Blumenthal Finally Gets His Chance

Number 14?: If he were to win, Connecticut’s long-time attorney general, Richard Blumenthal, would join 13 other Jewish senators.
Getty Images
Number 14?: If he were to win, Connecticut’s long-time attorney general, Richard Blumenthal, would join 13 other Jewish senators.

By Nathan Guttman

Published January 13, 2010, issue of January 22, 2010.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Richard Blumenthal, long known as one of the nation’s most active state attorney generals, stands a good shot of becoming the Senate’s 14th Jewish member with the surprise announcement by Connecticut Democrat Chris Dodd not to run for re-election this year.

Blumenthal, 63, declared his intent to run for the seat January 6, the same day Dodd announced his retirement. Public opinion polls indicate he is currently the leading candidate.

Known as an activist attorney general, Blumenthal has been a scourge of corporate America, pursuing abuses from Microsoft to tobacco companies to credit card conglomerates. It is a posture his critics see as grandstanding.

To his fellow Jews in Connecticut, Blumenthal is also known as a devoted member of the community, an eager participant in communal events, and a strong supporter of Israel.

Dodd’s retirement announcement came on the heels of South Dakota Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan’s decision to retire at the end of his term this year and Democratic Governor Bill Ritter of Colorado to do so, as well. Jewish political activists joined with others in debating the significance of the multiple departures.

“Democrat incumbents are abandoning a sinking ship,” declared Matthew Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, while Jewish Democrats stressed that in fact more Republicans than Democrats have decided not to seek re-election. Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, said Dodd’s departure could actually ensure an easy victory for the party. Forman said that in contrast to Dodd, who faced a tough race, “Blumenthal will win this thing going away.”

A poll conducted January 4 and 5 by Public Policy Polling found that 59% of Connecticut voters view Blumenthal favorably, while 19% hold an unfavorable view of him. Blumenthal also enjoys, according to the poll, a comfortable 3-to-1 margin over each of his potential Republican opponents.

Blumenthal’s name has been mentioned in the past decade every time a congressional vacancy in the state came up. Before Dodd’s announcement, he was widely seen as a possible challenger to Independent Senator Joseph Lieberman in 2012. He was also seen as a potential candidate in Connecticut’s gubernatorial race.

But Blumenthal seems to have made the most out of his five terms as the state’s attorney general. He focused his work on matters of consumer advocacy, reaching beyond the limits of local issues to go after any company whose actions he believed affected the citizens of Connecticut. Blumenthal sued tire makers for failing to ensure auto safety; he accused power companies in the Midwest of polluting his state’s air, and he even moved to stop auctions of Bernard Madoff’s jewelry, claiming that the items were not authenticated. In nearly two decades, he brought to court or threatened to sue local HMOs, insurance giants and even the MySpace social network.

His zeal to sue, coupled with a fondness for TV interviews and press conferences, has moved critics to accuse him of litigating to advance his political aspirations and his liberal corporate-busting agenda. Blumenthal’s repeated response to these allegations was that the numbers prove him right: Most cases were won in court.

“He is a moderate progressive,” said Sam Gejdenson, a former Connecticut congressman who worked with Blumenthal. “He is someone who believes deeply in the role of government in protecting the citizens.”

Blumenthal also wins praise from leaders of the Connecticut Jewish community. Robert Fishman, executive director of the Jewish Federation Association of Connecticut, said the attorney general is “very devoted to the Jewish community” and that he was “here for us on many issues.”

As a senior state official, Blumenthal has appeared at numerous Jewish community events in Connecticut, including all three rallies organized by the community in late 2008 and early 2009 to support Israel’s military operation in Gaza. “Although he is very busy, he is always happy to attend our events. We joke that there are three of him, because he is all over the place,” said Laura Zimmerman, associate vice president for public affairs at the Hartford Jewish Community Relations Council.

He also faithfully attends Connecticut’s yearly Holocaust commemoration, held in the state capital, and is a frequent speaker at events organized by federations, national organizations and religious groups.

Blumenthal, whose father immigrated to the United States from Germany, is a strong advocate of refugee and immigrant rights and speaks frequently to Jewish audiences about his family’s experience. In the past, Blumenthal was also active in the campaign for Soviet Jewry. He grew up in Brooklyn, received his bachelor’s degree from Harvard University and a law degree from Yale Law School.

Blumenthal and his wife are members of Greenwich Reform Synagogue, where he is an “extremely visible” member of the community, according to its spiritual leader, Rabbi Andrew Sklarz. The synagogue, in one of the state’s most affluent towns, is described by its rabbi as “diverse, open” and as a “very progressive congregation.”

Contact Nathan Guttman at guttman@forward.com






Find us on Facebook!
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • "I feel great sorrow about the fact that you decided to return the honor and recognition that you so greatly deserve." Rivka Ben-Pazi, who got Dutchman Henk Zanoli recognized as a "Righteous Gentile," has written him an open letter.
  • Is there a right way to criticize Israel?
  • From The Daily Show to Lizzy Caplan, here's your Who's Jew guide to the 2014 #Emmys. Who are you rooting for?
  • “People at archives like Yad Vashem used to consider genealogists old ladies in tennis shoes. But they have been impressed with our work on indexing documents. Now they are lining up to work with us." This year's Jewish Genealogical Societies conference took place in Utah. We got a behind-the-scenes look:
  • What would Maimonides say about Warby Parker's buy-one, give-one charity model?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.