Laurie MacDonald wants to serve Pennsylvania as a moderate Democrat
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ElectionCenter for Violence CEO joins crowded Democratic primary

Laurie MacDonald wants to serve Pennsylvania as a moderate Democrat

“I’m running as a Democrat because I believe in moderation,” she said, “and you don’t get that on the right.”

Laurie MacDonald has a good reason for challenging incumbent Rep. Summer Lee in Pennsylvania’s 12 District.

“Because I’m the best candidate,” she said when asked why she would enter a primary race that already includes Lee and challenger Bhavini Patel.

MacDonald is the president and CEO of the Center for Victims, the state’s largest victim service organization, according to its website.

The Carnegie Mellon University graduate and McKeesport native previously served as the president of the Elizabeth Forward School Board, on the financing committee of the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, was a board member of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the Allegheny County Community Justice Advisory Board, as well as the McKeesport Carnegie Library and Allegheny Intermedia Unit.

“I’m at the point in my career where I’m not ready to retire and have more to offer,” MacDonald said. “My past experience, with all of these entities, has helped me to see where the gaps in service are, the lack of focusing on root causes and just putting Band-Aids on things.”

MacDonald believes a member of Congress should represent all groups and not put the priorities of one community over another, she said.

“That was my impetus for joining this race,” she said. “It wasn’t something I planned to do, but I’ve watched my opponent [Lee] talk about Title IX, I’ve watched her talk about the Israel-Palestine conflict. She’s just divisive. It doesn’t make sense what she says. She’s not coming from a place of knowledge, and she just espouses her opinions which, from my perspective, are not the opinions of the people of this community.”

Lee, she said, is most interested in being a “Squad” member and “changing the climate of America.”

“And not in the way I would like to see it changed,” MacDonald said. “Which is why I decided to run.”

While she understands the concern that her entering the race now may simply split the anti-Lee vote, MacDonald said she believes she is the best candidate.

“I’m the most experienced, I’m the most moderate,” she said. “One thing I’ve learned in my career: If you want to get something done, you build consensus, you build bridges. You talk with people, even people you don’t like. You work with them. You get the job done. But all this name-calling and bullying and criticizing, I can’t stand it.”

Patel, MacDonald opined, lacks experience.

“You can’t go from being a college student to a congressman,” she said. “In my book, that’s unacceptable.”

Patel earned a master’s in international relations from the University of Oxford in 2019, then went on to serve on the Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Advisory Board, as a Biden delegate for the 2020 Democratic National Convention, on the Edgewood Borough Council and as the community outreach manager for Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.

MacDonald said she has a wealth of experience, including running as a Republican against Sean Logan for a state Senate seat in 2000. During her time as a school board member, she often built relationships with people with whom she didn’t initially agree, she said.

During her tenure at the Center for Victims, she said, she worked with people and organizations across the city.

“I don’t talk about diversity — I walk the walk,” she said. “I serve victims from all over the county. They are heterosexual, homosexual, transexual, Black, Vietnamese, Hispanic. Southwestern Pennsylvania is a melting pot.”

To that end, she said, her background is more diverse than people would think.

“My father is a Palestinian,” she said. “We grew up thinking we were Lebanese, but he was born in Palestine. That’s what his passport says.”

Her father, a Catholic, emigrated to America to study at the University of Pennsylvania around 1945. After the Arab-Israeli war broke out in 1948 and his passport was invalidated, he became an American citizen and served in the Army during the Korean War.

Many people, MacDonald said, don’t understand the formation of the modern Middle East and Israel.

“There are decades of issues from the Ottoman Empire to the British,” she said. “People don’t understand that Palestine isn’t a country. And so, with Israel, people think one group stole another group’s country, and that’s not what really happened.”

Regarding the current war Israel-Hamas war, MacDonald said that she is 100% pro-Israel.

“Every country has a right to defend itself,” she said, before adding that the United States can make diplomatic efforts if its leaders believe things should be done differently.

MacDonald said that over the last several years, American policy has emboldened Iran, a funder of both Hamas and Hezbollah.
“That’s why we are where we are now,” she said.

MacDonald has a history with Pittsburgh’s Jewish community. She said she helped out following the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting of Oct. 27.

“My friend Jen Storm, the former victims’ advocate for the state of Pennsylvania, called me and asked, ‘What can we do?’ I said, ‘Jen, we’re going to need a lot of money. There are a lot of problems here.’”

She said the state issued a $2.2 million grant that was used by various Jewish organizations and the Center for Victims to support the victims, their families and the region following the shooting.

“One of the most offensive things I’ve heard my opponent say, if you look at her website, is that she got $1.5 million for this area to combat antisemitism,” MacDonald said. “Are you kidding me? What are you going to do with that money? You’re an antisemite. Give me a break. How dare she.”

MacDonald’s campaign isn’t without controversy. An article published by WPXI in 2020 reported that MacDonald and others at the Center for Victims made homophobic and racist slurs during her time as president and CEO.

Those claims, MacDonald said, were part of a personnel issue, the story aired just once, and then, because it was false, never appeared again on any newscast.

On social media, users have alleged that MacDonald supported Donald Trump and the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett.

MacDonald said she doesn’t support Trump but does feel he did some good things as president. She said she is a moderate Democrat and “100% pro-choice and pro-woman.”

“I was a huge fan of Ruth Bader Ginsberg,” she said. “I’m a huge fan of any woman that can get herself on the Supreme Court. I think things are starting to balance now. I had nothing to do with Amy Coney Barrett. I just think it’s important to have women on the court.”

MacDonald said it’s her belief in moderation and her experience that separates her from the other Democrats running.

“I would be honored if people would support me,” she said. “I’m working to get AIPAC’s support. Bhavini is a nice girl, but she’s a girl. You don’t go to Congress and fight for one of the oldest industrial cities in the United States and not know anything.

“I’m running as a Democrat because I believe in moderation,” she said, “and you don’t get that on the right.” PJC

David Rullo can be reached at drullo@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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