Alex Lasry’s full-court press for the U. S. Senate
The Wisconsin Democrat announced his bid in mid-February
By all accounts, Alex Lasry was instrumental in convincing the Democratic National Convention to pick Milwaukee as its host city in 2020. But as he embarks on his first bid for the U.S. Senate, Lasry, senior vice president of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks, is now assuming the more challenging task of selling himself to voters across Wisconsin — a pivotal swing state that went for Trump in 2016 but helped President Joe Biden claim the presidency in November.
Lasry, who announced his candidacy in mid-February, is hoping he can ride that momentum into 2022. He is planning to challenge Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), who has not yet indicated whether he will seek a third term. Though he is launching his first campaign for public office, Lasry, 33, enters the field with deep ties in Democratic politics. The New York native recently served as finance chair of the DNC’s host committee and previously worked in the Obama White House as an aide to senior advisor Valerie Jarrett. It doesn’t hurt that his father, Marc Lasry, the billionaire hedge fund manager and Bucks co-owner, is a prominent Democratic bundler.
In an interview with Jewish Insider late last week, Lasry downplayed his family’s wealth and connections, claiming that his candidacy would be built from the bottom up. “I’m not going to self-fund, but I will invest,” he claimed. “The most important thing that we’re trying to do is we’re going to build a grassroots campaign.”
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Jewish Insider: Why are you running for Senate now?
Alex Lasry: I think what we need is a change. For the last 10 years, we’ve had a senator who’s had no interest in representing the people of Wisconsin, but has rather been peddling in conspiracy theories and lies. So what I think we need is someone who’s going to think differently, bring a fresh perspective and who also has a record of getting things done. You know, we’re not just talking about a $15 minimum wage; we’re paying it in our arena. We’re not just talking about creating union jobs; we’ve created thousands of them. And we’re not just talking about racial and social justice; we’ve actually been on the front lines doing things like the Equity League that helps give access to capital for minority-owned venture funds.
JI: What’s your campaign strategy?
Lasry: The way we’re going to differentiate ourselves — and I think the way we have — is by giving a fresh perspective, coming up with some new ideas, and a record of results across the state. You’ve seen it already, our early support that we’ve got across the state of Wisconsin with people that I’ve worked with on getting things done — they know that I can go to Washington and make sure that I’m representing and being a voice for the people of Wisconsin.
JI: You moved to Milwaukee from New York about seven years ago. Do you feel like you’ve spent enough time in Wisconsin to understand the most pressing issues in the state and, moreover, garner widespread support there?
Lasry: Look, Wisconsin’s a place that I’ve made my home. I’ve chosen to make this my home. It’s where my wife and I are starting our family. Our daughter is going to be born and raised here. There’s no one denying my love for Milwaukee and Wisconsin. What we’ve been able to do with the Bucks and then also with the DNC convention was really travel the state. One of our biggest things was making sure that the Bucks was a statewide brand and that as we were passing the arena deal that we talked to the entire state about how that was going to work. And then, especially with the convention, traveling around the state to ensure that people knew and talked about how great this was going to be for not just Milwaukee, but all of Wisconsin.
But I think the most important thing we’re going to be doing in this campaign is making sure that we’re going to places that have been neglected not just by Democrats, but Republicans as well. Our first two virtual campaign stops were in [rural] Rusk County and Barron County, where we were talking to people about real issues, like how are we going to create access to broadband across the state, how are we going to make sure that we’re bringing more healthcare facilities across the state, how are we going to raise wages and bring jobs and investment back to Wisconsin? Those are the issues that voters are talking about.
JI: Have you developed a good rapport with Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) during your time living in Milwaukee?
Lasry: Tammy and I get along great. What’s made her so special, I think, is her ability to actually effect change and be a voice for people who feel like government’s not working for them.
JI: Are there any senators, Democrats or Republicans, you regard as potential allies?
Lasry: Obviously, Tammy Baldwin is someone that I think is one of our best senators. People like Sherrod Brown [D-OH], Tammy Duckworth [D-IL]. There are a number of senators, and that’s just to name a few. I’m willing to work with anyone who wants to work on issues that are going to benefit Wisconsin.
JI: Do you take any inspiration from Jon Ossoff’s recent Senate campaign? Like you, he was a young, Jewish Senate candidate running in a swing state.
Lasry: I haven’t spoken to Senator Ossoff. But I very much admired his campaign and thought that he ran a campaign that, I think, appealed to and was inspiring not only a lot of young people but to a broad, diverse coalition. He ran a great race, and hopefully, that’s one that we can emulate.
JI: Can you talk about some of your previous experience beyond the Bucks that will help inform your approach to this campaign and, if you’re elected, to governing?
Lasry: I worked in the Obama White House as an aide to [senior advisor] Valerie Jarrett for the first two years of the administration. It gave me a sense of how Washington works but also, I think, a sense of what we can do differently. When I look at my experience there and couple it with my experience with the Bucks and bringing the convention here, I think there’s a broad experience of knowing how the system works but also knowing how to bring people together to achieve results.
JI: What’s your fundraising strategy? Your father is a well-known bundler for the Democratic Party. Will he be helping you out at all? And are you planning to self-fund?
Lasry: I’m not going to self-fund, but I will invest. But the most important thing that we’re trying to do is we’re going to build a grassroots campaign. The best campaigns that I’ve seen, and the ones that have been the most successful, are ones that are built from the bottom up. When you’re able to bring a broad coalition of people together, whether they’re giving $1, $5 or their time, that’s how you build the strongest campaign. That being said, we’re going to make sure we have the resources to compete. Republicans are going to throw everything they can at this race. This is one of the most, if not the most, important races in the country in 2022.
JI: In late January you were on the receiving end of some negative press for being vaccinated even before the governor of Wisconsin was able to get the shot. What did you make of that blowback?
Lasry: As I said, my wife got a call, and there were extra doses, and we made a decision in the moment to follow state guidelines and what medical ethicists and doctors have all said, which is we can’t let any doses go to waste — and made a call in the moment to protect my daughter and my family and make sure, most importantly, that no doses go to waste. But I think the most important thing that we need to think about, again, is, with Ron Johnson, that’s a vote against money to expand production and ensure that we’re able to get past this pandemic. And I think that’s one of the most dangerous things.
JI: You were involved in some of the protests against the Jacob Blake shooting in Kenosha over the summer, when the Bucks sat out a playoff game in protest. Can you talk about that period and describe any lessons you drew from it?
Lasry: The fight for racial and social justice and equality is one of the central tenets of this campaign. It was in our launch video, and it’s something we need to make sure that we’re solving. What we saw this summer was, this was a really difficult time in our history, and it bubbled up, I think, a lot of things that we’ve known to be at stake, and that now we’re hopefully finally able to start working towards solving. This is one of the things that I’ve been most proud about in my work with the Bucks, our work on racial justice. And not just this summer, but over the last six, seven years, our work on racial and social justice has been a central tenet of our Bucks community efforts, and it’s also now going to be a central tenet of my campaign. What gave me hope, though, was when we saw the protests and all the people in the streets and all the people who are working on this issue — it’s Black, white, people of all colors, ages, races coming together to talk about and protest and demand change. That’s something that I’m going to make sure that that I’m not just fighting for but actually getting results on.
JI: What were your thoughts on the recent non-prosecution of the officer who shot Jacob Blake?
Lasry: When you look at the video, it’s pretty clear what happened. This was a shooting of an unarmed African American, something that’s been happening all too often in this country. So I was disappointed. I was very disappointed in that ruling. But what we’re going to continue to do is fight to make sure that this type of stuff doesn’t happen again, and if there is another unfortunate incident, that consequences are going to take place.
JI: Let’s pivot to foreign policy. Have you been to Israel?
Lasry: A number of times. Most recently, I did a Basketball Without Borders [trip] with the NBA, where they sent a delegation to Israel to tour the country, meet with government officials and businesses. Every time I go to Israel, it’s a powerful and very emotional time. Israel is a place that is dear to my heart, especially growing up fairly religious. It’s going to the Wailing Wall and everything, especially being in Jerusalem and visiting Yad Vashem. It’s just a really incredible place — and a great place to feel that history and really feel my Judaism.
JI: Do you hope to play any active role in the peace process over there if you’re elected?
Lasry: I would definitely hope to make sure that we are encouraging the Biden administration to figure out a two-state solution — and make sure that everyone is recognizing Israel’s right to exist and that Israel is protected and able to defend itself. We have to be one of Israel’s strongest allies. So I will definitely be a strong supporter and proponent of Israel in encouraging and pushing to ensure that we’re able to create a peace process.
JI: What’s your stance on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement? Do you believe it is antisemitic, as some critics have alleged?
Lasry: I definitely think that movement is based on, and has a lot of ties to, antisemitism. It’s not something that I’m for. When I hear that, it does worry me. Israel is one of our strongest allies. We need to be able to talk to them and tell them when they’re doing stuff wrong. But that doesn’t mean that we’re punishing Israel or that we’re pulling funding or anything like that. What we need to make sure we’re doing is using our leadership to, hopefully, move Israel in a better direction if we think they are going off course, but also understanding that they’re a strong ally, and we can never desert them.
JI: What are your thoughts on the Abraham Accords? Do you think the normalization agreements between Israel and Middle Eastern countries like Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Morocco represented a significant foreign policy achievement for the Trump administration?
Lasry: I do think that some of these normalization deals, like the one with Morocco, are ones that we need to continue to pursue. We need to make sure that we’re encouraging all of Israel’s neighbors to recognize Israel’s right to exist and be part of the international community, because that is, I think, our best way to a safer and more prosperous Middle East. And so that is something that I think the Biden administration is going to continue to pursue.
JI: You mentioned Morocco. Do you have any special connection with the country because your father was born there?
Lasry: Yeah, I mean, we’ve been back a few times. We visited my dad’s home there and I’ve been able to walk around the Jewish quarter and see the country. So I thought it was really great to see Israel and Morocco be able to form that kind of deal. There was definitely a nice little personal link with my Judaism and my Jewish heritage and my father’s home country.
JI: One aspect of that deal was that the Trump administration recognized Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara in defiance of the U.N. line. What is your take on that?
Lasry: I’m against that. I think that that kind of side deal is not something that — it goes against what the U.N. said, and I think that’s not something that we should have been recognizing.