WASHINGTON – Moshe Starkman wants to get one thing straight: He’s a Republican running for the 4th Congressional District seat, but he’s not a politician.
“I’m a hard-working person hoping to represent hard-working people in the U.S. Congress,” he said.
Starkman, 28, is hopeful his fresh face and platform advocating for the American worker will be enough to defeat seven-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Albert R. Wynn in November.
“I think people are not happy with Congress, and I think people want change all over the place,” said the father of three running in a district that mixes parts of Prince George’s and Montgomery counties.
Starkman sailed through the primaries uncontested while Wynn was caught in a primary dogfight with lawyer and community activist Donna Edwards, who came within 3,000 votes of knocking him out of office.
Republicans argue the primary results prove Wynn’s time in Congress is up.
“Even his own party sees that it’s time for a change,” said Rachael Gingrich, president of the Montgomery County Young Republicans, who said Starkman has a great chance because “he’s very well known in the community and has a great background in technology and working with kids. He’s just an all-around great candidate.”
But the odds are stacked against Starkman. Of the 366,679 registered voters in District 4, Democrats outnumber Republicans more than five to one. Wynn, who’s served in public office for nearly 25 years, still has more than $200,000 left in campaign funds, according to Sept. 30 filing reports, while Starkman is not listed — he hasn’t hit the $5,000 minimum filing limit, he said.
Tom Reinheimer, chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party, acknowledges Starkman faces an “uphill battle,” but said his candidacy is important because “I think he furthers the discussions and gives voters an alternative.”
Starkman’s wife, Rachael, is happy and excited that her husband is taking advantage of the opportunity to represent his country, but she prefers to stay out of the political limelight while she raises their three children, Shlomo, 4, Yisrael, 2, and Rivkah, 2 months.
“I just support him from the side,” she said.
In addition to running his own campaign, Starkman’s lending a hand to fellow Republican Jeff Stein, a friend of two years who is challenging U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen in the 8th Congressional District.
Neither Starkman nor Stein has served in public office, but their lack of experience could play to their advantage, Stein said. “We’ve been outside the Republican Party . . . We have no connections to anything, any corporations. We don’t play that card,” he said.
In addition to politics, Starkman devotes a lot of time to youth outreach. It’s a cause dear to his heart, he said. Growing up in Twin Rivers, N.J., he struggled to find positive social outlets without a father to guide him. His parents divorced when he was 3.
Sitting in a conference room in his office wearing a black Torah Youth Association baseball cap that covers his black yarmulke — he’s an Orthodox Jew — Starkman starts to hum Whitney Houston’s, “Greatest Love of All.” It’s a song he knows well. His mother, Naomi, had him and his younger brother, Paul, memorize the words.
“Being a single mother . . . it was very important for her that we had self respect,” he said. “The song emphasizes the potential and beauty of a child.”
In 2003, he turned his passion into action and started the Torah Youth Association for Orthodox Jewish children “who are confused, at risk or otherwise in need of kosher social outlets,” he said. There are programs in Baltimore and Silver Spring and plans to start another in Philadelphia.
Starkman, who’s built his career in the technology sector and works as a senior team manager for Intersoft Corp, a technology consulting firm, hopes his passion for education and community outreach and his ability to affect change in his community will give him leverage in the election.
“If people are really looking for change, for someone to advocate for them, then I think I have a shot,” he said.
“With Moshe’s community focus I think he has a really good message,” Gingrich said. “I think he’s a lot more in touch the issues in the district.”
Starkman’s service has already won him some avid supporters.
“He’s definitely got my vote,” said Margie Billian, 44, who has known Starkman since she joined Beth Joshua Congregation in Aspen Hill five years ago. “He’s definitely a leader . . . someone that people can talk to.” He’ll be the first Republican she’ll have voted for, she said.
Though Starkman admits Wynn has worked hard to bring economic development to the district, he still believes “District 4 could benefit from new leadership.”
He understands his opposition if fierce, but says he wants to pursue the opportunity, “while I’m young and still have energy to change the world.”