LeAnna Washington challenger cites activist background

Embattled State Sen. LeAnna Washington, D-4th, recently indicted and already facing a tough reelection bid, has a new challenger in up-and-coming Democrat Brian Gralnick, a Cheltenham native and George Washington University graduate who has dedicated the bulk of his life and career to public service.

Statewide primary elections are May 20.

Although young – Gralnick will be 35 in July – and lacking the political experience that can only be gained by serving in office, Gralnick does possess an extensive civic and activism background, which includes stints as president of the Jewish Social Policy Action Network and being a founding member of the Germantown Anti-Hunger Network.

In fact, it is that type of citizen-driven leadership Gralnick said will help differentiate him from Washington and the other candidates vying for the seat.

“We have an urgent need to bring more fairness, equality and economic opportunity to the people of the fourth district,”he said. “I think we need a real strong advocate and champion for public education, someone willing to fight to strengthen the middle class and really work to end mass incarceration, which are some of the issues I have been working on my entire adult life. I’ve worked in state government, in the legislature, and for former Governor Ed Rendell in the Department of Aging.”

Gralnick has a polished track record on securing funds, especially for the nonprofits with which he continues to be involved.

Gralnick secured and managed $400,000 for a senior citizens community center, and secured an additional $300,000 in funding from the Northwest Philadelphia Interfaith Hospitality Network to secure emergency housing and meals for needy families and secured a further $500,000 so that seniors living in eastern Montgomery County could have access personal care.

Gralnick, a first-time candidate who has never campaigned for a seat higher than county commissioner, does bring some political experience to the race. Gralnick organized the 2008 Democratic Unity Forum to unite primary supporters of Sen. Hillary Clinton and then-Sen. Barack Obama after a tough primary campaign, co-founded the Annual NAACP/Jewish Social Policy Action Network, and was a coalition leader for the “Stop the Abington Hospital Merger” campaign.

Gralnick also provided critical political and fundraising advice to the family of Josh Fattal, whp was detained in Iran while on a hiking trip.

Politically, Gralnick said he is the only candidate to successfully take on Gov. Tom Corbett on an issue critical to working class and needy Pennsylvanians.

“When Tom Corbett proposed asset testing for food stamps, I organized the statewide coalition to push back on Corbett. I am the only candidate in this race who has publicly debated and put Corbett on the defensive,” Gralnick said. “My organizing with AARP Pennsylvania, PhilAbundance, senior centers and community legal services was very effective. We were able to push back on Corbett’s proposed asset test and tripled the amount he originally proposed. I feel our activism really resonated with the Corbett administration to the point where six months ago they were considering getting rid of the asset test altogether.

“I feel that I have done in-the-trenches work with advocates and organizers to change public policy for the better.”

Gralnick, who favors ethics reform and supports the outright ban on cash and gifts to lawmakers, also said the legal troubles enveloping Washington did not provide the impetus for him to run. Rather, it was Washington’s slew of missed votes and lack of district leadership that drove Gralnick. Simply put, Gralnick believes district residents deserve better representation.

“Washington is not using her experience to the benefit of seniors, public school students, and I know a lot of advocates who are looking for a champion for older adults and for public school students,” Gralnick said. “Washington has missed a lot of very critical votes in Harrisburg. She has missed the vote on voter ID, missed the vote on Medicaid expansion, and missed the vote on $45 million for public schools.

“I am confident I can be a stronger advocate that she has been over the past several years.”

Contact Staff Writer Damon C. Williams at (215) 893-5745 ordwilliams@phillytrib.com.


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