Rabbi, Run?

Rabbi Jonah Pesner of Newton is seriously exploring a potential campaign for US Senate, as a Democrat in the special election to succeed John Kerry. Kerry is expected to be confirmed as Secretary of State within a few weeks.

Pesner, a married father of four, tells me that he began having "exploratory conversations" about three weeks ago, and is moving forward with the process.

Pesner, formerly a congregational rabbi at Temple Israel, is senior vice president of the national Union of Reform Judaism, and founding chair of JOIN for Justice. He has also served in Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO) leadership, and co-chaired its campaign health care reform, leading to the2006 state law.

His involvement with GBIO "changed everything," Pesner says. "It was all grassroots campaigning, joining hands with our congregations, to stand with them on behalf of our shared values. It was religion at its best."

Although he would start a Senate race as a complete unknown, running as a first-time candidate in a short special election, there are some reasons to think Pesner might be able to make some headway.

He has a strong network, both locally and nationally, from which he can raise money. I would not be surprised if he raises an immediate million dollars (similar to Alan Khazei at the start of the 2009 special election), with the potential to tap into much more if he gains traction.

Pesner also has strong grassroots contacts in the area, both through his work with young Jewish groups and from organizing around health care and other issues. It is possible that they could provide an initial army of volunteers. (Again, similar to Khazei's City Year network.)

Finally -- and in a potential difference with Khazei -- Pesner is a dynamic, passionate speaker who just might inspire enthusiasm among Democratic activists who worked so hard for Elizabeth Warren and Deval Patrick. Anyone who saw his invocation at Patrick's first inauguration knows what I mean. (Note: If anyone knows of publicly posted video of that invocation, please send me the link and I'll post it.)

He would still face a daunting challenge, with very little time to build a grassroots movement.

Pesner would not give a timetable for when he will make a final decision about running, but acknowledges that it will probably be soon.

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