Four Jewish organizations are coming together to sponsor a candidate forum for the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party candidates in the 5th Congressional District on Aug. 6, eight days before the primary election to determine who will succeed current Rep. Keith Ellison in Congress.
The event, held at Beth El Synagogue starting at 7 p.m., will feature all five DFLers that are on the ballot: Jamal Abdulahi, Frank Drake, Former Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, State Rep. Ilhan Omar, and State Sen. Patricia Torres Ray. The forum is being moderated by Mary Lahammer of TPT 2’s Almanac, and is co-sponsored by: Jewish Community Action, Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, the National Council of Jewish Women Minnesota, and Jewfolk, Inc. (the parent company of TC Jewfolk).
The winner of the DFL Primary on Aug. 14 will face a Republican challenger in November’s general election, although the seat is among the safest Democratic seats in Congress.
Lahammer is working with the organizers to develop questions for the forum on a variety of topics. There will not be an audience Q & A.
“Jewish Minnesotans are interested in many of the same national and local issues as our non-Jewish neighbors,” said Ethan Roberts, director of government affairs for the JCRC. “At the same time, there are issues which are more specific to our Jewish community that we are also intensely interested in. We look forward to welcoming Minnesotans from all backgrounds to hear directly from the candidates.
“No doubt some of the issues raised will be addressed at other forums, but we also expect Lahammer will likely ask questions on issues such as the rise in anti-Semitism or the U.S./Israel relationship that will only be covered at our event.”
Said Libby Parker, Jewfolk’s executive director: “There had been a robust discussion of some of the issues in a Facebook group that we administer, and we wanted to see if we could have some questions answered by the candidates. We think it’s clear – and we’ve heard directly from our own audience – that the Jewish community is interested in issues related to rising anti-Semitism and xenophobia, immigration, the US-Israel relationship and the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction movement.”
There is a Facebook poll asking readers the topics they would like to hear from the candidates on, and you can make your choices here.
So why are four Jewish organizations sponsoring an event at a synagogue with no Jewish candidates? JCA executive director Carin Mrotz – paraphrasing a slogan of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society – said we engage because we’re Jewish, not because the candidates are.
“We see candidate forums like this as such a vital part of civic engagement and voter education,” she said. “We never tell our members how to vote, but we want them engaged and attentive to the process, and hearing from candidates is central to that. Forums like this are a way to start building relationships between our community and whoever will eventually represent us. They will definitely hear from us once elected – let’s start now so they’ll know who’s on the other end of that phone when we call.”
Beth Gendler, the executive director of NCJW Minnesota, said that expanding voter rights, driving turnout, educating on issues and engaging advocates has been central to the NCJW mission.
“Our vote is our voice, and recent efforts to exclude individuals from the electoral process lie at the heart of our work to increase civic engagement in the United States,” she said. “Our ultimate goal? That every eligible voter is able to register to vote, cast a ballot, and engage in all levels of government in a deep and meaningful way. Hosting candidate forums is one important tool that we use to meet our goal of having an informed and engaged electorate.”