Two Jewish women in metro Atlanta are running for seats in the Georgia House of Representatives.
Attorney Esther Panitch is seeking the Democratic nomination in the 51st district and Fulton County Republican Party 1st Vice Chair Betsy Kramer is seeking her party’s nomination in the 50th district.
Panitch, who announced her candidacy Feb. 10, told the AJT that she had not planned to run for public office, but changed her mind after Democratic Rep. Mike Wilensky, the lone Jewish member of the Georgia General Assembly, announced that he would not seek re-election. “Once Mike decided not to run and it became clear he was the only [Jewish legislator], that really surprised me. Given the numbers in Georgia, we should have some level of representation in the legislature,” she said.
Candidates “have to be qualified, whether they’re Jewish or not,” Panitch said. “It’s an added benefit. It brings a sensitivity to not just Jews but to other minorities. People who have never been in a minority may not be sensitive” on particular issues.
District 51 includes sections of Roswell, Sandy Springs, and Johns Creek. The district currently is represented by two-term Democratic Rep. Josh McLaurin, who is running for a seat from Senate district 14.
There is one other announced candidate for the Democratic nomination. No Republican has filed to run in the 51st district.
The 50-year-old Panitch said that her priority issues would be women’s reproductive rights, “reasonable” gun control, and strengthening Georgia’s treatment of childhood sexual abuse victims. She also cited increased antisemitism as motivating her candidacy.
Panitch said that she supports the Second Amendment but would like to see more restrictions on who is able to purchase a gun. In terms of childhood sexual abuse victims, she has represented men who were abused as boys by adult leaders in the Boy Scouts.
Panitch also represented Ariela Neuman in her divorce from Hemy Neuman, whose 2016 conviction for murder in the November 2010 slaying of Russell Sneiderman in Dunwoody were upheld last year by the Georgia Supreme Court. The high-profile case was of particular interest in the Jewish community.
Because she is a candidate for public office, Panitch has given up her role as a legal analyst at WSB-TV. “I very much enjoyed doing that, that was my hobby,” she said. Panitch also served as a legal analyst for CNN in the past.
Panitch received her undergraduate degree from the University of Miami and her juris doctor from the University of Miami School of Law. She served in the Miami-Dade County public defender’s office before opening her own law firm, specializing in domestic violence cases. Panitch moved to Atlanta in 2004 and now heads The Panitch Law Group, whose website says she “specializes in defending first-time criminal offenders.”
Panitch and her husband, Roger, are members of Congregation Bnai Torah (where he recently served as congregation president) and are the parents of a daughter and two sons. Panitch is a third-generation member of Hadassah, which she has served in leadership roles, and been active on behalf of Camp Judea.
Kramer began her campaign in December and already has been raising money and knocking on doors in the 50th district, but had not made a public announcement of her candidacy. The district includes sections of Johns Creek and Alpharetta. Two others have filed for the Republican nomination in the district. Democratic State Sen. Michelle Au is running as a Democrat in the 50th.
“People who know me, know that I’m a doer. I get things done,” Kramer said. “My conservative principles, my love of our country and our city led me to enter the race.”
As did Panitch, Kramer also cited the issue of antisemitism. If elected, “I would represent my [Republican] caucus as a Jewish woman and represent the Jews of Georgia as a Republican,” Kramer said. “Most people think of Jews as being Democrats.” Kramer, 64, and her husband Steve are the parents of a son and a daughter, and are members of Congregation Gesher L’Torah.
Kramer said that her priority issues would include election integrity, education, and reducing or eliminating Georgia’s income tax.
Kramer, who has served as vice chairman of the Fulton County Republican Party, is a member of the state Republican Party election integrity committee.
On education, she said, “I think COVID opened a lot of peoples’ eyes as to what children are learning. Children should be taught how to think critically and not necessarily be taught a lot of the propaganda that is being taught to them.” Kramer said that she grew up being taught that America “was a melting pot, but now children are being put into groups. We’re being blamed and dividing people and it’s just not right.”
On how the state could replace the loss of the estimated $14 billion generated by the income tax, “It is something to work on,” she said, adding that the state could study other forms of taxation and that change could be made gradually, rather than all at one time.
- Dave Schechter
- Georgia House of Representatives
- Esther Panitch
- Democratic Party
- Fulton County Republican Party
- Betsy Kramer
- Atlanta Jewish Times
- Mike Wilensky
- Georgia General Assembly
- Sandy Springs
- John's Creek
- Josh McLaurin
- Sexual Abuse
- Ariela Neuman
- Hemy Neuman
- Russell Sneiderman
- University of Miami
- Congregation B'nai Torah
- Congregation Gesher L'Torah