In the heart of the Keystone State, two Pennsylvania politicos battle it out
The Harrisburg, Penn., Jewish community was shook in early August when the Kesher Israel synagogue was vandalized with a pair of swastikas painted on its entryway.
Following the incident, community members and local officials came together to offer their support. Among those who offered their help to the synagogue were Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale and Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA), who are in the midst of a tight congressional race in the state’s 10th district, which includes Harrisburg.
DePasquale told Jewish Insider that he was angered by the incident, describing his reaction as a “surprise on one hand, but on the other hand not completely shocked.”
“This stuff tragically happens. And sometimes it happens in your own backyard,” DePasquale, who is not Jewish but grew up in a Jewish neighborhood in Pittsburgh, said. “We have to do our best to root it out.”
Kesher Israel’s Rabbi Elisha Friedman said that both DePasquale and Perry expressed outrage after the incident.
“That’s exactly the kinds of people that you do want to make sure that they’re very concerned about it and you want them speaking out against it, but on a practical level it was being handled by other government agencies,” he said.
Perry did not respond to JI’s request for comment.
DePasquale’s congressional run comes after a long career in state-level elected office. He first ran for the state legislature in 2006 on a platform of governmental reform, alternative energy and education reform — DePasquale and Perry entered the Pennsylvania House of Representatives the same year, and both concluded their terms in 2013.
DePasquale emphasized that he has pushed for government accountability throughout his career — he said he was the first legislator to post his expenses online, and, as auditor general, helped clear a backlog of untested rape kits and improved child protection services.
DePasquale is running on a moderate platform against Perry, a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus. The House Freedom Fund PAC has contributed nearly $200,000 to Perry’s campaign.
“My style of leadership [is] needed at [the] Capitol. Being tough and fair on both parties,” DePasquale said. “Certainly I’m a proud Democrat, but… I’ve looked out for what is right, not necessarily just what’s right for the Democratic Party. And I thought our nation could use some of that right now.”
He drew a stark contrast between himself and Perry, who he described as “an ideologue that is more focused on representing an extreme ideology as opposed to representing the district.”
Many of the issues on which DePasquale is campaigning are personal to him. His family was never able to obtain health insurance for his younger brother while he struggled with — and ultimately died of — muscular dystrophy.
“At least through all [the Affordable Care Act’s] strengths and weaknesses, that type of situation will not happen for a family member again,” he said. “[Perry] actually voted to take away those protections for people with pre-existing conditions. This fight on healthcare is personal for me.”
The devastation of his brother’s death was compounded by other family tragedies. DePasquale’s father, a Vietnam War veteran, became addicted to painkillers prescribed for gunshot wounds he suffered during the war. To finance his addiction, he sold drugs, eventually landing in prison.
“He actually had to come to my brother’s funeral in shackles,” DePasquale said. “So criminal justice reform, treating drug addiction — these are also high priorities for me.”
DePasquale visited Israel on a trip with the Philadelphia Jewish Coalition in 2019, while he was in the state legislature. In Israel, the group met with members of the Knesset, military and security officials, small business owners and environmental leaders, among others, in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The group also visited areas bordering Gaza and the West Bank.
DePasquale described the trip as “life changing” and “eye opening.”
“I don’t think you can truly appreciate Israel’s challenges until you’re there and you see how close everything is,” he said.
DePasquale added that he also took time away from the group to visit local spots. “Just talking to average everyday folks, whether they were Palestinian or Jewish or whomever else may have been there… the people there desire peace. And they’re exhausted by this and they want it to change,” he said.
DePasquale supports a two-state solution, and believes the United States has a major role to play in brokering such a deal. “The United States needs to make clear not only are we a friend of Israel, but we’ve got to be a fair negotiator among both sides to reestablish credibility,” he said, “so that we can get these sides to the table and try to negotiate.”
DePasquale expressed concern that the U.S.’s credibility as a negotiator has been undermined in recent years by “unilateral actions” that go “well beyond political parties.”
“Our friendship and alliance with Israel is non-negotiable,” he continued. “That doesn’t mean we can’t sit at the table and try to make sure that everyone is negotiating fairly.”
DePasquale said he works in all aspects of his life — both with his family and in his position as Auditor General — to consistently push back against hate and extremism of all kinds, including antisemitism.
As a member of Congress, he said he would continue these efforts by reiterating his support for Israel and speaking out against those who express antisemitism.
Perry voted in favor of last year’s House resolution condemning antisemitism, but also criticized it at the time, saying it had been watered down.
Members of the local Jewish community praised DePasquale’s stance on Middle East issues, and said he’s been very open to discussing these issues, as well as other topics, with members of the Jewish community.
“I came away being very impressed with his views and his knowledge of the Middle East and Israel issues,” said Arthur Hoffman — a Harrisburg, Pa., attorney who organized a fundraiser for DePasquale. “He’s willingly spoken and been open to anyone approaching him with concerns.”
Both Hoffman and Harvey Freedenberg, another Harrisburg attorney backing DePasquale, praised him as a centrist and as more representative of the district than Perry.
“He is somebody who is very much committed to representing all the people of the district, as opposed to the incumbent, who I think has a very narrow ideology… [that] I think is really out of step with a growing number of people in the district,” Freedenberg told JI.
Democratic Jewish Outreach Pennsylvania, a local PAC, also endorsed DePasquale during the primary. “We know he cares deeply about the Jewish community,” Jill Zipin, the PAC’s chair, told JI. “From our view, DePasquale is a man of integrity, he is a man of character, and he is a man who cares about the constituents of [the 10th district.]”
Eric Morrison, a longtime Perry supporter, praised DePasquale’s work as auditor general, but will be supporting Perry again this cycle.
“I’ve known [DePasquale] for a while as well… I hold him in high esteem,” Morrison told JI. “My concern is when you go to Washington, in the House or Senate, you tend to fall into the majority leader, speaker of the house platform regardless.”
Morrison praised Perry’s stance on Israel issues and said Perry has a “fantastic” relationship with the local Jewish community.
“He is very much involved in listening to AIPAC and we have meetings with him, he always avails himself, he wants to listen, he wants to learn,” he said. “He’s a tremendous advocate and ally for issues pertaining to Israel.”
Elliott Weinstein, a member of AIPAC’s national council, likewise described Perry as strong on Israel issues.
“He’s a friend of all of the things that we support,” Weinstein told JI. “He understands the issues that we bring forward to him.”
Recent polling indicates a tight race heading toward election day in the 10th district, which the Cook Political Report rates as a tossup.
A late August and early September York Dispatch poll of 1,100 voters showed Perry leading DePasquale 44.7% to 38.4%, but 10% of voters said they were undecided. But a poll of 500 voters by GBAO Strategies found the two in a statistical tie, with DePasquale at 50% and Perry at 46%, with a margin of error of 4.4 points.
Monetarily, the candidates are fairly evenly matched — Perry had banked $1.9 million and DePasquale had raised $1.6 million by the end of the June. Both had approximately $990,000 in the bank as of the end of June.
But DePasquale is optimistic.
“We’ve been on the air for three and a half weeks and his first ad went on the air as a negative ad, and we’ve been positive,” he said. “So that lets me know that they know they’re in trouble.”