Joe Sestak Profile: Run, Joe, Run

He was forced out of a Navy post. A dozen of his Congressional staffers have quit. And now, Newtown Square’s Joe Sestak is defying Barack Obama and Ed Rendell in taking on Arlen Specter in the country’s most important Senate race. But is he exactly the sort of scorched-earth guy we need in Washington?

So here’s Joe Sestak, age 57, running his skinny butt off — I mean sprinting, literally booking it down the Ben Franklin Parkway, me and a campaign aide trailing behind him. The aide, Julian, a baby-faced kid less than half Sestak’s age, is scooting and huffing along as best he can, overburdened with all the stuff Sestak’s got him carrying: the clipboard, the stack of Sestak brochures ("JOE SESTAK/Democrat for Senate/Accountable Leadership"), the campaign BlackBerry, and especially the two digital cameras, crucial for grip-and-grins, that are swinging madly and wildly from Julian’s wrist and neck as he runs. Sestak thinks his name is Justin.

Sestak suddenly skids to a halt at the sidewalk, in front of an older woman with a flowery blouse:

"Joe Sestak, that’s me in the brochure. I’m running for Senate against Arlen Specter."

The woman looks down at the brochure, then back up at Rear Admiral Joseph Ambrose Sestak, USN, Ret.: a wiry, leather-skinned man of Slovakian extraction. Dark gray hair, dark bushy eyebrows, a blue shirt with its top button undone, a forehead that ought to be dewy with sweat, but isn’t. He smiles at her, clasps her hand. His narrow, hooded eyes arc downward at the sides, spawning armadas of wrinkles. She has clearly never seen this man before.

"You’re running against Arlen?" she says.


She shakes her head. "Oh-kay … "

A man in a faded baseball cap approaches Sestak, shakes his hand vigorously. "We need new people in Congress," the man says.

Sestak thanks the man, pats Julian on the back warmly, chuckles, notices that I’m struggling to keep up, and exclaims, "It’s so spread out today!"

This is the Pulaski Day Parade, an annual October celebration of Philadelphia’s Polish heritage. Sestak loves parades. Usually, "People are more closely packed together" on the parade route, he says, "so you can go back and forth and-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta!" He makes a machine-gun noise and a motion like he’s shaking 20 hands per second. Then he turns and lunges, and BOOM, he’s off again, weaving through the parade’s horses and string bands and ROTC formations under a crisp blue sky —

— "Joe Sestak, running for Senate, read this and give me a call" — BOOM — "Would you mind"— BOOM —"You got to when you’re fighting the establishment!"

— BOOM — to an eight-year-old black kid — "Come intern for me when you’re in high school. … "

— BOOM — to two female college students from Saudi Arabia, wearing headscarves, carrying BlackBerries, who have asked Sestak if they can interview him for a school project about American politics — "Yeah! I’ve been to Saudi Arabia. I was in the Navy. You want to do it here? Yeah. Well, I tell ya what. I’ll do that if you volunteer for me. How’s that? Yeah. Sure. We can get your e-mail. You’re here studying, right? … You guys are the best barterers in the world. I thought I’d show you what I learned in the souks over there. The souks, is that what they’re called? [blank looks] You know, where you trade, the bazaar? [more blank looks] Anyway, what’s your question?"