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Representative-elect John Herbert Adler (D NJ-3)
In Their Own Words

Congressman-elect John Adler

---interviewed by Alan Tuttle

When the 111th Congress debuts next month, a record 45 Jews will take the oath of office: 32 Congressman and --- regardless of the outcome in the still-contested Minnesota election --- 13 Senators. The three newcomers to the House of Representatives are John Adler (D NJ-3), Alan Grayson (D FL-8) and Jared Polis (D CO-2). The Philadelphia Jewish Voice hopes to provide an opportunity to learn about all of these new Jewish voices in Congress in the coming weeks.blican incumbant Jim Saxton to represent New Jersey's 3rd Congressional District stretching across the middle of New Jersey from Cherry Hill and Mt. Holly to Long Beach Island. Back in 1990, Saxton defeated Adler who was then Cherry Hill Councilman by a wide margin: 60% to 40%. Adler has represented New Jersey's 6th State Legislative District since 1992. He was Assistant Minority Leader from 1994 to 2001, and has served on the New Jersey Israel Commission since 1995.

Alan Tuttle recently spoke with John Adler over the phone from his home in Cherry Hill where he lives with his wife Shelly and sons Jeffrey, Alexander, Andrew and Oliver.

PJV: Congratulations on your win. Other than the outcome, how did this campaign differ from your first try for Congress?

My first Congressional race in 1990 involved a young man with a young wife and one very small child. Now 18 years later I'm a middle-aged man, with a still young wife, and 4 children, ranging from college to 1st grade. So I'm a different person, my family is different, and so it was even more gratifying and satisfying for me and for my wife. I brought a different perspective and life experience.

PJV: Before you say Hello to Washington, you’ll have to say goodbye to Trenton. What will you most miss about your time in the New Jersey State Senate?

I made a lot of real friends, other legislators, both Republicans and Democrats, and I'll miss that camaraderie as we tried to solve problems. I'm worried that the Washington political climate is much more hostile and unnecessarily partisan. That's not my personal style, I’m not comfortable being mean in a political context or any other context. I’m going to try to help change that atmosphere, because I don’t think it’s helpful to the American people to have that fighting where there are real problems we need to address. I succeeded in Trenton. I was very pleased that during this campaign Republican legislators didn’t campaign against me. They may have said good things about my Republican opponent, but none came out criticizing me or my character, my values or my commitment to help New Jersey. I’m hopeful that same sense of mutual respect can spread throughout Washington, because we certainly have enough problems we need to address.

PJV: Many of the bills you sponsored relate to environmental protection. With the economy reeling, how does environmental protection remain a priority to you and your electorate when most people are focused on jobs, the threat to retirement savings, and home values?

I think we have the opportunity to address the economic crisis we currently face, the growing crisis of global warming, and an energy policy that has been lacking for my entire lifetime. If we do it right we can address our environmental concerns and have a real energy policy to free us from dependence on foreign oil, power our economy with green jobs and make America a manufacturing hub of the world. We can do a lot of great things if we focus attention on this convergence of crises.

PJV: Your district stretches across New Jersey from the Delaware River to the Atlantic Ocean and Long Beach Island. Tell us something about your district, its Jewish community and your involvement in the Jewish community?

My district is representative of the middle class hopes and dreams, as well as the current frustrations and anxieties of much of suburban America. I think many families in my district are struggling right now. And that's true throughout New Jersey, this region and country. We can solve these problems that are sometimes caused by the rest of the world, and sometimes are problems we cause.munity, pWe have a very vibrant Jewish community, principally based in Cherry Hill, western Burlington County and a smaller Jewish community in the Toms River area. The Katz JCC in Cherry Hill is one of leading Jewish communities not only in New Jersey, but in the whole country, and as such there are a lot of progressive social programs and there is a real heightened awareness of the needs and vulnerability of Israel and America's special relationship with Israel that both Jews and Gentiles in this district feel.

PJV: I want to get to Israel in a minute but first I wanted to ask: further North in New Jersey, Rabbi Dennis Shulman ran unsuccessfully against Republican incumbent Scott Garrett. Did your campaign coordinate with his? Do you have thoughts on the difference in outcome?

He and I met many times and I like him very much. I hope he stays involved in public service, in whatever way he sees fit, as a candidate or otherwise. I think I had the benefit of substantial government experience, I had developed some issue expertise, and some network of friends throughout the state. Rabbi Shulman came into this campaign fresh, which in some ways is a very good thing, but can also handicap a candidate in terms of developing the base of field effort and financial contributors to help a candidate win.

PJV: How would you describe the Obama campaign in New Jersey? It seems New Jersey was always considered safe and ‘Blue’.

It's accurate that people in both political parties assumed that Obama would win New Jersey barring a catastrophe, political or otherwise, and that he shouldn’t be spending resources to win New Jersey. So people in New Jersey understood that the Obama campaign was not going to dedicate much time or more than token resources to campaign, and that the state was likely to support him without his campaign mounting a major effort. That turned out to be the case.

PJV: Much of the Jewish community supported Hillary Clinton in the Democratic Primary, but you supported Barack Obama when he was still ‘suspect’ in terms of support for Israel and his association with Reverend Wright, who was himself open to accusations of anti-Semitism. What drew you to Senator Obama?

I was the first elected official in New Jersey to endorse Obama’s Presidential campaign. I believed at the time and I believe now that he was the most likely person to help us bridge the partisan divide that has hurt us in policy making for the last couple of decades. I also thought he was uniquely positioned to help bridge our country's historic racial divide and to show the world America’s better side after eight years where much of the world came to question America's good faith. I believed it at the time, and I think the reaction around the world after Obama's victory confirms what I believed a year and a half ago. I didn’t campaign against Senator Clinton, or Senator Dodd, or Senator Biden, or any other candidate, but I believed we had the best chance with Senator Obama to achieve victory and the fast renewal of America's spirit after very difficult years under President Bush.

PJV: I am curious if you have a comment on President-elect Obama's choice of Rahm Emanuel for Chief of Staff. I know there has been some reaction on the part of some Republicans that this is not the kind of person that they thought would be able to be a bridge to the Republicans.

I think Rahm Emanuel will be fantastic. I know him and like him a lot. I’ve spoken w/ him since he accepted the job. I’m very excited that as the day-to-day manager of the White House he can implement Senator Obama’s vision as President for a better, more prosperous America. I think he’s a terrific choice.

PJV: Can you describe the New Jersey Israel Commission? How did you get involved with it?

New Jersey recognizes that Israel is a small country, surrounded on many sides by hostile neighbors. I think people in New Jersey on a bi-partisan basis also recognize Israel as an incredibly vibrant democracy with a flourishing economy is overcoming natural and man-made obstacles. The state of New Jersey has tried to foster a relationship with the State of Israel for the benefit of New Jersey and also out of regard for our great ally that stands with America time after time when America is threatened throughout the world. So the New Jersey Israel Commission is designed, and has succeeded by and large, in strengthening economic, educational and cultural ties between New Jersey and Israel. And it has helped the State of New Jersey to invest much of its pension money in Israel bonds as investments designed to benefit New Jersey taxpayers and pensioners while also further strengthening Israel's robust economy.

PJV: Do you think the Obama administration will bring any real change in how the United States approaches the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Should this be a priority?

I think with this new admin we have an opportunity to let countries show their good faith both to America and to Israel by negotiating longer term peace agreements that are not one-sided against Israel, but that show the mutual respect that is what diplomacy actually requires. I don't think anyone should count on that, but we have a real opportunity, as America has shown it’s willingness to change for the better: other countries now have a chance to work with America, and in this context to work with Israel to show they can also change for the better, for the sort of mutual gains that successful negotiations are supposed to yield. I think Israel has for many years shown its willingness to negotiate in good faith. I don't think most of its negotiating partners over the years have reciprocated. Now we have a hopeful new chance.

PJV: So it's more that you see a 'chance' than a specific way that you see the Obama administration differs in its approach compared to previous administrations?

The Obama administration understands that Israel should not be forced into bad negotiations or bad settlements; it's still a very tiny country surrounded by hostile neighbors. This change in administration may allow America and Israel the opportunity to negotiate fair deals to protect Israel’s long-term security in ways that are mutually acceptable.

PJV: Should the United States move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Israel’s capital, Jerusalem?

I think that’s a decision that the President and State Department should make in consultation with the government of the State of Israel. There may be some positive symbolic reasons for the change. The principals need to move forward together.

PJV: Obama has said that Iranian nuclear weapons would be an existential threat to the state of Israel. How should we approach this issue?

We need to treat this prospect of a nuclear-capable Iran with extraordinary care. With this change of administration we now have a chance first to form an active alliance with countries around the world with whom we can, together, impose tough economic sanctions to induce Iran to terminate its nuclear program.

PJV: And barring success on that front?

I think we first should actually try that. We haven’t really tried that with any real commitment for diplomacy. I wouldn’t want America or Israel to be forced into a military act because we haven’t genuinely tried a diplomatic act. Having said that, the idea of Iran with nuclear weapons is a horror. Unlike most countries, Iran does not seem to have regard for human life that is the premise on which nations deal with one another. The idea that Iran might be willing to sacrifice much of its population in order to carry out a heinous attack on Israel or other areas - Western Europe or elsewhere - creates a very destabilizing diplomatic situation that could ultimately require military action.

PJV: Getting back to economic sanctions: Republicans have repeatedly thwarted attempts to close the loophole which allows companies like Halliburton to do business with Iran because of Halliburton’s office in the Cayman Islands. Should closing this loophole be a priority for the 111th Congress?

There’s no question that we need to take active steps to show Iran the seriousness of our intent with respect to its nuclear program. And that's the reason we shouldn’t be giving government contracts to American companies that circumvent our national security interests and deal with other countries like Iran or other countries that pose a growing threat to our peace and stability.

PJV: Coming back domestically: The situation of Agriprocessors has been of interest to many in the Jewish community: the owners have strong ties with the Orthodox community, and much of the Orthodox community has been slow to criticize Agriprocessors; people who keep kosher are now are seeing a reduction in available kosher meat products; many in the progressive Jewish community have called for new standards of kashrut to include issues for which Agriprocessors has been criticized. What are your thoughts on this? Any plans to bring this issue to Congress?

I will tell you candidly it’s not an issue that has come up from the people in my district, even on an occasional basis. Rather than give you an uninformed answer I should listen and learn and if in fact it’s an issue that is of concern to people in my district or country, I will happily learn more and help find the right solution. What I'm hearing about and focusing on most is the loss of jobs, health benefits, unemployment, business closing, and cost-of-living issues.

PJV: One of the biggest changes new Congress-people experience is the move to Washington. How is your family taking the change?

We’re not moving. That's the first easy answer I've got! The 1st grader is happy in his elementary school, the 8th grader is happy in his middle school, and the high school senior would refuse to go out of the senior year of his high school. We have a house in a fantastic neighborhood. We would never think about leaving for the foreseeable future. So I suspect I'll be doing a lot of commuting, and only stay over when I can't catch the last train out of Washington.

PJV: Do you have any final message for our readers on your side of the Delaware?

That in addition to praying for me that people educate me on what I should do on finance issues, business and trade issues, on environmental issues, health care reform issues, and national security issues so that I can do my job in a way that makes people better off.

PJV: Thank you for your time and good luck and much success with your new position.


To view previous editions of "In Their Own Words", please click here.

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