Esther Panitch and Peter Korman insist that there is nothing personal in their gibes at each other on social media.
It’s just politics, they say, namely the opportunity to represent House District 51 — which takes in most of Roswell, northeast Sandy Springs and a section of Johns Creek — in the Georgia General Assembly.
Both Panitch, the Democratic candidate, and Korman, the Republican, are Jewish. The Nov. 8 election will ensure that at least one Jewish legislator serves among 179 in the House and 56 in the Senate.
Korman messaged a writer for the AJT on April 7, saying that if Panitch won her primary, “the Jewish Times may have a particularly interesting campaign season.” Panitch won the May 24 Democratic primary, while Korman ran unopposed.
The campaign has been punctuated by barbed online exchanges, particularly on Twitter. Take Friday, June 17, for example.
Korman objected when a Georgia State University professor suggested, by way of a cartoon, that the head of the state Republican Party was an “***hole.”
Panitch, an attorney, replied, “Good to hear from you, but spare me the fake outrage when you regularly tweet ‘Brandon,’” a name used by some Republicans as a derisive reference to President Joe Biden.
Referring to the GSU professor, Korman, an information technology executive, wrote: “No, Esther, that’s just incivility, ugly and far beneath the level of dignity and decorum we should require from educators and ambassadors of our Public institutions. @SonnyPerdue [University of Georgia System chancellor] can and should lead our public school administrators to be better than this.”
The back-and-forth continued.
Korman: “We both have the right to free speech. We have the right to do a lot of things. Is it [the professor’s comment] helpful? Does it cast a poor light on our institutions or communities? That’s judgment and leadership. Questions for personal moral compass, not our courts. But you be you.”
Panitch: “Peter, are you trying to lecture me about judgment and leadership? You shill for TRUMP. He lacks character, judgment and leadership qualities aside from authoritarian, narcissistic and cultish ones. I’ll be me who is working to save democracy from what Trump did to it.”
Korman: “I’m not careless with allegations. Nor am I a shill. Accuracy is important. We should resist ‘bearing false witness.’ Wish more had the strength to resist as well.”
Late that afternoon, Korman concluded by wishing Panitch “Good Shabbos,” to which she replied, “And Shabbat Shalom to you, too.”
The District 51 seat opened up when incumbent Democratic Rep. Josh McLaurin opted to run for the state Senate. McLaurin defeated Jewish Republican Alex Kaufman in 2018 and 2020.
Korman, 61, grew up in Roslyn, N.Y., on Long Island. He and his wife, Stefanie, were members of Temple Emanu-El, a Reform congregation in Atlanta. An introduction in 2008 to Rabbi Hirshy Minkowicz and “an enthusiastic, non-judgmental embrace” by Chabad of North Fulton prompted a shift to “this caring community,” Korman said.
Panitch, 50, grew up in North Miami Beach, Fla. She and her husband, Roger, are members of Congregation B’nai Torah, where he has served as congregation president.
The two candidates have never met, but Korman said that “Esther and I share concentric circles of people who know us, who know both of us,” both in Atlanta and in the Miami Beach area, where Korman’s wife, Stefanie, also was raised.
The Jewish Community Relations Council of Atlanta (JCRC) hopes to arrange a debate between Panitch and Korman, whose Twitter exchanges suggest that it would be a lively affair.
Among other things, the two disagree about aspects of the 2020 election and the events of Jan. 6, 2021, on Capitol Hill.
On June 23, Panitch posted: “Spare me the pearl clutching. You have yet to put forth FACTS to help #HD51, only bs conspiracies. GA rejected your pals Perdue, Hice, & Evans & looks like the feds will have their way with Shafer, who tried to overthrow democracy. You are too extreme for us, Peter. #gapol.”
[U.S. Sen. David Perdue was trounced in the Republican gubernatorial primary by Gov. Brian Kemp. U.S. Rep. Jody Hice lost his primary bid against Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. Jake Evans was defeated in the 6th congressional district Republican primary runoff. The U.S. Justice Department has subpoenaed Georgia Republican Party chair David Shafer in connection with efforts to organize a slate of replacement Electoral College electors in a bid to overturn the 2020 presidential election.]
Korman informed his Twitter followers: “For the record, I’ve muted this ‘mean girl’ on my feed. She and her #tinymob of twitter trolls are uncivil, enjoy mud slinging, and don’t value either truth or accuracy. She rejected early calls for #civility. Her behavior is unproductive for our North Fulton neighbors.”
Asked about the exchanges, Panitch said, “What is going on is that I have seen outright misinformation and election lies being put out as truth and I feel an obligation to call it out when I see it. Maybe things get a little much and I’m working on that. It’s not personal.”
For his part, Korman said, “When she won her primary I sent her a note congratulating her. But the moment I made a comment about civility, accuracy, leadership, and setting an example, Esther of course now was in a different mode.”
Panitch had a different view, saying, “He actually reached out privately and was nice and then disparaged me on Twitter.”
Korman, who grew up playing ice hockey, resisted comparing politics to a contact sport. “It doesn’t need to be nasty. I implore people to be respectful and civil and accurate so we’re not making allegations that aren’t unsupportable,” he said.
Panitch was a debater in high school and, as an attorney, she specializes in federal criminal defense and family law cases, representing sexual assault victims.
The candidates differed widely in their responses when asked to identify three priority issues.
Panitch said that democracy must be supported by rejecting lies about the 2020 election and the failed attempts to replace Georgia’s electors. In the wake of the Supreme Court ruling against a constitutional right to abortion, she cited the defense of personal privacy in such matters as abortion, gay rights and same-sex marriage. She also pointed to infrastructure as an important issue for District 51.
“We can’t lose sight of the incredible role that the state legislatures will play on the larger issues. The Supreme Court has made the state legislatures ground zero for elections and privacy issues nationwide,” Panitch said.
Economic concerns topped Korman’s list, particularly the impact of housing costs on young homebuyers and senior citizens. He cited public safety and the challenges faced by police dealing with crimes committed by people with mental health issues and those with more predatory intent. Korman also referred to “what we’re doing in the classrooms to forward student achievement,” naming education and the curriculum an “umbrella issue.”
“The issue of bringing in active civics as a replacement for history is a big issue,” Korman said. “We’re not teaching CRT [critical race theory] in our schools but we are having these perverted corrupted interpretations of CRT in the classrooms,” he said. “Political indoctrination and sexual indoctrination and gender identity indoctrination, I don’t believe has a place in our schools.”
- Dave Schechter
- Esther Panitch
- Peter Korman
- social media
- Georgia General Assembly
- Nov. 8 election
- Georgia state university
- President Joe Biden
- Sonny Perdue
- University of Georgia System
- Democratic Rep. Josh McLaurin
- Alex Kaufman
- Temple Emanu-El
- Rabbi Hirshy Minkowicz
- Chabad of North Fulton
- Congregation B'nai Torah
- Jewish Community Relations Council of Atlanta (JCRC)
- Sen. David Perdue
- Gov. Brian Kemp
- U.S. Rep. Jody Hice
- Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger
- U.S. Justice Department
- CRT [critical race theory]