In N.J., former congressman’s widow looks to reclaim his seat

U.S. Rep. Jon Runyan, pictured, is facing Shelley Adler, the widow of Rep. John Adler, in a southern New Jersey district. (Rep. Jon Runyan staff)

U.S. Rep. Jon Runyan, pictured, is facing Shelley Adler, the widow of Rep. John Adler, in a southern New Jersey district. (Rep. Jon Runyan staff)

Shelley Adler is running for the N.J. congressional seat once held by her late husband. (Shelley Adler for Congress)

Shelley Adler is running for the N.J. congressional seat once held by her late husband. (Shelley Adler for Congress)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Before Shelley Adler can reclaim her late husband’s congressional seat, she will have to get by a former Philadelphia Eagles offensive lineman.

Adler, a Democrat, is running in New Jersey’s 3rd Congressional District against incumbent Rep. Jon Runyan, the former pro football player who unseated her husband, John, during the Republicans’ 2010 midterm election surge.

John Adler served a single term in Congress representing the South Jersey district after a long career as a state senator. He died in April 2011 at the age of 51 due to complications from a staph infection following heart surgery.

“The impetus to run was my family — myself and my sons. We believe in public service,” said Shelley Adler, 52, who has worked as an attorney and was a member of the Cherry Hill Township Council for five years.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has flagged the race on its red-to-blue list.

Political experts, however, characterize the race as leaning toward Runyan, and a recent poll had the congressman leading Adler by 10 points among likely voters. The DCCC and the Republican Congressional Committee recently canceled ad buys in the Philadelphia area, suggesting that local congressional races are not seen as being as competitive as they once were.

While Adler makes it clear that she isn’t seeking a sympathy vote, she says her husband’s name often comes up when she is campaigning.

“So many people knew him and respected him, both his views and the way he treated them,” she said.

The Adlers met during their years at Harvard Law School. He converted to Judaism, and they had four sons who now range in age from 10 to 23. Asked if any of her sons seem destined for a political career, Adler laughs before replying, “I don’t know. It’s way too soon for that.”

Due to redistricting, Adler’s heavily Jewish hometown of Cherry Hill is no longer included in the congressional district. The more Republican-leaning Brick Township has been added.

The Runyan campaign’s spokesman, Chris Russell, told JTA via email that congressional redistricting was "a big win for Republicans in New Jersey last year.” Noting that Adler no longer lives in the district, Russell says she has “a credibility problem.”

“It’s tough to ask someone to vote for you when you can’t even vote for yourself,” Russell said.

Adler has argued that removing Cherry Hill from the district was a partisan maneuver by Republican members of the state’s bipartisan redistricting commission to discourage her from running. She has said that she will move into the redrawn district if she wins.

David Snyder, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Southern New Jersey, says Runyan is “supportive of issues important to the Jewish community” and that if Adler is elected, he expects that she also would be supportive.

Adler has served on the boards of the Jewish Federation of South Jersey, the Katz JCC and the New Jersey Anti-Defamation League.

Both candidates say they are strong supporters of Israel.

In Adler’s position paper on Israel, she states that she “has always believed in strengthening the important and critical relationship between Israel and the United States.” She called on the United States to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Runyan backs “a strong relationship between the United States and Israel, as well as the State of Israel’s right to exist and protect itself,” Russell wrote in an email.

In his role as member of the House Armed Services Committee, Runyan “has worked to ensure that we stand with Israel in a variety of areas including foreign assistance, and military funding and cooperation,” Russell wrote. The campaign spokesman also said the congressman “supports stronger sanctions against Syria and zero tolerance of terrorist organizations that threaten Israel such as Hamas and Hezbollah.”

On domestic issues, differences are more readily apparent.

Runyan wants to cut taxes, reduce the size of government and repeal President Obama’s health care reforms, calling for its replacement with “common sense health care reforms that actually lower costs for consumers.” His campaign ads attack Adler for voting to increase property taxes when she served on the Cherry Hill Township Council.

On her website, Adler refers to Medicare as “a sacred trust that cannot be broken.” She criticizes Runyan for his support of Rep. Paul Ryan’s Medicare overhaul proposal and the extension of Bush-era tax cuts that include reductions for the wealthy.

While Runyan says he is a supporter of abortion rights, Adler has criticized him for voting to sever funding to Planned Parenthood. In their respective congressional scorecards, NARAL Pro-Choice America gave Runyan a score of 0, while National Right to Life gave him 100 percent.

Adler says her campaign reflects values that she believes are attractive to Jewish voters. She says she will work on behalf of the middle class, senior citizens, veterans and women.

“People need somebody who will be on their side,” she said.

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