Pamela Wexler recently attended her very first political fundraising event. Not active in an election before, she generally has been satisfied with Jim Graham as her Ward 1 councilman.
But Wexler, who has a fourth-grader at the Jewish Primary Day School of the Nation’s Capital and an older son who is a graduate, decided she has had enough of Graham’s ethical problems while in office. He has been reprimanded by the D.C. ethics board for committing “one or more violations of the District of Columbia Code of Conduct.”
“I really want to see this guy held up to higher standards,” said Wexler. “I felt the bar has been lowered quite a bit over the years” during Graham’s four terms on the council.
So about a week before the April 1 primary, Wexler attended an event for Brianne Nadeau, Graham’s opponent, at the home of friends Steve Rabinowitz and Laurie Moskowitz, well aware that she would be asked to donate to the campaign.
“I knew that’s what they were looking for,” said Wexler. “I am not a fool.”
Nadeau easily won her over.
“I was so impressed with her. I admit I came in with a bias. I wanted to like her,” she said, adding, “Not only was I impressed, but I could see this woman being mayor one day.”
After hearing Nadeau, Wexler made her first political contribution of $36 and went on to send out a supportive email to about 250 people on her contact list who live in Ward 1.
Weber was part of an apparent groundswell of Jewish support that helped bring about the decisive upsets of both Graham and Mayor Vincent Gray, who lost by about 10,000 votes to Councilmember Muriel Bowser of Ward 4.
Rabinowitz and Moskowitz held several fundraisers at their home, inviting among others, JPDS parents, members of the Adas Minyan and congregants from Adas Israel Congregation. And they weren’t the only Jews doing so.
Just about everyone Washington Jewish Week spoke to stressed that corruption, rather than stands on particular issues, was their driving force in working to oust some incumbents. With Gray facing accusations of campaign finance irregularities stemming from his successful 2010 campaign, many voters decided they were tired of being branded as living in a corrupt city.
In an election where only 83,000 votes were cast by 370,000 registered voters — less than 25 percent of eligible voters — a small group of interested residents can make a difference.
Combine that with an election that featured door-to-door campaigning and personal visits by many of the candidates rather than expensive television ads, and it is obvious that the efforts by some parents at JPDS and 100 volunteers from the Jews United for Justice Campaign Fund played a role in the results.
During the last three weeks of the campaign, JUFJ Campaign Fund volunteers logged more than 200 hours in support of their endorsed candidates, of which Nadeau was one.
“Our volunteers gave nearly $4,000 directly to candidates, made 4,000 phone calls, knocked on more than 1,200 doors, and covered 20 polling locations on Election Day,” noted Jacob Feinspan, executive director of the campaign fund.
“Our volunteers made a huge impact,” he added.
“When we made our endorsements, both Brianne Nadeau and Charles Allen [the winner in Ward 6] were polling within the margin of error with their opponents. We helped them both win decisive victories. We accomplished all this on a budget of less than $20,000.”
During the roughly two weeks before the election, volunteers from the campaign fund spent three Sundays canvassing for Nadeau, held five phone bank events and conducted one meet-and-greet event for each of the candidates in Wards 5 and 6.
Moskowitz, who held fundraisers in her home for both Nadeau and Bowser, said JPDS parents already were familiar with Bowser as she represents the ward in which the school is located.
Bowser has attended school functions, including the dedication of the new north campus building.
Moskowitz said about 20 people came to her event for Bowser and some who didn’t attend still donated money. Bowser was there, and spoke about education and city schools.
While Moskowitz said she’d “rather not” say how much she donated, she believed the people attending her event made it worthwhile for Bowser.
“The JPDS-NC community stepped up for Muriel Bowser again in a big way, raising thousands of dollars for the school’s council member in her successful race for mayor,” said Rabinowitz, president of Rabinowitz Communications where Nadeau is vice president.
Bowser, a Democrat, will face D.C. Councilmember-at-large David Catania, an independent, in the November election.
“She’s got a race on her hands for the general election, and I expect to continue to be supportive,” said Moskowitz.
Ginger Moss also attended Moskowitz’s fundraiser for Nadeau. The Adas Israel member said she was invited to similar events for several candidates.
“I thought that this corruption thing was enough. I’ve had enough. I’m sick of people with this mind-set,” she said. “There is something about bringing in new blood.”
While Moss said she has donated a small amount of money to presidential campaigns, she chose not to contribute to any candidates in the recent D.C. election. However, she said she read up on Nadeau and talked her up to a lot of people.
Rob Zucker, who sits on the board at JPDS, is a Bowser supporter. During his years of involvement with the school, he has run into the councilmember several times.
There are JPDS families who “like her openness and her work ethic,” he said, describing her as impressive. “I find her to be inclusive.”
Zucker attended a fundraiser for Bowser at the Rabinowitz-Moskowitz home and said he did donate to her campaign, but chose not to have the amount listed in the paper.
At the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, which does not endorse candidates or get involved in elections, executive director Ron Halber said, “All we can do is help voters understand who their choices were, and I think we fulfilled that role very well.”
The JCRC sponsored a mayoral debate at the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue in March and more than 800 people attended, which Halber called “an amazing attendance.”
While Halber said some JCRC activists did participate and make financial contributions as individuals in the D.C. primary, he did not know if they had an increased presence during this most recent election.