Ask Marjorie Margolies what she’s been up to since her one term in Congress 20 years ago, as I did recently, and you might want to order a cup of tea. It’s been an interesting ride.”Well, after my constituents asked me to leave,” Margolies deadpanned, referring to her 1994 defeat following her tough vote for a Clinton budget, “I was named to head our delegation to the women’s conference in Beijing.”
That would be the United Nations World Conference on Women, a 1995 gathering which was controversial because some wanted the U.S. to boycott the event over China’s human rights record.
But Margolies went, and a few years after founded Womens’ Campaign International, an effort to empower women in emerging democracies around the world. From its base in Philadelphia, WCI has managed a variety of projects in the developing world, from getting warring Liberian villages to cooperate on building a peace park, to helping women in another village buy a cassava grinder, to building leadership skills among women in the Middle East and elsewhere
One of the project’s early grants was from – I’m not making this up – the Department of Defense.
“It was Jack Murtha,” Margolies said, referring to the late Democratic Congressman from Johnstown, Pennsylvania who was a powerhouse on defense issues. “He really believed that part of the Defense Department’s mission was working with people on the ground, building good will.”
Margolies has also taught classes at the University of Pennsylvania and integrated the academic work into the campaign’s efforts, at times taking students to work on projects around the world.
While Margolies was building WCI up, her family life was descending into chaos, in a very public way. Her husband, former Iowa Congressman and prominent Pennsylvania Democrat Ed Mezvinksy, pled guilty to defrauding friends and associates of more than $10 million. Mezvinsky was said to suffer from bipolar disorder, and he lost more than $2 million to a Nigerian financial scam himself.
Margolies was not implicated in the fraud, and the marriage didn’t survive the trauma. But she says they remain friendly and have dealings over their combined family of 11 grown children, four of them adopted.
Back to Congress?
Margolies is now running for her old Congressional seat, sort of. Today the 13th Congressional district is roughly half in Montgomery County and half in Northeast Philadelphia. In fact, the re-districting frenzy has actually cut Margolies home out of the district, and she’s looking for a place inside the new boundaries.
Margolies has the advantage of significant name recognition, both from her stint in Congress and earlier career as a TV anchor. And she has some heavyweight political friends, most notably Bill and Hillary Clinton, who’s daughter Chelsea is married to her son Marc.
But in the Democratic primary she’ll have to best three formidable rivals: Montgomery County State Sen. Daylin Leach, physician Valerie Arkoosh, and Philadelphia State Rep. Brendan Boyle. Boyle, in particular has a geographical edge of sorts as the only Phillly candidate in the field.
Margolies notes that she’s working to build Philadelphia ties, adding that she’s “gotten a warm response from people who know me in the city.” It’s interesting that two pros in her political team, Ken Smukler and D.A. Jones, are historically close to Philadelphia Democratic chairman, U.S. Rep. Bob Brady., who’s endorsed Boyle.
The Democratic primary is May 20th of next year.