Jacobs is one of several candidates hoping to fill the seat being vacated by the retirement of Susan Davis
By Donald H. Harrison, Editor, San Diego Jewish World, a member of the San Diego Online News Association
December 22, 2019 (San Diego) - The local Jewish community has watched congressional candidate Sara Jacobs, 30, grow up within institutions named for her family. For example, she attended the preschool and later participated in 18 J*Company shows on the Jacobs Family Campus of the Lawrence Family JCC. Her parts ranged from the mother in Benjamin and Judah to the “scary grandmother” back from the underworld in Fiddler on the Roof.
When Jacobs was in high school, she was a participant one year and a counselor the next for the Jacobs International Teen Leadership Institute (JITLI), which brought together American Jewish and Israeli and Arab students to visit Spain, Israel and the Palestinian territories.
The Jacobs Family Campus of the Lawrence Family JCC was largely financed by Joan and Irwin Jacobs, who are Sara’s grandparents. Irwin Jacobs was the co-founder of Qualcomm along with Andrew Viterbi. The Jacobs International Teen Leadership Institute (JITLI) was the creation of her parents, Gary and Jerri-Ann Jacobs. Gary has served as president of the Lawrence Family JCC, Jacobs Family Campus, and of the Jewish Federation of San Diego County. Currently, he is president of the JCC Association of North America.
Had it been desired by Sara and her family to continue her life within the family’s orbit, she might have attended the High School of Jewish Studies, a charter school which her parents founded, and perhaps gone on later to study at UC San Diego, where the School of Engineering and a Medical Center are named for her grandparents.
Sara Jacobs instead attended Del Mar Heights Elementary School, Earl Warren Middle School, and Torrey Pines High School. At Congregation Beth El, where her family are members, she became the president of the United Synagogue Youth chapter. When it was time to go to college, she decided to spread her wings and chose Columbia University in New York City, where she majored in political science as an undergraduate and earned a master’s degree in international relations.
“It’s really amazing to see how much good my family has done in our community,” Sara commented during an interview with San Diego Jewish World. She said she was aware some of the major contributions her grandparents had made – for example $120 million to support the San Diego Symphony Orchestra in what is now known as the Jacobs Music Center; another center enveloping the La Jolla Playhouse; the financing of a study to re-route Balboa Park traffic away from the Plaza, and support for Jewish Family Services.
In addition, she said, there are programs that her family supports that she has only learned about when people tell her how much her grandparents and parents mean to them. “It has been really nice to see that,” she said. “One of the things I’ve learned growing up here was how much San Diego has given us and therefore how we have a responsibility to do everything we can to make San Diego the best and most excellent place it could be.”
The family’s reputation for philanthropy is not lost on Sara Jacobs. “My grandfather is probably the most popular person in San Diego right now,” she said. “Between the people who have jobs in the tech industry or the philanthropy my family has done, a lot of people have good feelings. My grandparents, my parents, they are such good and generous people. I am honored to continue that legacy in building up the San Diego we all love.”
Having a considerable inherited nest egg of her own, Sara Jacobs is following in her family’s philanthropic footsteps. Currently she chairs a “countywide initiative to end child poverty in San Diego – we will be officially launching in January.”
She said that about 200,000 children being raised in San Diego are members of families of four for which the income is less than $53,000 a year – a figure that is twice the federal poverty level, but which, according to the candidate, makes sense as a measuring tool in San Diego, where the cost of living is high.
The coalition, she said, has set for itself a goal of “cutting in half the experience of child poverty in San Diego in ten years.” This will be accomplished, she said, “through advocacy, by bringing groups together and aligning different service delivery, and piloting new innovative ways to address the issue.” She said that while many organizations are involved, Jewish Family Service will serve as the backbone of the organization, even as it does for the Rapid Response Network, which comes to the aid of refugees and asylum seekers who, with proper documentation, seek new lives in the United States.
“I’d like to see that [the anti-poverty coalition] as a continuation of my parents’ legacy,” Sara Jacobs said. “My grandparents and parents built institutions and now our generation is building the systems.”
The master’s degree program that Jacobs undertook involved doing research for the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations, based in the New York City headquarters of the U.N. She said she studied various peacekeeping missions around the world, trying to pull out “what worked and what didn’t.” Her capstone report asserted the importance of aligning internal structure to the needs of the leadership team, making certain that the legal and military police teams “know what they should be doing.” She stayed on as a consultant for six months after completing her master’s degree, and then moved on to a year-long assignment for UNICEF while she waited for security clearance to work for U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
By the time the bureaucracy provided her the security clearance, John Kerry had succeeded Clinton as Secretary of State. Jacobs was assigned to the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations. “I was on the policy team, the policy adviser. I covered East and West Africa. Also, the President (Barack Obama) had a big initiative to counter extremism and I was our bureau’s lead on that issue. Also, the President had an African leaders summit and from that came the Security Governance Initiative, which was about changing and reframing some of the assistance that we gave to our counter-terrorism partners.” Reframing involved emphasizing human rights and governance in addition to simply equipping security personnel, she said.
Her office was in a building across the street from the main State Department Building in the area of Washington D.C. nicknamed Foggy Bottom. “We were right next to the CVS.”
“I was in a lot of meetings with President Obama at that point but I was always what they call a back bencher,” she said. “I would staff the assistant secretary or the undersecretary meetings, and I would often write memos that went to the White Hose.”
In the summer of 2015, she joined Hillary Clinton’s campaign for President. “I was on her foreign policy team,” she said. Based in the campaign’s headquarters in Brooklyn, New York, she helped to staff meetings with foreign heads of state coincident with their arrival at the U.N. General Assembly.
In 2016, the Clinton campaign decided “to send all of us at headquarters to New Hampshire for 10 days before that primary, and for this San Diego girl, being in New Hampshire in February, was quite an eye opening experience.” From there she moved on to help in Tampa, Florida, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Clinton’s surprise loss to Donald Trump was “very difficult,” Jacobs recalled with a wince.
The following year found Jacobs working as the chief operating officer of a nonprofit organization that served as a liaison between tech companies and schools around the world in an effort to bring the Internet to every classroom on the globe. The first part of that project was to map where the schools were located, how many classrooms they had, their number of students and teachers. Emphasis was placed on trying to find ways to connect schools in the most remote locations. In pursuance of this, Jacobs traveled to North and Sub-Saharan Africa, Central Asia, and Latin America.
She moved to Encinitas, California, where friends persuaded her to run in the 49th Congressional District, from which Republican incumbent Darrell Issa announced he was retiring. (Issa two years later is a candidate in the 50th Congressional District from which Duncan Hunter, convicted in federal court for misappropriation of campaign funds, is expected to resign soon.)
In that campaign Jacobs spent $2 million of her own money in a $3 million primary election effort. However, Democrat Mike Levin and Board of Equalization member Diane Harkey, a Republican, were the top two finishers, with Levin winning the seat in the November run off election.
Jacobs said she got into the race too late, given that Levin had been campaigning for a year before she decided to enter. Nevertheless, she said, “I actually won the San Diego County part of the district, but I lost the Orange County part.”
Following her defeat, Jacobs was hired by the Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice on the University of San Diego campus as a scholar-in-residence, thereby continuing her studies in peacekeeping. She moved in January of this year to the Bankers Hill section of San Diego in order to have an easier commute to the USD campus. At the time, she said, she had no idea that veteran Democratic Congresswoman Susan Davis would decide not to run for reelection in the 53rd Congressional District.
In our interview, we talked about Jacobs’ general campaign themes of fighting climate change, resisting gun violence, affordable housing and child care. In addition, we discussed some issues of specific interest to the Jewish community, such as our nation’s relationships with Israel and what efforts are necessary to combat anti-Semitic violence as exemplified by last April’s fatal attack on Chabad of Poway.
On the day of our interview, the House of Representatives adopted a resolution which rejected the Trump Administration’s stand that the creation of Jewish communities in the West Bank (also known as Judea and Samaria) is not in violation of international law.
“I support that resolution,” Jacobs told me. “I believe that annexation is a clear red line. .. I think personally that the biggest existential threat to Israel security is the lack of resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and that the window for two states may be closing faster than we would like for logistical reasons. I think all U.S. assistance needs to be viewed through the lens of ‘does it move things closer to peace?’ and annexation absolutely does not. I believe the Trump administration’s decision on settlement expansion also is not helpful in bringing us closer to peace.”
She was also critical of Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. “Again,” she said, “I don’t think the U.S. should be doing anything that gets in the way of a comprehensive, diplomatically negotiated settlement that creates two states for two people. I believe the status of Jerusalem has to be a final-status negotiated issue. I think moving the embassy to Jerusalem is unhelpful and makes it harder for us to be able to play the kind of mediating role and leadership role that I think is important for the U.S. to play in resolving this conflict.”
Jacobs did not agree with U.S. recognizing Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights (formerly part of Syria) nor Trump’s order that the Palestine Liberation Organization’s office in Washington D.C. be closed.
“Annexation is a red line,” she said. As for the PLO office, “I think that the only way we will be able to have two states via a negotiated settlement is to have a functioning Palestinian Authority and that requires the U.S. to provide assistance in state building,” she said. “The more we push them away, the harder it is for us to be able to play that leadership role again and be able to help resolve the conflict.”
Does she believe that there is a “peace partner” for Israel among the Palestinians? And, if so, who? Jacobs was asked.
She pointed out that President Richard M. Nixon, a hardline anti-Communist, went to China to negotiate with the Communist government there, “so it is the people who you least expect.” On the Israeli side, “Yitzhak Rabin was another one; it might be a far-right Likud guy.” On the Palestinian side, “it could be someone surprising us in the leadership that there is now, or it could be someone new who is charismatic and can bring people along, and I will look forward to that.”
The candidate said she is opposed to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign because “I don’t believe it is helpful in resolving the conflict. I think we’ve seen that a lot of the leadership of BDS has strains of anti-Semitism. At the end of the day, its effect has been more to hurt Israeli students and, frankly, Palestinians who work in Israeli companies than to change policy in any way.”
“That being said,” she added, “I don’t believe it is appropriate or right to pass legislation that makes BDS illegal because I believe that it is a First Amendment right to be able to protest.”
Concerning domestic anti-Semitism, Jacobs commented: “I think that firstly we need to be standing up against leaders who use anti-Semitic tropes and who specifically play to white nationalist sentiment to hold their base of power both here in the United States and around the world. We are also seeing it in places like Hungary. I think we also need to do a lot of educating around anti-Semitism, around the history that the Jews have gone through.”
Jacobs said she thinks the Jewish community must distinguish between anti-Semitism and “legitimate criticism of the policies of the Bibi Netanyahu government which in many cases do not represent the values of many, especially young, Jewish people.”
Our conversation turned to other issues, such as child care. She proposed “a national standard” that would give relief to any family which was required to spend more than 10 percent of his income for child care. “I hear from folks all the time in the district that child care costs more than their rent, and more than their university tuition in some cases.” She recommended increased funding for programs like HeadStart, and a goal of starting public school programs for children at the ages of three or four to make sure that “everyone is having quality education.”
On gun violence, Jacobs said the public needs to understand the nexus between gun violence and domestic violence. In some states, she said “you only get your guns taken away after a restraining order becomes permanent, but actually it is in the first 24 to 48 hours after you file for a restraining order that are the most dangerous.” So, she favors “moving up when your guns are taken away to the time that a temporary restraining order is filed.”
Explaining the need, Jacobs said “a majority of women who are killed by guns in the United States are killed by their domestic or intimate partners.”
In addition she favors legislation that closes various loopholes so that anyone buying a gun will have to go through a through background check.
Regarding climate change, she said she is a supporter of the Green New Deal. “I think that we have an urgent threat and that we need to address it with the same urgency,” she said. “I think that we need to transition to an entirely clean energy economy by 2030, starting with the most polluting sources of energy first, while making sure that we are supporting workers and those communities that are feeling the effects of climate change more than anyone else.”
Our interview turned to the questions opponents might raise, for example: “She has never held public office before, she wants to start at the top, and it’s only because she has a personal fortune that she can do that.”
Jacobs responded, “I believe that I am actually the most qualified person for this job and it’s because I am the person in this race who has the most experience working at the federal level, who has worked on creating and implementing public policy in the federal government and who really knows how the federal government works and all the different levers.
“I also think that it’s really important that we have more young people in office – I am 30, will be 31 by election day. I think that our campaign finance system is broken and we need to pass campaign finance reform. We need to overturn Citizens United (which permits large contributions by corporations to political campaigns) and I am grateful that I have the ability and the opportunity to represent my community and to make a difference and to help everyone.”
Another question, “It’s unfair that rich candidates like Michael Bloomberg, who is running for President, and Sara Jacobs, who is running for Congress can, in essence, ‘buy the election.’”
Her response: “We are aggressively fundraising. We have a huge base of grassroots support. Last quarter, which is the only quarter candidates have reported so far, I raised over $310,000 and only $2,000 of that was mine, and it was all in-kind contributions. I can say that 66 percent of the contributions were $100 or less.” She said most of her contributions are from Californians, with over 50 percent coming from within San Diego County.
Another question: “San Diego City Council President Georgette Gomez has been collecting many more endorsements than you. [Among them State Senate President pro tempore Toni Atkins, U.S. Rep. Juan Vargas, State Senator Ben Hueso, Assemblymembers Todd Gloria, Lorena Gonzalez, Tasha Boerner, and Shirley Weber}, County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher; San Diego City Council members Barbara Bry and Monica Montgomery and others} Doesn’t this indicate more support than you have?”
Jacobs responded, “We are proud of the endorsements we have. I have been endorsed by the lieutenant governor of California (Eleni Kounalakis), by Congresswoman Katie Porter (of Orange County), who I think is one of the stars of the freshman class … I’ve been endorsed by the American Postal Workers Union, the MLK Democratic Club, which is the club that represents San Deigo’s African-American community, the Eastlake-Bonita Democratic Club, and Georgette and I were both rated as the candidates who were qualified by San Diego Democrats for Equality. “
Further, she said, “I am not running against anyone. I am running my own race, talking directly to voters and want to make sure our district is well represented in 2021 when I believe we are going to hold more than half the Senate and the House of Representatives. I think there will be some really generational changing, important legislation, and I think that it is important that there be someone who can hit the ground running on day one”
Asked how much she expected to spend in this campaign, she responded that she was still figuring that out. She said she goes into the campaign in the 53rd Congressional District with 40 percent name recognition, so that means she won’t have to spend so much to get her name known. Furthermore, she said, whereas in the 49th CD, to reach Orange County voters, she had to purchase television advertising on Los Angeles stations, in the 53rdCD, she will need to purchase ads in only one media market.
She said she was confident she will make it to the general election. Asked who her opponent is likely to be, she said, her internal polls indicate it may be Famela Ramos, a Republican.