Rosenbaum: NJDC ‘More Active’ Than Ever
Photo by Ron Sachs
The National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) is live and kicking, and its influence is not fading, Greg Rosenbaum, the group’s Chairman, insisted in a lengthy interview with Jewish Insider Wednesday.
Last week, the Forward reported that the NJDC was on the brink of closing its doors after it has shorn itself of all staff and outsourced its activities to Bluelight Strategies, a Washington, DC public relations firm.
Bluelight Strategies is owned by Steve Rabinowitz, who once served as NJDC’s vice president, and Aaron Keyak, a previous interim executive director of the organization and a former Hill staffer.
“When somebody tries to extrapolate from that, “Is NJDC about to close?” The answer has to be an emphatic no,” Rosenbaum told Jewish Insider. “In fact, NJDC is more active and certainly more effective than it has ever been.”
Rosenbaum also contested with the Forward’s characterization of “outsourcing” its activities to Bluelight. “It’s called out-contracting a good portion of the administrative responsibility and the basic administrative tasks of running the operations” to people who’ve worked with the organization in the past “to eliminate duplicate expenses” he explained. “I believe I could handle the public face (living in DC) tasks” as Bluelight runs the day-to-day operations and communications. “By contracting to Bluelight, we could take some of their staff and have them help us with drafting statements and policy papers, as well as placement of Op-Eds and the sorts of things a political organization does. By that, we would not be duplicating efforts by having it done first by our staff nad then having it looked over again by Bluelight – which was going to happen anyhow. We had the opportunity to remove duplicative expenses, get top flight management, and let me serve as the public face of the organization.”
So, how many staffers does NJDC employ?
During a panel on 2016 moderated by Jewish Insider at the JFNA in DC last month, Rosenbaum said the NJDC has 4-5 paid staffers “in non-election years – some of those are full-time.” In the wake of the Forward report, Rosenbaum clarified his statement: “That is the number of staffers our contract with Bluelight Strategies makes available to us as a base. “
Rosenbaum pointed to the administration’s victorious effort to secure the 41 votes needed to uphold the Iran nuclear deal and the fact that a majority of Jewish House Representatives and 7 out of 9 Jewish Senators supported the deal as proof of his organization’s most “productive” year in politics. “It’s hard to find another time when NJDC has been as productive in the public sphere as it has been this year,” he stated. “We played a very important role in helping the president’s agreement make it through Congress. All along NJDC’s objective in the role that we played in the Iran deal debate was getting to forty-one Senators. AIPAC was reportedly spending thirty million dollars flying people in from all over the country to lobby senators and representatives to give them the impression that the vast majority of the American Jewish community was opposed to the Iran deal. We, spending three percent of that, if that, managed to persuade the Jewish senators and representatives that that was not the case.”
He also pointed out to a 2012 model called “The Hub” that shows how the current contract could work and improve its duties. The Hub was launched after leaders of the NJDC determined that the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee was being too slow in responding to attacked on President Obama’s record on Israel by the RJC and the Emergency Committee for Israel. The reason given by the campaign was that responding to accusations on joint military exercises or doings at the Embassy would need to be first cleared with the National Security Agency and the National Security Council. So Rabinowitz and Keyak hatched the idea of creating a separate organization loosely connected to the NJDC that its sole purpose was to respond rapidly to claims that the Obama administration was not pro-Israel enough.
Rosenbaum boasted about the fact that Florida ended up in the Obama column due to a concentrated effort to mobilize Jewish voters in the Sunshine State in the last weeks leading to Election Day. And the story goes as follows: A poll conducted by Democratic pollster Mark Mellman on Rosh Hashanah of 2012 showed Obama getting about 59 percent of the Jewish vote in Florida, which would mean that Mitt Romney would win the State of Florida. “So between Rosh Hashanah and Election Day (about seven weeks), we flooded Jewish homes with direct mail, we had a very active robocall operation and a door-knocking operation,” he recalled. “While we focused on the claims that the Obama administration was not pro-Israel enough, we also reminded Florida voters that, Israel aside, where we believed that you needed to have strong bipartisan support for the US-Israeli relationship, on every other issue the Democrats were more likely to represent the views of Florida Jewish voters than Republicans.” An exit poll conducted by Mellman showed an increase of support from 59 to 71 percent – a twelve point shift in seven weeks, which was about 144,000 additional votes.
The President’s margin of victory in Florida was less than 1 percent – 70,000 votes.
“There are lots of explanations for why the President had carried Florida. You’ve read them all, but we know that we moved a hundred and fifty thousand Jewish votes between Rosh Hashanah and election day through our efforts, and that was done by The Hub, which was a process of what The Forward would call ‘outsourcing,'” Rosenbaum contended.
During the interview, Rosenbaum highlighted in detail his private sector executive experience to underline why his professional background sets him up right for something like this. “I come out of a restructuring background. I’ve spent most of my career finding efficiencies in businesses,” he said. “I took over Empire Kosher Poultry in 2003 when it was last breaths from death. It had lost a hundred million dollars in the ten years prior to our taking it over. I went in with the belief that there was a base load of demand because there are people who keep, kosher and there are not a lot of options when it comes to eating poultry that’s kosher. I thought the brand had great value, because if you ask most Jews to name a kosher poultry brand they’ll name Empire. It had been mismanaged in a way that it was on the brink of bankruptcy. We bought it, and I took on the task of finding a way to make it an efficient and profitable business model, and over the next several years we streamlined the business tremendously, working very carefully with our unions and with the community, and we turned the company profitable within two years and the profits continued to grow.”
“In 2009, I was in The Forward 50 because of turning around Empire,” he continued. “That’s a large example in the Jewish world of my career. In 2011, the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty awarded Empire its humanitarian of the year award. In 2007, the Jewish Labor Committee gave us a human rights award for our working with and treatment of our unionized labor.”
“The concept of restructuring businesses to make them more efficient while at the same time remaining socially responsible is the hallmark of my business career and the philosophy that animates me in the public sector, such as with NJDC,” Rosenbaum stressed. “I brought that background to NJDC, and when I became Chair in the spring of 2014 I began a process of reevaluating the way in which NJDC went about its business to find out if we could restructure the organization to be much more efficient, and in becoming more efficient we could take the money that we did raise, spend less of it on administration and more of it on winning elections.”
Going forward, Rosenbaum said that the NJDC contract with Bluelight may require additional staffing “when we finally determine the playing field for the 2016 election where NJDC will play.”