Republican Beth Grossman, who’s running for district attorney of Philadelphia, can only hope voters look at her record and her platform when they go to vote — not simply the party letter next to her name.
Democrat Michael Untermeyer — also running for district attorney — says the timing is finally right for him to pursue the job he’s desired for nearly 30 years.
And Democratic Judge Ellen Ceisler, who’ll never forget the Christmas someone threw a swastika-painted brick through the window of her family’s Roslyn home or the times they rolled pennies at her feet in elementary school, says those events shaped her desire to be a judge on the Commonwealth Court bench.
Grossman, Untermeyer and Ceisler are three Jewish Philadelphians running for office in the May 16 primary. All say they’re trying to change the status quo, believing that if their ideas are implemented, the lives of everyday people can only benefit.
They believe this is their obligation not only as concerned citizens, but as Jews.
“Beth NOT Seth” is the slogan, as Beth Grossman tries to beat the odds in a couple of ways in the DA’s race.
First, unlike her good friend Lynne Abraham — the only female DA in city history — Grossman is running as a Republican. As if that’s not tough enough — Arlen Specter and Ronald Castille are Philadelphia’s only Republican DAs and the city hasn’t elected a Republican mayor since Bernard Samuel in 1948 — she’s running against two-time incumbent District Attorney Seth Williams.
But having worked in the DA’s office until 2015 and seeing how Williams operated, the 48-year-old Grossman feels ready to take on all comers.
“I did not like what I was beginning to see in the DA’s office under Seth Williams,” said Grossman, who grew up in Oxford Circle before her family moved to Rydal then Huntingdon Valley. “I did not like what I was seeing with Democratic officials being investigated or getting convicted or pleading guilty.
“I made a commitment to be a public servant, which I’ve never regretted. But I’m also a taxpayer who had seen enough, so I switched parties.”
She also saw enough to decide she was someone who could effect change.
“I saw how that office should be run and saw how that office should not be run,” said Grossman, who announced her candidacy at the site of her parents’ old candy store in Strawberry Mansion. “I really have to get my message out not only to Republicans.
“I served in every division of the DA’s office. I’ve seen how crime and drugs can deteriorate a neighborhood. I’ve dedicated my career to the city of Philadelphia and, regardless of ‘D’ or ‘R,’ I am first and foremost a proud Philadelphian.”
She’s also a proud Jew.
“It’s who I am,” said Grossman, who is so far unopposed. “It’s Jack’s. It’s Country Club Diner. It’s my synagogue. It’s going to Hebrew school and to summer camp. “It’s just somebody always knowing somebody. Giving such a sense of family.”
For Michael Untermeyer, running for DA is something he’s wanted since he first became a lawyer. But when he finally decided to file when Abraham chose not to run in 2009, other things prevented him from going all-out.
This time he’s a man on a mission.
“I had progressive ideas then,” said the 65-year-old Untermeyer, who was defeated by Williams in the race while running as a Republican, but has since switched parties. “Now, seven years later, I have the same commitment to running this office.
“The system is in dire need of reform. The bail system we have is one of worst in the country. Last year, the city wrote off almost $1 billion by individuals who skipped bail. We had 35 percent failure to appear.
“I have the experience in public service. I also have it in private practice and business, because managing the DA’s office is like managing a 650-person law firm. Whoever runs needs the commitment and I’ve always desired to have this job. Lastly, when it comes to ethics, very simply, I’m not for sale.
Untermeyer, a member of Congregation Rodeph Sholom in Center City, said Williams is vulnerable because he was forced to concede that he’d accepted more than $160,000 worth of unreported gifts and incentives following an outside investigation.
“I don’t think Seth is going to have the following he’s had,” said Untermeyer, the son of a Manhattan writer turned stockbroker father, whose mother published 27 teenage series novels. “Personal challenges are going to take away any advantage he would normally have as an incumbent.
“If I win the primary, I win the election.”
Ellen Ceisler was abandoned by her father as a teenager and forced to move from town to town. The anti-Semitism she encountered along the way left such an impression on her that she said she has made it her life’s work to prevent such abuse from happening to others.
After scraping together enough to make it through Temple’s law school, she began a varied career that included work as an investigative producer for what was then CBS affiliate Channel 10 and work in the DA’s office.
Since 2007 she’s been a judge on the Court of Common Pleas, hearing an array of cases and writing opinions. Some of those were overturned on appeal by the nine-person Commonwealth Court, which today consists of seven Republicans and two Democrats.
“[Commonwealth Court] is the best court in the county,” said the 59-year-old Ceisler. “It handles appeals from county and state government agencies. Environment. Fracking. Welfare. Education. Voter’s rights. These are weighty issues.”
Getting elected means getting her name out, so over the coming months Ceisler will travel across Pennsylvania. But she’s limited in that judges can’t really express their views and have to be discreet in whatever they say.
That won’t prevent Ceisler from telling her story.
“After my experience, most of what I’ve done is trying to help improve the community,” said Ceisler, a member of Congregation Rodeph Sholom. “I became an attorney 30 years ago not to make money, but to help people.
“What I’ve gone through in my life has taught me to be very sensitive to individuals who struggle — people who need to be heard and treated equally and fairly no matter who they are.
“That’s really why I like being a judge.”
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