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Former GHA Head of School Makes a Run for Senate

Matt Lieberman Pitches to Voters Independence, Which He Credits to His Education Background and His Judaism

Matthew Minsk

Editor’s Note: Palette does not endorse political candidates. This profile is featured in Palette due to Matt Lieberman’s past connection to GHA.

When Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA) announced his intention to retire at the end of 2019, Matt Lieberman was the first to jump the race. Lieberman, the son of former Connecticut Senator and 2000 Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Joe Lieberman, actually announced his candidacy before Georgia Governor Brian Kemp even appointed Sen. Isakson’s interim replacement. 

The younger Lieberman attributed his run for United States Senate — his first campaign for any public office — to his upbringing in public service: Besides from his politician father, his mother worked as a psychiatric social worker. 

In a recent interview with Palette, Lieberman also mentioned his past role as an educator as a motivating factor for his campaign. Lieberman’s first experience as an educator came in his hometown of New Haven, Connecticut, where he worked as a public school administrator and afterward taught at a private school, which happened to be his high school alma mater. Later, he moved down to Atlanta to serve as the Head of School at the Greenfield Hebrew Academy, the predecessor to AJA Lower and Middle School, from 2005-2007. Talking about his education days, he described “a spark moment” — when suddenly “an idea takes root” — as “meaningful [and] gratifying.” He equated the potential positive impact of a teacher or administrator with the ability of a politician to “make [people’s] lives better and fuller” and “help [them] live their best lives… enabl[ing] them to reach their fullest potential.”

Matt Lieberman served as the Head of School of the Greenfield Hebrew Academy, one of AJA’s predecessors, from 2005-2007.

Lieberman also mentioned his faith as a Jew as an impetus for running for office. He said that the Jewish people are tasked with “perfecting the world,” and he called holding public office “one way to participate in the completion of creation.” However, he added a caveat: It has to be “done properly.” 

The last part, “properly,” touches on the motivation he’s revealed most often and most publicly during his campaign. Lieberman said, “I have been, for the last three and a half years, really disgusted with our government” and the dysfunction of the Senate. The candidate, both in public materials and during his Palette interview, identified himself “as a fed up citizen of Georgia for the fed-up citizens of Georgia.”

“The younger Lieberman attributed his run for United States Senate… to his upbringing in public service.”

Since Sen. Isakson’s resignation caused the seat for which Lieberman is running to open, Georgia law dictates different procedures for the Special Election. To give one example, the winner will be up for reelection at the conclusion of Sen. Isakson’s term in 2022. But more importantly, in the November 3 contest, all candidates — more than twenty, according to Ballotpedia — run on the same ballot. If no single candidate wins an outright majority of 50% plus one vote — extremely unlikely in such a crowded field — the top two finishers will advance to a runoff in January. This process is known as a jungle primary, and has resulted in, for example, two Democrats facing off in California’s 2018 Senate General Election.

For this reason, many Democrats have urged Lieberman and others to drop out in favor of Reverend Raphael Warnock, the Democratic frontrunner endorsed by former President Barack Obama, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, 32 sitting Democratic Senators (including Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York), and a host of other influential Democrats. Based on polls from this summer, they feared that the presence of Lieberman and former US Attorney Ed Tarver would splinter the Democratic vote enough to allow two Republicans — Senator Kelly Loeffler, who was appointed by Gov. Kemp, and Representative Doug Collins — to gain the most votes and advance. While more recent polling seems to minimize this concern — Rev. Warnock’s support has increased enough that he appears poised to advance to the runoff against one Republican — the demands to withdraw have continued. 

“[Lieberman] equated the potential positive impact of a teacher or administrator with the ability of a politician to ‘make [people’s] lives better and fuller.'”

For his part, Lieberman completely brushed aside his opponent’s endorsements, arguing that the endorsers would all fall in line behind whoever “the party” selected for the seat, regardless of any candidate’s particular merit. He explained, “I don’t begrudge the Democratic Party for wanting everyone other than their chosen candidate to disappear, but I also think it’s a little bit ridiculous and entitled. It’s a democracy: You’re supposed to trust the people. I do trust the people of Georgia and they’ll get a chance to vote.” 

He offered that if he didn’t see any chance to win and “somehow [he] could play the role of spoiler,” he would suspend his campaign, but he argued that “that is mathematically impossible,” and Rev. Warnock will take votes from him as much as he will take votes from Rev. Warnock.

Conversely, Lieberman spun his party outsider status as a positive attribute. Among his top rivals, he claimed, only he is not indebted to “a power broker in Washington or Atlanta,” meaning party higher-ups. He said, “I think people want some degree of independence, some guarantees of their Senator is focused a hundred percent on them and not on paying back his or her political benefactors.” Lieberman’s party-bucking streak follows his father, who lost his 2006 Democratic Senate primary but managed to win reelection anyway as a third-party candidate.

Lieberman also connected his independence from partisan pressure back to his background in education and Judaism. Firstly, he claimed his campaign centers around “the importance of people as opposed to the importance of political parties and partisanship.” Lieberman opined, “It’s about what the people need done and being most responsive to them,” which, he said, “is a teachers’ attitude.”

Talking about religion, Lieberman said that a “sincerely religious person” tends to have “a good sense” of priorities versus frivolous pursuits. He cited his father’s experience as an observant Jew on Capitol Hill — at times, the elder Lieberman would walk miles to the Capitol for critical votes on Shabbat — to claim that “taking religion seriously… cultivates the strength to be independent.” He added, “By necessity and by osmosis, it lends some steel to your spine.”

“Lieberman also connected his independence from partisan pressure back to his background in education and Judaism.”

Lieberman’s campaign has faced challenges. Only once did he finish third in a poll — a late July Monmouth University survey — otherwise finishing in fourth in the rest. He has faced calls to drop out from the most influential members of his party: New polls have shown the urging to be taking a toll and tanking his support.

Lieberman said, however, “My dad’s example and the influence of Judaism in our lives… [has] given me the strength to be me and the strength to be authentically who I am and live my life the way I feel called to.” Those are qualities, he believes, “the public recognizes and respects.”


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