October 28, 2008
Like a lot of moms, . . . she’s been working to make our schools better, build our family business, and make us clean up the kitchen.
— Jack Hirsh, b. late 1990s, American student
on his mother, Judy Hirsh,
candidate for the Pennsylvania state senate, 15th district
Readers of this space already know where I stand on the 2008 American presidential election that, as I write, will be all over but the shouting this time next Tuesday. They also know that, although I am capable of understanding and analyzing the issues and making a decision based on policy, I am also sometimes engaged emotionally by candidates. Although I’m not so shallow that I would vote for someone simply because he or she has an attractive family or a really fine hair highlighting job, I have, twice, voted against someone because a story he encourages people to tell about his personal life offended me.
James Carville, famous as the lead strategist in Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign, is said to have described Pennsylvania as “Philadelphia and Pittsburgh on the ends and Alabama in the middle,” meaning that except for those in the big cities, Pennsylvanians are generally conservative and even, perhaps, a little backward, fearing change and being suspicious of people unlike themselves.
I live in the capital city of Pennsylvania, about right on the eastern edge of that middle Carville describes. Though it’s the seat of the government and politicians and lawmakers of all stripes come together here, it is a Republican stronghold. The state senator from my district, Republican Jeff Piccola, has been in office for more than thirty years. He lives in the same township I do, and I’ve met him and talked to him. He stepped in quickly and effectively when Ron’s radio-controlled airplane club approached him about a problem with the state property they lease. He wrote Lynn a congratulatory letter when she won an essay contest in first grade about the importance of public libraries. He can cite a long list of projects and concerns and legislative accomplishments, and he’s been around long enough to have the respect of his colleagues and the ability to wield some power. Not much to dislike about this guy.
And yet since she first won a place on the ballot, I have been drawn to his challenger, Judy Hirsh. I met her several years ago when she ran for township commissioner from my ward. She came to my house during a neighborhood canvass, and I remember inviting her in. She came across as bright, capable, and energetic. I had previously talked to the woman she was running against and had the opposite impression of her. Judy was somebody just like me — a working mother concerned about education and other issues that affect the community our children were growing up in. I voted for her and was very disappointed when she did not win. The refrigerator magnet she gave me disappeared in some grand pre-Christmas party cleaning purge, and I actually forgot about her until I saw a lawn sign in the summer indicating her challenge to the long-time Republican incumbent.
As my interest in the Obama campaign built, so did my interest in the Hirsh-Piccola contest. It’s definitely a David and Goliath matchup, and, to be honest, I didn’t, at first, think Judy had much of a chance. I sent a modest contribution — remember that heretofore the only political contributions I ever made were to Joe Biden’s efforts in the 1980s — because I knew that the extent of her opponent’s campaign war chest is fabled and that every dollar would be gratefully accepted and well-spent by this engaging underdog.
In the last several weeks the campaign has taken on a very different tone. Jeff Piccola, who, with all his experience and all his connections and all his name recognition shouldn’t have to say much more than “Vote for me!”, has resorted to negativity. TV ads and print materials produced in his name have distorted Judy Hirsh’s words, misstated facts about her positions, and attacked her motives. This disappoints me, and I no longer feel that I am turning away from someone I respected in order to promote the political future of an underdog.
And it appears others are feeling that as well. I went to a small meet-and-greet fundraiser tonight at a downtown restaurant. I sat at a table with some people I knew. After some thought, one person remembered the name of the individual who ran against Jeff Piccola in 2004 (and who lost by 22 percentage points), but no one could come up with the name of anyone who ran against him before that. Judy Hirsh, we agreed, is Jeff Piccola’s first serious challenger, and if the amount of money he’s suddenly spending on advertising and the degree of negativity he’s spewing are any indication, he thinks so too.
Almost no one reading this (the people on my notify list and those who will stumble upon this piece sooner or later) will be in a position to actually vote in the 15th Pennsylvania senatorial district contest. I wish I could do more for Judy than a two-figure contribution and a vote. I’ve already made the contribution. The vote will come Tuesday, even if I have to stand in line in the wind and the rain. I’ll let you know Wednesday how it turns out.
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