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The Philadelphia Jewish Voice

The Delaware Valley's Progressive Alternative

Volume 1 - Number 1 - July 2005

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In Their Own Words

Chuck Pennacchio


Introduction

Each issue, the "In Their Own Words" column will feature a prominent politician speaking directly to our readers on issues of concern to the Jewish community.

This month Senate Candidate Chuck Pennacchio is interviewed by our own editor Neil Greenberg.

His opponent in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate is Bob Casey. Please stay tuned for an article from the Casey camp in our next issue.

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Editor: Neil Greenberg [email protected] Neil Greenberg

What does a real Democrat sound like?

Dissatisfied Democrats and Republicans have taken to calling many of their representatives DINOs and RINOs – Democrats or Republicans In Name Only. It’s a way of prodding those who have moved too far to the middle, who fail to distinguish themselves definitively from the opposition. From a progressive viewpoint, this attitude is especially poignant, since Republicans in general have moved extremely far right, while the very word "left" is anathema to most Democratic politicians. The "center," it appears, has shifted significantly.

Lately Howard Dean has taken up the cudgels nationally for those who want to see an unabashed basher – someone who calls ’em as he sees ’em, and isn’t afraid to be an out-and-out liberal. He gets criticized viciously for this, but he also provides a lot of relief for those who think Democrats have been much too timid about voicing their core values.

Who has this kind of profile locally? Not Bob Casey, Jr., the front-runner for the Democratic Senatorial nomination against Rick Santorum. If you go to his website, one of the key arguments posted is that he, like Santorum, is pro-life. This doesn’t provide the voters with much of a contrast.

Progressive and aggressiveChuck Pennacchio

Chuck Pennacchio is the other kind of Democrat. Involved in politics since the age of 13, he has worked with the likes of Congressman Ron Dellums (D-Cal) and Senators Alan Cranston (D-Cal), Tom Harkins (D-Iowa) and Paul Simon (D-Ill), giving him a solid liberal education. In Dellums’ office, he went toe-to-toe with the Pentagon over women’s and minority rights in the military – and frequently won. On the Cranston and Simon teams, he learned what being a champion for Israel meant.

Today, he is running a courageous, if somewhat quixotic, campaign for the Democratic Senatorial nomination (www.chuck2006.com). Although Casey has the blessings of heavy hitters like Gov. Ed Rendell and Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid (D-Nev), and a lead over Santorum in current polls, Pennacchio thinks he can, and should, be replaced by a Democrat who can make a more compelling case – and run a "retail" campaign.

What’s a "retail" campaign? In Pennacchio’s view, exactly what the Democrats haven’t been running. This is typified by what he saw as a fatal flaw in the John Kerry presidential bid.

"His handlers kept him on message, but protected him from really connecting with the voters," says Pennacchio.

"He didn’t get out there and talk directly to people on bread and butter issues: jobs, healthcare, the environment. This would have made him less stiff and more human."

A radical notion: talk to the voters

Pennacchio knows retail campaigns succeed because he has worked on, and run, several himself. He has seen candidates talk personally to voters, and gain loyalty through grass-roots organizing, often beating incumbents – one of the hardest jobs in politics. His own campaign has garnered significant media attention despite his lack of name recognition or party backing.

A clue to why this is happening can be found by comparing his website to Casey’s. The Bob Casey for U.S. Senate site has a lot of items about polls, fund-raising and how to buy a bumper sticker, but it’s almost impossible to find an actual statement about his beliefs. Pennacchio’s site has a list of issues (education, Iraq, Social Security, women’s rights, campaign finance reform) that lead you to clear statements on his positions.

"The Democrats are blaming the Republicans and the voters for their defeats, but it’s just as much their own fault," he says. "They need to talk to people about their concerns, and show why the Democratic platform is a meaningful choice. They have to stop being scared of criticism."

A distinction with a difference

One of the things that concerns Pennacchio most is separation of church and state, to which he’s deeply committed. On everything from stem-cell research to the Terri Schiavo case, religious belief has fought its way into the public realm. He points out that the K-Street lobbyists are increasingly from religious and pseudo-religious organizations, and that Sen. Santorum vets lobbyists for corporations, choosing ones who share his beliefs.

"Casey won’t push back against Santorum on this issue," he says. "They both support using only existing stem-cell lines; I support the availability of new ones. They don’t back a woman’s right to choose; I do. They believe the Ten Commandments belong in courthouses; I don’t. They were for judicial intervention in the Schiavo case; I wasn’t. As for Iraq, Bob Casey won’t even say whether he would have voted for the invasion; I’m proud to say I wouldn’t have."

He’s also a staunch supporter of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian situation.

"The only secure future is a pre-eminent peace. I don’t have a magic formula, but I do know the U.S. has to play an honest and courageous broker role. We’re not doing that now."

Pennacchio is unafraid of debate on these hot-button topics. He goes to open forum meetings, even welcomes the participation of Republicans.

Can Pennacchio make his case?

He has seen, and helped, others to win against long odds, whether it was helping minorities against the government or electing representatives who were challenging incumbents. With the help of new organizations like Democracy for America, a political action committee that grew out of the Dean campaign, he is building steam toward next May’s primary.

Schooled in diplomatic history, with an emphasis on national security issues, Pennacchio today teaches college history and poli sci to the next generation of political activists. "We only need a million people at the polls, voting for their own interests," he says. Anyone who can put "only" and "a million" in the same sentence may actually have the grit to do it.

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