With Three Jewish Potential Candidates, Will Judaism Play a Role in Mayoral Race?

Allan Domb resigned as city councilman on Aug. 15, as he prepares to explore candidacy for mayor. (Courtesy of Marisa Nahem)

With the 2023 Philadelphia mayoral race on the horizon, three seems to be the magic number, as three Jewish Philadelphians are heavily speculated to be throwing their hats into the ring.

On Aug. 15, former councilman and real estate tycoon Allan Domb resigned from his city council position.

“I resigned from my city council seat, so I could ethically, responsibly consider a mayoral run,” Domb said.

Philadelphia has a resign-to-run policy in its city charter, meaning that an early resignation from a government employee could hint at a future bid for public office.

According to billypenn.com, Domb, who served as councilman for seven years, will embark on a “listening tour” in various Philadelphia neighborhoods. His focus is on safety.

“The city is in crisis right now, and it’s a public safety crisis,” he said.

Though Domb’s next steps strongly suggest an impending announcement of candidacy, he’s not the only Jewish leader who is speculated to run.

Philadelphia City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart is also considering a run for mayor. Though she ran unopposed for the position in 2021, she continued to fundraise, building up a “campaign nest egg” according to the Philadelphia Tribune.

Rhynhart explained her desire to run for mayor as an opportunity to address the inefficiencies in city government.

“Government is supposed to work for people, for all people,” she said. “That’s what made me initially run for office for city controller back in 2017 after working for the city for close to nine years, and that’s what is also leading me to consider a run for mayor now.”

Jeff Brown, owner of a dozen Philadelphia ShopRite and Fresh Grocer stores and president and CEO of Brown’s Super Stores, is also speculated to run, as he does not hold a public office to resign from, and he has made a political mark on the city through his opposition to Mayor Jim Kenney’s soda tax.

All three potential candidates have been outspoken about their Jewish identities: For Passover this year, Brown partnered with the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s Mitzvah Food Program.

Domb reflected on his Jewish roots as his reason for wanting to give back to the city. He grew up in an 800-square-feet apartment that cost $100 per month in rent.

“Because my mother complained during Yom Kippur — for almost two weeks we had no hot water…we got evicted a month later by a landlord in Lower Merion,” Domb said. “He evicted the three Jewish families in the building because my mother complained.”

Rhynhart spoke about how her Jewish values have impacted how she serves as controller: “There are certain Jewish values that are important to me, such as empathy and fairness, which tie in to how strongly I believe in making our city government work for everyone.”

Though outspoken to a Jewish source about their Jewish backgrounds, these candidates will be less likely to talk about their ethnic and religious backgrounds if they choose to join the campaign trail, political analysts predict.

City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart is another Jewish politician considering a run for mayor.
(Courtesy of the Philadelphia Office
of the City Controller)

Though Jews have historically played a significant role in Philadelphia union efforts and are generally associated with commitment to public service, Jews don’t make up enough of the liberal majority in the city for the Jewish candidates to rely on their voting bloc, said Bill Rosenberg, a professor of political science at Drexel University.

“Who was a Jew?” Rosenberg said. “You have seen over time, for different reasons, that there are different definitions of Jews, Jewish households, people that are religiously connected to Judaism and people that are more culturally or socially connected to Judaism.”

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders was cautious in bringing up his Jewish heritage in his presidential campaign, Rosenberg explained. He only explicitly talked about being Jewish toward the end, but his wife wasn’t Jewish, and he wasn’t raising his children in a traditionally observant way.

“Some people may think that maybe he wasn’t Jewish enough,” Rosenberg said.

But more generally, people are strategic in engaging with identity politics on the campaign trail, said Richardson Dilworth, a Drexel professor who heads its Department of Politics.

“They’re politicians,” Dilworth said. “They have to win a majority of the vote.”

To make themselves more appealing to more demographics, the mayoral candidates will talk to various LGBTQ groups, race-based groups and unions to appeal for their vote.

Though their Jewish backgrounds and values may lay the foundation of who they are and why they are running, they don’t want to create too specific a narrative that a diverse group of voters can’t relate to them.

Conversely, rather than ignoring their identity altogether, candidates will likely adapt their story, while remaining truthful, to connect with other groups of people. This doesn’t just apply to Jewish candidates.

“Any politician who reaches the level of being a serious mayoral contender is really using their identity simply as a tool to reach out to their constituents,” Dilworth said. JE

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