was indicted?” he asked. “His indictment inspired a lot of people to look for something else.”
Muroff grew up in Havertown, raised by Rose and Martin Muroff. His mother worked in the Philadelphia school district, and his father was in the shmata business.
While both parents have passed away, drug addiction and crime affected the Muroff family for many years. Muroff’s sister, Marlyn, who is 11 years older, is a drug addict and caused emotional turmoil to the family. She disappeared 19 years ago and has not been seen since.
There was even a time in high school when a store would not cash his paycheck because of his last name.
“I think it’s important to give people a sense of what drives your inspiration,” he said. “I don’t see how anybody can live through that without it having an impact.”
The problem with his sister and many people like her is that they are often left unemployable due to their criminal record. He noted there isn’t a panacea for poverty, drugs, crime and education, but they need to be fixed.
“I believe in second chances,” he said. “Young people do dumb things.”
Muroff also is a strong opponent of gun violence.
His plan to reduce gun violence includes mandatory national background checks, the banning of high-capacity magazines, closing the private sales loophole and requiring purchasers to obtain a permit to buy handguns.
His family belonged to Main Line Reform Temple in Wynnewood when he was a child. Today, he attends shul at Congregation Rodeph Shalom in Center City.
As he looks ahead to the primary, he knows his Jewish background will help if elected. His parents instilled in him the value of tikun olam and repairing the world.
“It isn’t just about setting an example in the home, but about setting an example outside the home, too,” he stressed. “It’s an important part of who I am.”