Joel Pollak, 32, (graduate of Niles North, Harvard College, Harvard Law School), wants Jan Schakowsky’s seat in the U.S. House of Representatives…">
Carol Felsenthal
On politics

So What’s a Nice Jewish Boy from Skokie Doing with Tea Partiers?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Carol Felsenthal joins starting today as a blogger covering politics. She has written several books and profiles, and blogs for The Hill and The Huffington Post.

Joel Pollak, 32, (graduate of Niles North, Harvard College, Harvard Law School), wants Jan Schakowsky’s seat in the U.S. House of Representatives…

In this video from April 2009, then-law student Joel Pollak takes on Rep. Barney Frank on the financial crisis.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Carol Felsenthal joins starting today as a blogger covering politics. She has written several books and profiles, and blogs for The Hill and The Huffington Post.

Joel Pollak, 32, (graduate of Niles North, Harvard College, Harvard Law School), wants Jan Schakowsky’s seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The six-term liberal Democrat seems a good fit for her district, which covers parts of the north suburbs and Chicago’s North Side, and she won in 2008 with 75 percent of the vote.

But this year promises to be different. Just ask Martha Coakley or Jon Corzine.

And Pollak, an Orthodox Jew born in South Africa, is a formidable young Republican.

His first 15 minutes of fame came a year ago, during a speech by Barney Frank at Harvard (above). Pollak asked the increasingly irritated Congressman, “How much, if any, responsibility do you have for the financial crisis?” Frank blustered and bullied, but Pollak, calm and articulate, persisted.

After college—"I was then a raving Democrat,” he told me in a telephone interview—Pollak went to South Africa on a fellowship. He stayed to tutor in the impoverished township of Khayelitsha, continuing to believe that the role of government is to “transform the lives of the disadvantaged.” He voted for Schakowsky, for Gore and Kerry for president, and, in 2004, for Barack Obama for the Senate.

After arriving at Harvard Law in 2006, Pollak moved right. The new Congress under House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, he says, had no agenda other than bashing Bush. And while Pollak claims to carry no brief for Bush, he admired the former president’s “tireless” efforts in the HIV/AIDS battle in Africa. Pollak concedes to Obama the ability to articulate both sides of an argument, “but [Obama] always comes down on the wrong side, … unwilling to take leadership, even when he knows the right direction.” (Pollak volunteered for John McCain in 2008.)

Having secured the GOP nomination after running unopposed in the February primary, Pollak now boasts that an endorsement from Alan Dershowitz, the Harvard professor and Obama supporter, is in the bag. A formal nod will come later this spring, he promises, when Dershowitz, for whom Pollak worked as a research assistant, travels to Chicago for a press conference. (Dershowitz had not responded by post time to attempts to confirm the endorsement.)

Pollak is also getting support from local Tea Partiers, to whom he provided legal advice on stopping the transfer of prisoners from Guantanamo Bay to a state prison here.

Rep. Schakowsky refused an interview, but relayed the statement: “Tea Party-endorsed candidates don’t share the values of the 9th Congressional District.”

Last Thursday, Pollak drove to Grand Rapids, Michigan, to guest on Fox News’ Hannity, which was broadcast from a bookshop. Asked by host Sean Hannity to grade Obama on economics and national security, Pollak gave an “F” in both. Pollak also promised that he would push for the freshman class to sign what Hannity called “a new contract with America.”

As for the healthcare bill, Pollak says the law will have to be “repealed” because it is “designed to fail.” He and his wife—a South African of mixed race who grew up in Cape Town—have every incentive, he argues, to skip insurance and pay the fine.

While describing himself as “pro-life,” Pollak adds, “I’m not running on social issues.” Like Dershowitz, Pollak is vitally interested in Israel, and charges that Obama has “never had a serious commitment to protect Israel from the possibility of an Iranian nuclear weapon.”

Win or lose, Pollak seems the sort of go-getter to give Democrats hives—alleviated somewhat by the fact that the foreign-born Republican can’t run for President.


4 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

Maybe his ability to switch political parties and have such an articulated political ideology is caused by his knowledge that he'll never be president.

4 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

Is this guy kidding? How one can change their values so quickly is beyond me. If he thinks the Republicans care about the little people he is delusional.

4 years ago
Posted by Still Here

I wonder why he moved so decisively to the right. Perhaps you can explore that with him and explain it to us.

4 years ago
Posted by Your Buddy

Very interesting piece. Looking forward to hearing more.

4 years ago
Posted by Bonnie M

that is so unlike jan--and everyone who knows her calls her jan--to not give an interview. but she is right, her district is not a "tea party" district, and that may be all that is necessary to say.

4 years ago
Posted by charlie78

Promising an endorsement from a famous person before it's official -- now there's a way to keep a mentor happy...

4 years ago
Posted by Morton Grove Manny

I've heard Mr. Pollak speak and I think the reason that he became a Republican is because he DOES care about the little guy. Higher taxes and the welfare state have done nothing but stifle innovation and lock people into poverty. If caring about the poor but also believing in freedom, limited government, and fiscal responsibility is "moving decisively to the right," I'd like to see everyone take a step in that direction.

4 years ago
Posted by Middle Man

Thanks to Rep. Schakowsky for telling me what I will and won't tolerate as a voter in the 9th Congressional district!

I would submit that any of us, including future Republican Congressional candidates, have the right to let our opinions evolve. Our Congress woman represents the very sort of partisan intransience that has helped to create the gridlock in Washington that most Americans have said over and over again they're sick and tired of.

It's time the moderates took over again.

4 years ago
Posted by voter

How is it possible both to "show no leadership" and to come down on the "wrong side of every issue". Make up your mind, Mr. Pollak.

4 years ago
Posted by busyreader

excellent post, looking forward to the Felsenthal Files!

4 years ago
Posted by busyreader

Excellent post, looking forward to the Felsenthal Files!

4 years ago
Posted by jim

You are doing a great service to the political dialogue in Illinois by adding Carol Felsenthal to your blogging team.

Carol knows the scene. She is a perceptive journalist and a disciplined one. Her book on Bill Clinton is must reading.

We need this discussion to illuminate the right wing danger Pollak, the Tea Partiers and Pollak's buddy Alan Dershowitz, pose to the Democratic party in Illinois. We need Jan to stop Pollak before he slips in under the radar and takes away her seat.

Thanks for this blog.


4 years ago
Posted by common

Good thinking Chicago Magazine! I like the idea of a Chicago political blog and plan to be a regular reader.
As a Democratic voter in "Jan's" district, I look forward to hearing about new candidate's Rep or Dem that hopefully will remove her from office. Her values no longer seem to mesh with mine or those of most of my neighbors.

4 years ago
Posted by TK

Joel's candidacy is 90% about Israel and Iran and 10% other issues. His biggest policy plank is that the U.S. commit to using military action against Iran if it does not follow UN sanctions. He has stated this repeatedly. Odd that there's not mention of his biggest issue in the piece.

Just what we need... Another war (monger)...

4 years ago
Posted by TK

Okay, barely a mention...

I wonder how many people in the district want to commit the U.S. to a military trike against Iran over UN sanctions?

4 years ago
Posted by Orr

Oh goody, another religious nutjob for the Republican party. It's a shame when smart people with emotional issues decide to make it their intellectual challenge to defend the tea party wackos. The Republicans use these rare individuals to justify all of the otherwise unjustifiable misdeeds they commit. This little twit is a disgrace, I hope Dershowitz doesn't lower himself to that level (although I'm sure he will).

4 years ago
Posted by annaz612

there is absolutely no way this guy should represent anyone in northern illinois, much less jan's district! he is the most pretentious, self-serving person out there. having gone to high school with him, a lot of people can testify to that. aside from the fact that no intelligent human being should associate themselves with the tea party, this man does not in any way represent the interests of the 9th district of illinois.

4 years ago
Posted by ChgoSteve

Volunteering for McCain/Palin, providing legal advice to Tea Partiers, and harassing Barney Frank is a decidedly bad resume for anyone running in the 9th. Pollak's hollow questioning was right out of the Tea Party manual. Blame, blame, oversimplify, generalize, blame, blame, blame. It's rude and tiresome.
Schakowsky's voting record is in tune with her district and she will mop the floor with this jackass.

4 years ago
Posted by MrsFlagMe

Dear Bonnie M: I do live in the 9th Congressional District, have repeatedly contacted Jan Schakowsky who does NOT represent me well. I will be at the Tea Party on April 15th! More importantly I have 8 family members who all live in this district who will be voting for Joel. I don't pretend to understand how she has continued to win in this district. It may be more liberal than most but there are a lot of hard working people here of all party persuasions who don't like crooks. Jan's husband, Robert Creamer who founded a radical group called Illinois Public Action pled guilty to felony charges for defrauding a bank 2.3 million...he got basically a slap on the wrist and Jan who sat on his a pass. Talk about insider politics. I don't know that many people in Skokie have any clue about this, it's not nice to ask Democrats why they cheat and steal. The response Joel got from Barney Franks is a prime example. After all, they are just sacrificing so much for OUR good. We should just shut up and be grateful. I'll be grateful when they are out of office.

4 years ago
Posted by WriterOfWrongs

What exactly does Mr. Pollack intend to convey by his comment, "but [Obama] always comes down on the wrong side, ... unwilling to take leadership, even when he knows the right direction." Does he possess the Godlike power to read our President's mind? The implication is that Mr. Pollack himself not only always knows what is "the right direction" but also believes the President always recognizes that same direction as "right" but yet disregards his own better instincts in order to deliberately "come down on the wrong side." What possible sense would that make? While young Mr. Pollack may represent the Tea Party's idea of "the right stuff," what rational voter will think he is right for the 9th District? His politics are surely all "right" alright. But he is clearly all wrong.

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