Tensions flare over Chanukah date for Westside election

Former Culver City Mayor Christopher Armenta, who is running for a California state Assembly seat, sent a mailer to local residents last week accusing his opponent’s father, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, of using his influence to elect Sebastian Ridley-Thomas to the state Assembly by scheduling the upcoming special election on Dec. 3, during Chanukah.

In singling out Mark Ridley-Thomas, the mailer says: “The Supervisor pushes to have a very expensive Special Election called for December 3rd, 2013, two days after the Thanksgiving weekend and in the middle of Hanukah to make it nearly impossible for any other candidate to challenge his son.”

Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, 25, is favored in the race for the 54th Assembly District, a heavily Jewish district that includes Culver City, Century City, Westwood, and Mar Vista. He is also the candidate officially endorsed by Los Angeles County’s Democratic Party.

California Governor Jerry Brown called the special election earlier this year after Holly Mitchell, the district’s previous representative, won election to the state Senate. There’s no indication that Mark Ridley-Thomas had any influence on selecting Dec. 3 as election day.

Sebastian Ridley-Thomas’s supporters suggest Armenta’s mailer is a last ditch effort to get the 49-year-old former mayor of Culver City within striking distance.

Fred MacFarlane, Ridley-Thomas’s spokesman, said Armenta’s flyer suggests Jewish voters will not vote during Chanukah. MacFarlane said it is “insulting to the Jewish community” to suggest the date “would somehow have a negative impact on Jewish voter turnout because the election was being held” during Chanukah.

Armenta, responding by email, said the mailer “was about nepotism and its negative effect on the democratic process.” He said it clearly, “hit a nerve with my opponent, and his campaign has tried to distort my message and create controversy.”

“Scheduling an election on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving weekend, the kick-off of the holiday shopping season, and during the final days of Hanukkah, does nothing to encourage strong voter turn-out,” Armenta wrote.

“I have never stated that my Jewish supporters would be disinclined to vote for me because of Thanksgiving or Hanukkah,” he wrote.

There are, in fact, no Jewish legal restrictions on working, driving, or voting during the eight-day period of Chanukah, which begins on the night of Nov. 27.

Armenta acknowledged the distinction in his email, writing, “I am certainly aware that Hanukkah does not preclude Jews from working or voting.

“Nevertheless, it is significant in the hearts and minds of many of my Jewish friends and supporters, and I respect that,” he wrote.

Ari Noonan, editor of The Front Page Online, a Culver City online news site, wrote on Nov. 7th, “Laughably for Jews, Mr. Armenta complains that Election Day arrives in the middle of Chanukah—the Torah equivalent of arguing that Election Day falls in the heart of Arbor Day,” a holiday that celebrates trees.