State-funded busing to area Jewish day schools and disbursements to these private schools for computers, nurses and special education programming were on the minds of voters in Maryland’s 19th state legislative District during a campaign forum sponsored by the Orthodox Union.
Five people are running on the Democratic ticket to fill three House of Delegate seats, while incumbent Sen. Richard Manno, a Democrat, is running unopposed in the June 24 primary. The district covers parts of Silver Spring, Olney and Derwood, as well as the unincorporated areas of Rockville and Gaithersburg.
The 100 people who attended the May 1 forum at Young Israel-Shomrai Emunah listened as Paul Bardack, Charlotte Crutchfield, Marice Morales and incumbent Dels. Bonnie Cullison, Ben Kramer agreed with the desire to provide more state money for private schools. They also all said they would stand with Israel if sent to Annapolis.
In fact the only differences between the five candidates was in the way they would work toward the same goals if elected to the $43,500-a-year position.
Speaking to an audience of mostly observant Jews, Manno, Kramer and Bardack weaved their Jewish roots throughout their remarks, while the non-Jewish candidates spoke of their respect for Jews.
Cullison told the audience that she has been working hard to obtain busing for private school students and believes it will happen.
“We are close to having a pilot program in place,” she said, adding that Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett “has committed” to the program. “I believe it can start by the beginning of the 2014 school year,” she added to a round of applause.
Providing busing is “a win-win situation,” she said, as it helps parents and keeps cars off the road.
Cullison, a former special education teacher who has been a delegate since 2010, told the audience that she has come to “admire your dedication to bringing goodness into the world” and “your unwavering commitment” to do what needs to be done to send children to Jewish day schools. “I’ve come to a greater understanding of how important for your whole way of life” are Jewish day schools, she said.
Kramer, meanwhile, talked about his eight years in Annapolis, taking particular pride in helping senior citizens and working against anti-Semitism.
“Anti-Semitism, as I know, and you all know, is alive and well” in the form of boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel, he said, pointing to his unsuccessful effort to financially penalize the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, for its support of the American Studies Association, which earlier this year voted to support a boycott of the Jewish state.
“At this very moment, your tax dollars are supporting the BDS movement, and I have a real problem with that,” he said.
Rather than penalize a Maryland state academic institution, the legislators decided to include a few sentences of support for Israel in its budget.
“It wasn’t the victory we should have had,” Kramer said, adding that he would continue fighting anti-Semitism if re-elected. “There is no one in our state legislature who is more focused and tuned into issues of concern for the Jewish community.”
Bardack, who attended a Jewish day school and sent his three children to Jewish day schools and has been on the board of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington and president of Tifereth Israel Congregation in the District, sprinkled a Hebrew prayer into his remarks several times.
“The state of Maryland can do more, much more” to help private schools, he said. “I’m for your community. I share your values, and I want to bring your values to Annapolis.”
Morales, a lawyer and a strong union advocate, told the crowd she is “a person of faith myself as well,” and would work to bring different communities together in her effort to solve some of the state’s problems.
Crutchfield, an attorney, is an activist in the community, and has served as a PTA president and on a homeowner’s association board. She also is an elected member of the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee.
If elected, she promised to support the “three T’s: textbooks, technology and transportation.”
The politicians also discussed how synagogues and other religious organizations can benefit under the state’s push for universal prekindergarten, noting those institutions often already have such programs in place and could help already overcrowded public schools.
The candidates also were in agreement about the need for enhanced security in light of the recent shooting deaths near the Kansas City Jewish Community Center.
On the Republican ticket, Felix Ed Gonzalez II is running unopposed for state Senate, and Martha Schaerr is unopposed in her quest to be a delegate. Del. Sam Arora is not seeking re-election.