picture by: Photo by Joselyn King
WHEELING — When the northern West Virginia Democrats pulled out of the race for the 2nd District U.S. House seat this year, Barry Wendell stepped forward.
Wendell, of Morgantown, is now the Democratic nominee for the office. He will face Republican Alex Mooney in the November 8 general election.
Wendell defeated Angela Dwyer in the Democratic primary.
“I applied because I saw she was the only candidate in the race and was less qualified than me,” Wendell said.
The former Morgantown alderman noted that he had lived in the state for 10 years, while Dwyer had only lived here four years and held no public office. Wendell asked Monongalia County Democratic Party officials before filing if any current state officials planned to run for the Democratic congressional seat, and he found there were no rumblings.
He is realistic about his chances in the legislative elections. The most recent Federal Election Commission filings as of June 30 show Mooney with $558,520 in his coffers; and Wendell, with $2,938.
“It’s possible that if I put in a good performance, the Democrats will put in someone next time who is very well supported and has a chance,” he explained. “I could name five people in Monongalia County alone who would do better than me, but I signed up.”
Wendell said his platform includes restoring the state coal tax to higher levels as it is used to maintain the solvency of West Virginia’s black lung fund. He is also in favor of improving state infrastructure and “access to broadband everywhere”.
“We need infrastructure in West Virginia, and Mooney did not vote for (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 is unlike any other political candidate in the state. He is Jewish, gay and pro-choice.
“I’m very pro-choice,” he said. “I am not in favor of abortion, but it is not the duty of the state to interfere. It is 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 earned a graduate degree from the Tulane Center for Urban Studies in New Orleans.
Wendell explained that humanistic studies is the study “of history from the perspective of art, music, and literature”.
He then worked for the State Personnel Office in Maryland and rose through the ranks of state government to become an assistant deputy overseeing food stamps in the state. After that, he worked 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 cantor soloist in synagogues and tutoring Bar Mitzvah students. He hoped to become a professional actor and even had a role with a line in “General Hospital”.
Wendell spent 25 years in Los Angeles. It was there in 2005 that he met her husband, Rabbi Joe Hampel. The couple married in 2008.
When Morgantown’s Tree of Life Synagogue posted a job ad seeking a new rabbi 10 years ago, Wendell encouraged Hampel to apply.
Hampel got the job, then he and Wendell moved to West Virginia in 2012.
After acclimating to Morgantown, Wendell was inspired to run for the House of Delegates in 2016.
“Two of our delegates had signed a resolution for a constitutional convention to ban same-sex marriage,” Wendell said. “I was mad.”
Although unsuccessful, Wendell applied for a Morgantown City Council seat the following year and won a two-year term. He was re-elected in 2019.
Wendell said his reception during this year’s election campaign has been positive.
“But I’ve met mostly Democrats, and they’re all cool,” he explained.
He visited union halls and attended events such as gay pride festivals.
“My strategy is to go wherever I can,” he said. “I haven’t met Alex Mooney anywhere.”
He said Hampel was behind his efforts to win a U.S. House seat in 2022.
“He said he wanted a houseboat (in Washington, DC) like (US Senator) Joe Manchin,” Wendell continued. “I told him first that I had to win this election.”