Former Pittsburgher Joel Rubin to run for Congress in Maryland
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Former Pittsburgher Joel Rubin to run for Congress in Maryland

He is a veteran of a number of Jewish organizations and helped found J Street.

An undated campaign photo of Joel Rubin and his family.
An undated campaign photo of Joel Rubin and his family.

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Joel Rubin, who has had leading roles at a number of Jewish organizations, is entering a crowded Democratic congressional race in a Maryland district that stretches from Washington’s suburbs to the Pennsylvania border.

The race in Maryland’s competitive 6th District is uncharted waters for Rubin, a Jewish progressive. Redistricting after the 2020 census drained the district of much of its Jewish population and stretched its boundaries into the conservative redoubts of the otherwise deep blue state.

Rubin, a national security consultant who launched his campaign on Monday, said he would bring into play his hands-on experience as the deputy mayor of Chevy Chase, a D.C. suburb, and his roots in Pittsburgh, which lies about 90 minutes north of the western part of the district.

“It’s just a matter of transportation, housing, public safety and security, questions about economic development and what’s the vision for our children in the schools,”said Rubin who in May wrapped up his third two-year term as deputy mayor of the suburb.

Rubin helped found J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group, in 2008, and was the Jewish community liaison for Jewish Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders second bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, in 2020.

He served on the board of the Jewish Democratic Council of America and from 2020-2022 was executive director of the American Jewish Congress, where he led an initiative tracking antisemitism on the far right.

He said that he would embrace the template that helped incumbent Democrat David Trone keep the seat even after the redistricting, focusing on the area’s economic woes. Rubin  said his Pittsburgh upbringing would bring “a perspective of working people, a perspective of being in areas that have gone through a lot of change economically, and a lot of change and social issues, and the opioid crisis.”

Trone, a wine-selling magnate whose wife and children are Jewish and who has close ties to the Anti-Defamation League, is running for the Senate seat to be vacated by Ben Cardin, a long-serving Jewish Democrat.

Trone and Rubin ran against each other in the open primary for the 8th District in 2016; they lost to Jamie Raskin. Rubin still resides in the 8th District, which under Maryland law does not disqualify him from running in the 6th. He notes that Trone lives in the 8th as well.

The race will be crowded: Rubin is at least the fourth to declare, and others come from within the district and bring with them records as moderate-to-conservative Democrats. The party establishment may want to get behind a more conservative Democrat in a year that Democrats hope to wrest back the House of Representatives from Republicans.

Rubin, who was also a deputy assistant secretary of state under President Barack Obama, said he could translate his progressive values into a pitch that would appeal even to the district’s conservative voters. He said he learned about reaching across divides when he served as a Jewish volunteer for the Peace Corps from 1994-1996 in a small Catholic village in Costa Rica.

“The values that as a Jewish American are near and dear to my heart are universal values, the value of tikkun olam, of healing the world, the belief in trying to be inclusive and trying to be to have a tolerant society, those are the Jewish values that I grew up with that informed me as a kid growing up in Pittsburgh,” he said. “Those are values that I’ll communicate. And I think those resonate as I did when I was in the Peace Corps.” PJC

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