A Woman’s Voice


Though the June 3 Los Angeles municipal election has garnered little attention in the general press, there are two races of special interest to The Journal readership.

First, we must note the changing of the guard in the Valley/West Los Angeles council seat, being vacated, after 32 years, by Marvin Braude. Braude’s unique and pioneering focus on slow growth and environmental issues helped define a new brand of Jewish political activism, one that had nothing to do with Israel, and almost nothing to do with urban and minority issues as they were defined in the Tom Bradley years. As early as 1975, Braude confronted the black-Jewish coalition by opposing creation of the Community Redevelopment Agency, which was trying to rebuild downtown Los Angeles. He walked (or, rather, rode his bike) to the beat of his own drummer, representing a white-collar constituency that was wealthier, younger and more ethnically assimilated than, for example, the 5th District Jews of the Fairfax and Pico-Robertson area, represented for nearly 20 years by Zev Yaroslavsky. Braude’s politics were based on fiscal conservatism in the suburbs; in a way, he created the mold.

When I first began covering city hall, two decades ago, Braude mystified me. I remember thinking that his district’s obsession with clean air was bizarre for Los Angeles. But by 1997, Marvin Braude’s visions have become the norm. The issues in the runoff between community activist Georgia Mercer and Braude’s longtime aide Cindy Miscikowski are the ones that he helped name — congestion, growth and neighborhood control. Neither Mercer nor Miscikowski can run against his record; they can merely quarrel over who is a more contemporary version of the old man.

Political observers say that the close runoff reflects a district that is split between the Valley (Mercer) and the City (Miscikowski), but distinctions between the two groups, other than geographic, are hard to find. Both Valley and City voters in the 11th District are concerned about noisy airports (Van Nuys and Santa Monica), traffic, juvenile crime and how to develop a sound business base without caving in to private interest groups. If there is a perception that secession of the Valley is inevitable, neither Mercer nor Miscikowski is leading the charge.Today, almost everyone wants to secede from Los Angeles.

In her now-famous campaign mailer, Mercer charged Miscikowski with using insider connections, including aid from her land-use lawyer/husband Doug Ring, to procure a gated community for her own Brentwood Circle neighborhood. Mercer struck a chord in voters, but one of resentment and jealousy, not elitism. Gated communities are a dicey issue — 143 other Los Angeles neighborhoods applied for gates, only to have them denied. Miscikowski must be sensing that change. Her own campaign mailer defends the Brentwood Circle gates as an example of how she empowered a community to get what it wants from city hall.

In their concerns, Jewish voters (representing 26 percent of the total registered voters in the district) are indistinguishable from their neighbors.

“We decided that there was no need for a special Jewish-issues piece,” said Miscikowski consultant Rick Taylor. “We felt that every issue cuts through all the communities, at least this time around.”

Larry Levine, campaign consultant for Georgia Mercer, said much the same thing. “There’s a small group of voters that still seeks a candidate with a Jewish surname,” he told me. “But, as for the other voters, no, I can’t think of any other issue that singles out the Jewish voter. At least not in this race.”

Both Mercer and Miscikowski have sizable Jewish support. A Miscikowski mailer cites her years spent working at the Skirball Cultural Center; Mercer’s mailer shows a photo of her son’s bar mitzvah and a reference to her being honored by Woodland Hills’ Kol Tikvah synagogue as a “Voice of Hope.” Jewish life and the Jewish community are now the norm, not the fringe.

In the last decade, the demographic center of Jewish life has moved right into the heart of the 11th District. Not for nothing was the Skirball Culture Center built at Mulholland and the 405 freeway — the presumed heart of Jewish Los Angeles. Finally, the Jewish community has caught up to Marvin Braude.

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Meanwhile, community activist and former teacher Valerie Fields faces lawyer/parent Ken Sackman in a runoff for the Westside/Valley’s Fourth District board of education seat, being vacated by Mark Slavkin.

Fields has lined up practically the Who’s Who of Jewish community and elected leadership. Sackman has virtually all the newspaper endorsements.

Why the split? This race is a generational divide. Fields has paid her dues, having served throughout the Bradley administration as the mayor’s liaison to the Jewish community and the constituents of the San Fernando Valley. She has connections from city hall to Washington, and believes that these will help the school district cut administrative red tape.

But Sackman, though a political neophyte, impresses everyone he meets as an angry, astute attorney, a parent who thinks his two young children deserve better than to have their education micromanaged by the board downtown.

At base, the Fields/Sackman runoff reflects a community that is only now recommitting itself to public education. After a generation spent fleeing to day schools and private education, Jewish parents are giving charter and LEARN reforms a closer look. Schools such as Palisades High are now gaining community support. But if the Los Angeles Unified School District Board continues to be a hothouse of racial infighting; if the board undercuts parent control, then that new support could wither.

Regardless of who wins on Tuesday, this revived interest is good news.

All rights reserved by Marlene Adler Marks, 1997.