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 Chicagomag.com starting today as a blogger covering politics. She has written several books and profiles, and blogs for The Hill and The Huffington Post.
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.