A New Idealism
(I wrote a letter to myself, putting down on paper my thoughts about running for office for the first time in my life --- for Maryland State Delegate from Legislative District 19. Here is what I wrote.)
This would be my first time running for political office, and I can pinpoint the exact day on which I first thought of entering this race: November 22, 2013 --- fifty years to the day after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. I remember from a youngster’s perspective what America felt like back then. It was a place where each of us was summoned to public service, a place where we were urged to ask not what our country can do for us, but what we can do for our country.
How far we have come.
Fifty years later we are not summoned to public greatness, but to private selfishness. Fifty years later we are told again and again by too many of our so-called leaders – Republican and Democratic alike – that government is the problem and, just as bad, that government cannot be made to work.
Well, I’m thinking of running for Maryland State Delegate because I believe differently. I’m running for Maryland State Delegate because I instead believe that growing income inequality, diminishing economic opportunity, unequal access to quality education, and increased unaffordability of housing and day-to-day life is the problem, not government … and that government is in fact part of the solution.
I’m thinking of running for Maryland State Delegate because I want to transform our state’s political discussion away from the current prevailing conversation about what government cannot do … and towards a new conversation about what government can do.
And I’m thinking of running for Maryland State Delegate because I want to create a partnership with all the diverse voters of District 19 in which, together, we nurture a New Idealism among our citizens, one that appeals to our better natures and summons us all to public greatness.
A New Idealism in Maryland. That’s what I would work for were I to campaign for District 19 office.
My wife Eti and I have lived in Montgomery County for nearly thirty years, and in District 19 for roughly fifteen of those thirty years. Our three kids attended public and Jewish day schools here. My parents live in Leisure World, and my wife’s dad lives in Kemp Mill, as do my wife and I.
For nearly thirty years, I’ve eaten in Montgomery County restaurants, shopped in Montgomery County stores, been frustrated by Montgomery County traffic, attended births and deaths in Montgomery County hospitals, volunteered in Montgomery County schools and youth organizations, prayed in Montgomery County synagogues, and lived through bad times and good ones with my Montgomery County neighbors, family, and friends. I’m not a Johnny-Come-Lately who recently moved here in order to run for local office; for nearly thirty years Montgomery County has been my home, the place that more than any other has shaped the values that define who my family and I are today.
And who am I?
I’m a guy who led a team that helped build a multi-million dollar global online education business for Booz Allen Hamilton, one that allowed inner-city kids to perform science experiments with astronauts circling the earth in the Space Shuttle. I’m a guy who ran and built MyJewishLearning.com, the world’s most widely visited Jewish educational website … I suspect that many in District 19 have used it.
I’m a guy who was asked by the Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to serve as Deputy HUD Assistant Secretary and manage three billion dollars of federal housing and community development programs. I’m a guy who was asked by the President of the United States to work across racial and ethnic and class lines and calm Los Angeles after the Rodney King riots, and who was applauded for my successful work by the Los Angeles mayor. I’m a guy who obtained $130 million of federal money to fund inner-city mentoring programs across the country for teens and pre-teens.
I’m a guy who for nearly five years has been asked by the Obama Administration for guidance on using distance learning to train our nation’s workers for the jobs of tomorrow. I chair the nation’s largest online education trade group, the US Distance Learning Association, and I’ve led my industry nationally to focus on using distance learning to provide training for veterans and single parents and low income teens and others for whom traditional paths to education have not always been possible. And I’m a guy who has been invited to speak within the British House of Commons, the Israeli Knesset, the US Senate and House of Representatives, and the National Press Club, because they wanted to hear my thoughts on the global future of online education as a way to create a more socially just planet.
I’ve been senior policy advisor to a Congressman, senior policy advisor to a Governor, and – closer to home – a proud senior advisor to a Montgomery County Councilmember, Duchy Trachtenberg.
So to those who say government cannot be made to work, I would say were I to run: elect me to the Maryland State Legislature and let me have a crack at it. I’ve built measurably successful private sector, nonprofit sector, and public sector organizations. I would use those same skills and insights as an elected official to build a Maryland State Government of which we all can be proud, a rigorously managed government that truly succeeds at the most important things it tries to do.
But there’s another side of me, a side of me that doesn’t appear in my professional resume.
I’m a person who has watched a significant portion of his life’s savings be used instead to pay for long-term extraordinary family medical expenses which insurance companies would not reimburse.
I’m a husband who has watched his wife lose her teaching job of nearly twenty years when the school at which she taught had to close its doors a final time because of the poor economy.
And I’m a worker who, like many others in our District, has faced the emotional and financial despair of unemployment when my employers have had to downsize when they hit tough economic times.
So were I to represent the people of District 19 as their Delegate in the Maryland General Assembly, I would always remember that I’m not only a guy who sat in a suit across the room from a United States Cabinet Secretary, discussing federal housing policy for our nation … I’m also a guy years later who sat in jeans and a T shirt across the room from my wife, worrying how we would pay our home mortgage.
Like a growing number of Americans, I’ve had more than one career. My first was in economic and workforce development, and my second and current one is in online education. The State of Maryland confronts growing statewide income inequality, diminished statewide economic opportunity, unequal statewide access to quality education, and increased statewide unaffordability of housing and day-to-day life. Those are among our biggest problems. They require economic and workforce development and education solutions … the very solutions I’ve spent a professional lifetime successfully working to create.
So my considering running for office is not just professional; more than that, it’s deeply personal. It’s a decision that I made with my mind. It’s a decision to fight for my community’s interests in Annapolis with all my heart. And it’s a decision that comes from my soul.
For I am proudly Jewish. For nearly thirty years, I have been a leader of my synagogue, Tifereth Israel; a member of the Jewish Community Relations Council; the chair of the Hebrew Day Institute; the President of the Jewish Study Center; and the CEO of MyJewishLearning. Thanks to the values imbued in me by my parents, Larry and Charlotte Bardack, who now live in Leisure World, I went to Hebrew school long before I started kindergarten. To this very day, I study Talmud weekly, and I’ve done so for many years. When my friends told me that it would compromise my campaign if I didn’t work for my election on the Jewish Sabbath and the Jewish holidays, my response to them was that it would compromise who I am if I did.
Because of my Judaism, I know that there is no higher value than “tikkun olam,” Hebrew for healing a broken world and making it a better place, a place guided always by the quest for greater social justice. And so because of my Judaism, I know that our County will never reach its potential until the Hispanic teenager in Wheaton has the same job prospects as does the lawyer’s kid in Potomac, or until the African American single mom in Aspen Hill has the same educational opportunities as the doctor’s wife in Potomac.Economic and educational opportunity. That’s what my Judaism tells me is fundamentally important for a socially just society. That’s what my two successful professional careers in economic development and online learning have been all about. And that’s what my campaign would be all about.
I would run so that our community could have a voice in Annapolis helping us to fight for a better society for all Marylanders, for a New Idealism to take root in Maryland.
And I would run to be one of thousands of District 19 residents hoping to light flames of social justice throughout our state, so that, in the words of President John F. Kennedy, “the glow from that fire can truly light the world.”
Paul Roitman Bardack
November 22, 2013