Joe Lieberman’s Name Mooted As Jewish Groups Seek New Leaders

It’s not exactly the White House, but would Joseph Lieberman consider taking over one of America’s premier Jewish organizations?

Officials at the World Jewish Congress say Lieberman’s name has been raised in talks about leadership changes.

In addition, sources in the Jewish federation world say Lieberman has been mentioned as a possible successor to Stephen Hoffman, who is due to step down in June as president and CEO of the United Jewish Communities, the federation umbrella organization.

However, neither group officially has spoken with Lieberman, 64, the senator from Connecticut who earlier this month ended his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination after disappointing showings in the early primaries.

“I’ve heard people mention Joe Lieberman, but I have no idea how serious that is,” said Elan Steinberg, the WJC’s executive vice president. “It may not be that serious at all, given that until two days ago he was seeking the real presidential nomination.”

Matt Gobush, a Lieberman spokesman, said Lieberman hasn’t fielded formal offers from any Jewish group, and currently plans to return to the Senate.

“He is focused on serving the people of Connecticut in the Senate and continuing to play a leading role on the national stage,” Gobush said.

Picked as Al Gore’s vice-presidential candidate in 2000, Lieberman last year became the first viable Jewish candidate for president and, for a very short time, enjoyed front-runner status in the Democratic field.

His candidacy ultimately failed to catch fire even in the Jewish community, but that hasn’t stopped WJC officials and some in the federation system from viewing him as a potential leader.

In some ways, it would be the inverse of the experience of Frank Lautenberg, who served as chairman of the United Jewish Appeal in the 1970s before going on to become a senator from New Jersey.

In October, the UJC formed a committee to replace Hoffman, who is completing a three-year stint at the UJC’s helm.

Robert Goldberg, the UJC board chairman who is heading the leadership search committee, said no candidates have been selected and the search is not due to end until March.

“We have not had one interview yet,” he said.

UJC spokesman Glenn Rosenkrantz said the organization won’t discuss the possibility that it might seek to reach out to Lieberman.

“No announcement on succession is imminent, and it would be irresponsible to comment on speculation,” he said.

Still, one insider said Lieberman’s name surfaced in some circles during the UJC’s General Assembly in Jerusalem last November.

Meanwhile, Jerry Benjamin, vice president of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation, voiced support for Lieberman.

“If we were to reach outside the system, there would be no better candidate in the United States than Joe Lieberman,” he said.

Speculation on Hoffman’s successor so far has focused on several Jewish federation heads rather than someone outside the federation world.

Meanwhile, the 67-year-old WJC, a New York-based association of more than 100 Jewish communal organizations from around the world, is undergoing upheaval of its own.

The WJC formed a task force last November to oversee a reorganization that the WJC’s chairman, Rabbi Israel Singer, called a “top-to-bottom overhaul” that would include new executives and a new charter.

Edgar Bronfman, a major Jewish philanthropist and former executive of the Seagram Company, who became WJC president in 1981, said last year that he would step down before the group’s next plenary assembly in 2006 after five terms.

The overhaul partly is an attempt to produce a more democratic, open elective system, Steinberg said.

He expects that candidates to succeed Bronfman will begin emerging about a year from now, and they will face an election during the 2006 plenary.

A Lieberman candidacy, he said, “would be one of the most fascinating developments in Jewish organizational life.”

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