Born January 9, 1938, Peter B. Edelman was raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota. After earning a joint degree in law and public policy from Harvard University, he clerked for U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Henry Friendly (1961-62) and Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg (1962-63). From 1963-64 Edelman worked in the U.S. Justice Department for Assistant Attorney General John Douglas, and from 1964-68 he was a legislative assistant to Senator Robert F. Kennedy. In 1968 Edelman married Marian Wright [Edelman], who would establish the Children’s Defense Fund five years later.
From 1972-75, Peter Edelman was vice president of the University of Massachusetts, and from 1975-79 he directed the New York State Division for Youth. Also in the Seventies, Edelman served as chairman of the New World Foundation, a position later held by Hillary Clinton.
In 1980 Edelman was hired as the issues director for Senator Edward Kennedy‘s presidential campaign. Two years later he became a professor at Georgetown Law School, where he continues to teach to this day.
In the early 1990s, Edelman took a temporary leave of absence from Georgetown in order to serve as counselor to President Bill Clinton‘s Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, and then as the Clinton administration’s Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation.
Edelman was a passionate critic of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, which was intended to move large numbers of people off the welfare rolls and into paid employment. According to Edelman, this welfare-reform proposal would not only deprive the poor of a vital safety net, but would also increase poverty rates by pushing many single mothers into low-paying jobs. After President Clinton signed the bill into law, Edelman characterized it as an act of “war on the poor of the United States,” and “the worst thing” Clinton had done during his presidency. The following month, Edelman resigned from the Clinton administration to protest the bill’s passage. (For details of the legislation’s actual effects on America’s poor, click here.)
In September 2002, Edelman participated in a Democratic Socialists of America event in Washington, DC, along with such notables as political science professor Frances Fox Piven, Lawrence Mishel (executive director of the Economic Policy Institute), and Tom Woodruff, (executive vice president of the SEIU).
Just prior to an October 2007 Mideast peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland, Edelman was a signatory to a letter addressed to President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. A joint initiative of the New America Foundation, the International Crisis Group, and the US/Middle East Project, this letter urged the U.S. government to engage in open dialogue with the terrorist organization Hamas; called for the creation of an independent Palestinian state; advised that Jerusalem be divided along religious and ethnic lines, “with Jewish neighborhoods falling under Israeli sovereignty and Arab neighborhoods under Palestinian sovereignty”; and exhorted the White House to address “the Palestinian refugees’ deep sense of injustice” by providing them with “meaningful financial compensation.” Other noteworthy signers of this letter included Joseph Wilson and Morton Halperin.
In December 2009, Edelman co-authored (along with Barbara Ehrenreich, Deepak Bhargava, John Cavanagh, and others) an Institute for Policy Studies report titled “Battered by the Storm,” documenting “the government’s inadequate response to the human suffering caused by the [economic] recession.”
In 2012 Edelman wrote a major New York Times opinion piece identifying four major reasons why poverty in the U.S. had not declined during the preceding four decades: (a) the “astonishing number of people” who work at low-wage jobs; (b) the large number of single-parent households; (c) “the near disappearance of cash assistance for low-income mothers and children—i.e., welfare”; and (d) discrimination against nonwhite minorities, who comprise a disproportionate percentage of the poor. Edelman’s prescription for poverty was straightforward and concise: “[M]ake the rich pay their fair share of running the country, raise the minimum wage, [and] provide health care and a decent safety net.”
Edelman’s 2012 book—So Rich, So Poor: Why It’s So Hard to End Poverty in America—took up a similar theme. Asserting that “the wealth and income of the top 1 percent grows at the expense of everyone else,” the book suggests that a key strategy for “attacking inequality” would be to “roll back the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy.”
Today Edelman is a board member of Americans for Peace Now, the New Israel Fund, the Center for Law and Social Policy, and several other nonprofit organizations; board chairman of the Public Welfare Foundation, the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy, and the National Center for Youth Law; an advisory board member of Wellstone Action and the Brennan Center for Justice; and chair of the District of Columbia Access to Justice Commission. He was formerly a board member of the Center for Community Change, and an advisory council member with J Street.
For additional information on Peter Edelman, click here.