Cleveland's Jewish GOP Boy Next Door

GOP's Josh Mandel Shoots for Upset in Ohio Senate Race

Fighter: Josh Mandel has deep roots in Cleveland’s Jewish community and served two tours of duty in Iraq. Will that be enough to win support in his race against Ohio incumbent Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown?
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Fighter: Josh Mandel has deep roots in Cleveland’s Jewish community and served two tours of duty in Iraq. Will that be enough to win support in his race against Ohio incumbent Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown?

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published May 15, 2012, issue of May 25, 2012.
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In 2008 Mandel married into a family that has even deeper Ohio Jewish ties than his own. His wife Ilana Mandel, who works at Cleveland’s’ Hillel, is a member of the wealthy family behind the Forest City Ratner real estate development firm. Her grandmother was a founder of the firm; current Forest City Ratner chairman and CEO Bruce Ratner is her father’s first cousin.

While Forest City Ratner is perhaps best known for the massive Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, the family is also famous for its left-wing political activism. Bruce Ratner’s brother, Michael Ratner, is a founder of the Center for Constitutional Rights. Their sister, Ellen Ratner, is a liberal commentator. Asked whether he talks politics with the Ratners, Mandel was not forthcoming.

Mandel entered politics in 2003 as a city councilman in the Cleveland suburb of Lyndhurst while also serving in the United States Marine Corps Reserves. He served three years in the city council, four years as an Ohio state representative, and two tours of duty in Iraq.

A charismatic public speaker with a law degree and a baby face, Mandel attracted early attention from the RJC, which has worked to cultivate promising Jewish Republicans.

According to a person involved in the Jewish community in Ohio, Mandel was seen as moderate on social issues and conservative on fiscal issues during his years in the Ohio statehouse, where he represented a Democrat-heavy Cleveland-area district.

“I don’t think anybody saw him as an ideologue,” the person said.

As he has turned toward statewide office, however, Mandel has embraced conservative social positions that may appeal to the broader Republican electorate, but have less traction among Jewish voters.

In May, Mandel’s Senate campaign announced that it had received the endorsement of National Right to Life PAC, an anti-abortion group. Only 14% of Jews in the United States believe that abortion should be illegal in most or all cases, according to a study by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Despite Mandel’s abortion position, however, his Senate campaign is working hard to court the Jewish vote. The campaign has issued a five-page position paper touting Mandel’s positions on the relationship between Israel and the United States and criticizing Brown’s.

The Mandel campaign document asserted that Jews “have a biblical right to the land of Israel” and advocated for Jewish settlement in all of Jerusalem, including Palestinian neighborhoods. “The contrast on Jewish issues is going to be very stark,” Brooks said. “[Mandel’s] philosophy is much more in the mainstream of the Jewish community.”

Brown, for his part, is the only Senate incumbent to have received the endorsement of the Democratic-leaning pro-Israel group J Street’s political action committee. He’s also received support from less dovish Israel advocates. Tim Wuliger, former president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, signed onto an Israeli Independence Day newspaper advertisement supporting Brown, paid for by Brown’s campaign.

“[Mandel] seems to have the best interest of Israel at heart, which we don’t dispute, Brown spokesman Justin Barasky said. “But so does Sherrod.”

Contact Josh Nathan-Kazis at nathankazis@forward.com or on Twitter @joshnathankazis


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