photo by: Photo by Joselyn King
WHEELING – When Democrats in northern West Virginia stepped back from running for the 2nd District U.S. House seat this year, Barry Wendell stepped forward.
Wendell, of Morgantown, now is the Democratic nominee for the office. He faces Republican Alex Mooney in the Nov. 8 general election.
Wendell defeated Angela Dwyer in the Democratic primary.
“I filed because I saw she was the only candidate in the race, and she was less qualified than I was,” Wendell said.
The former Morgantown city councilman noted he had lived in the state for 10 years, while Dwyer had lived here just four and had not held public office. Wendell asked Monongalia County Democratic Party officials before filing if any current state officials planned to seek the Democratic Congressional seat, and he found out there were no rumblings.
He is realistic about his chances in the general election. The most recent Federal Election Commission filings as of June 30 show Mooney with $558,520 in his coffers; and Wendell, with $2,938.
“There’s a possibility that if I make a good showing, the Democrats will put up somebody next time who is very well-backed and has a chance,” he explained. “I could name five people in Monongalia County alone that would do better than I would, but I’m the one who signed up.”
Wendell said his platform includes restoring the state’s coal tax to past higher levels, as it is used to keep West Virginia’s black lung fund solvent. He is also in favor of improving the state’s infrastructure, and “getting broadband everywhere.”
“We need infrastructure in West Virginia, and Mooney didn’t vote for it (infrastructure improvement legislation),” he added.
Like Mooney, Wendell’s roots are not in West Virginia, but in Maryland. Wendell was born in Baltimore. Otherwise, Wendell isn’t much like any other political candidate in the state. He is Jewish, gay and pro-choice.
“I am very much pro-choice,” he said. “I am not in favor of abortion, but it is not the state’s duty to get involved. It’s a matter between the woman, her partner and her doctor.”
Wendell graduated from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore with a degree in humanistic studies, and he later achieved a graduate degree from the Urban Studies Center at Tulane in New Orleans.
Wendell explained humanistic studies is the study “of history from the point of view of art, music and literature.”
He went on to work for the state personnel office in Maryland, and rose in state government to become the assistant deputy overseeing food stamps in the state. After that, he went on to work in social security offices in Miami and Los Angeles.
He was employed as a substitute teacher in Los Angeles for 18 years, while also getting gigs as a cantorial soloist at synagogues and tutoring Bar Mitzvah students. He had hopes of becoming a professional actor, and even had a part with a line on “General Hospital.”
Wendell spent 25 years in Los Angeles. It was there in 2005 that he met his husband, Rabbi Joe Hampel. The couple married in 2008.
When the Tree of Life synagogue in Morgantown posted a job opening seeking a new Rabbi 10 years ago, Wendell encouraged Hampel to apply.
Hampel received the job, then he and Wendell relocated to West Virginia in 2012.
After getting acclimated in Morgantown, Wendell was inspired to make a run for the House of Delegates in 2016.
“Two of our delegates had signed on to a resolution for a constitutional convention to ban gay marriage,” Wendell said. “I was mad.”
While unsuccessful, Wendell filed for a seat on Morgantown City Council the following year and won a two-year term. He was re-elected in 2019.
Wendell said his reception on the campaign trail this year has been positive.
“But I’ve been meeting mostly Democrats, and they’re all cool,” he explained.
He has been going to union halls and attending such events as gay pride festivals.
“My strategy is to go everywhere I can,” he said. “I haven’t run into Alex Mooney anywhere.”
He said Hampel is behind his effort to win a U.S. House seat in 2022.
“He said he wants a houseboat (in Washington, D.C.) like (U.S. Sen.) Joe Manchin has,” Wendell continued. “I told him first I have to win this election.”
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