A Potomac businessman who is running against the two-party system and a liberal Middle East peace activist from Silver Spring who is running against AIPAC are among the hopefuls looking to unseat two-term incumbent Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) in the November elections.
Neal Simon and Jerome Segal, both Jewish, are two of the eight candidates challenging the Jewish senator, who filed for re-election earlier this month. The challengers to Cardin, an overwhelming favorite to win re-election, are pushing what they see as outside-the-box political agendas on both the foreign and domestic policy fronts.
Segal is one of five Democrats who are challenging Cardin, 74, for the party’s nomination in the June primary, which includes Richard Vaughn, Debbie Wilson, Lih Young and Chelsea Manning, the transgender activist who was sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking more than 700,000 classified military documents to WikiLeaks. Manning was released from prison last year after President Barack Obama commuted her sentence. Other candidates in the race include Simon, an independent, and Republicans Tony Campbell, Nnabu Eze and Blaine Taylor.
Segal founded the Jewish Peace Lobby in 1989 as a liberal alternative to AIPAC in his view. The organization supports the two-state solution, calls for a halt to Israeli settlement growth and a shared Jerusalem between Israel and the Palestinians.
Segal, 74, said in an interview that he is running to redefine the American dream and to “put AIPAC on the ballot.”
He accused Cardin of being a sounding board for AIPAC, by sharing many of the lobby’s hawkish positions, such as its opposition to the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement and its condemnation of a 2016 United Nations Security Council resolution that declared Israel’s settlement activity illegal.
“You rely on the lobbyists and AIPAC to write the legislation, which is what happens with Cardin,” Segal said. “He doesn’t have a subtle understanding of the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict. I question how deeply committed he is to the two-state solution. I see him as a protector of the settlement movement.”
Manning, 30, has also criticized Cardin’s foreign policy record. The North Bethesda resident recently criticized a bill known as the Israel Anti-Boycott Act that Cardin co-sponsored last year and would prevent American companies from complying with a boycott of Israel sanctioned by another country or an intergovernmental organization. Manning said on “The Kojo Nnamdi Show” that the bill suppresses free speech — a criticism also made by the American Civil Liberties Union.
“It is foreign policy through domestic policy,” she said. “That’s not how the world should be working. We shouldn’t be dealing with our foreign policy by dealing with draconian legislation.”
In an email, a Cardin campaign spokeswoman responded: “Senator Cardin understands that a safe and secure Israel is in the national interest of the United States. He has long been committed to a two-state solution that would protect Israel’s security and ensure economic opportunity for the Palestinians. He opposes any efforts to bypass direct negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis — whether through the United Nations or elsewhere. It is only through direct negotiations that lasting peace can be achieved between the parties.”
Segal, who has filed to enter the race but has not launched has campaign, said his other focus will be on domestic issues, particularly the economy. He said politicians are looking at economic issues the wrong way by simply focusing on job growth.
“We’ve got to take economic policy away from the economists and stop thinking about the aggregate terms and start to think about how to liberate people, whether it’s housing, food, security, etc..,” he said.
“The question is today, what percentage of the American public has the money to have a house, to have
access to a safe neighborhood and have access to public schools?”
The candidates’ political loyalties have changed over the years. Both Manning and Segal have voted for Cardin twice. Simon, 49, the CEO of the wealth management firm Bronfman Rothschild, said he has voted for candidates of both parties. Federal Election Commission records dating back 2007 show that he has given mostly to Democrats, including $4,000 in the 2016 election cycle to then-Senate candidate Chris Van Hollen. When asked, Simon declined to name specific candidates he had voted for in past elections.
“From the moment I started voting, I always said I wanted to vote for the better candidate,” Simon told reporters at his campaign kickoff on Feb. 6. “I grew up in a household where my father was a Republican and my mother was a Democrat, and I remember John Anderson ran for president [in 1980] and realized that you can be an independent.”
In his 15-minute speech at the rally, Simon, railed against the political bickering in Congress that he thinks can be traced to the lack of independent voices.
“The infighting that consumes our country’s leaders has brought gridlock, stagnation and even shutdowns,” he said. “And we are forced to watch as the parties selfishly chip away at our sense of community and drag us deeper into debt without addressing our most pressing social and economic problems.”
Simon gave few specifics about what he would do to bridge the partisan divide, but later told reporters that Democrats and Republicans have taken a tribal approach to resolving the issue of immigration. The ideal scenario, he said, is to provide a pathway to citizenship while providing border security.
“It shouldn’t be that hard of an area to compromise, but the parties turn everything into this black and white argument,” he said.
And it was a Republican who Simon pointed to as an example of an effective, non-polarizing leader — Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan.
Said Simon, “He’s not viewed by our state as a partisan, and I think we need more leaders like that.”