Vote Confirms Westside, Valley Split


The mayoral primary on March 8 reconfirmed the existence of a political gap within the Los Angeles Jewish community between Jews who live on the Westside and those who live in the Valley.

According to the Los Angeles Times exit poll, Bob Hertzberg carried Valley Jews (6 percent of all voters) with 56 percent of the vote, to 18 percent for Antonio Villaraigosa and 12 percent for Mayor James Hahn. Among Westside Jews (5 percent of all voters), Hertzberg barely edged Villaraigosa, 37 to 36 percent, with Hahn at getting 20 percent.

Overall, Hertzberg took nearly half the Jewish vote (47 percent) to Villaraigosa’s 27 percent and Hahn’s 17 percent. Despite his Jewish support, Hertzberg finished third and failed to make the runoff.

He thereby continued the pattern set in 1993 and 2001 by Jewish candidates who did very well among Jews in the mayoral primary but fell behind the two leading contenders. In 2001, it was Steve Soboroff and Joel Wachs; in 1993, it was Richard Katz and Wachs.

In the post-Tom Bradley era, Jewish candidates for mayor are tending to run on the Richard Riordan base of Republicans, Valley voters and conservatives. I just presented a paper to fellow political scientists with my colleague, California State University, Fullerton geographer Mark Drayse, that shows a very strong overlap between the Hertzberg and Soboroff coalitions. This coalition provides a significant base of support among whites, but may fall short of citywide success in a city in which the Republican share of the vote has dropped 50 percent in the last decade.

The gap between Westside and Valley Jewish voters goes back at least to the busing controversy of the late 1970s. Overall, Los Angeles Jews, wherever they lived, were enthusiastic supporters of Bradley and his liberal biracial coalition. Bradley largely stayed out of the busing battles.

But school busing divided Westside Jews, many of whom favored busing but were not much affected by it, from Valley Jews, who provided key support for the anti-busing movement. Since then, citywide candidates with a somewhat less liberal leaning have done well with Valley Jewish voters. Meanwhile, liberal candidates continued to win in the high-turnout Westside, a pattern continued by the emerging Villaraigosa coalition.

We should not overestimate the Valley-Westside gap. Both voted heavily for the Jewish candidate in the primary. Both provided many votes for Villaraigosa and for Hahn in both 2001 and 2005. The gap is far smaller than that between white Democrats, which includes most L.A. Jews, and white Republicans.

But clearly, the emphasis in the Valley is on moderate politics, compared to a more liberal version on the Westside. Valley Jews are cross-pressured; they are as overwhelmingly Democratic as Westside Jews, but have reservations about the more urban liberal agenda.

While the split among Jewish voters might play a role in the lack of success of Jewish mayoral candidates, a bigger issue is the extremely low minority support they have received. Hertzberg received only 5 percent of African American votes and 6 percent of Latinos, though a surprising 12 percent among Asian Americans.

The electorate in the 2005 primary was slightly more liberal, more Latino, more Asian and more African American than four years before, and less white and less Jewish. Without minority support, no one, Jewish or non-Jewish, can be elected mayor of Los Angeles.

The center-right model, moreover, is not the only way for a Jewish candidate to run citywide. Both Laura Chick, the former Valley council member who won as city controller in 2001 and 2005, and Mike Feuer, who was nearly elected city attorney in 2001, ran more progressive-center campaigns than either Hertzberg or Soboroff. (Of course, neither faced a strong African American and Latino candidate at the same time, as did Hertzberg in 2005.)

Both won huge majorities of Jewish voters (with no Westside-Valley gap) but also did very well in minority communities. Had Feuer won half instead of 41 percent of the African American vote, he might have been elected.

Some will blame the division among Jewish voters as the reason it is hard to elect a Jewish mayor. I think this is wrongheaded.

First, it is extremely hard for anyone to win a citywide election, let alone the mayoralty, in this diverse city. Second, the Jewish role in Los Angeles politics does not depend on having a Jewish mayor. It depends on being valued by all competing forces in the city.

As the city electorate becomes less white and more diverse, Jewish voters, with their relatively high turnout and generally progressive (if not always liberal) stance, will be much sought after, even if they present two overlapping faces, one moderate and one liberal, to potential allies.

If a Jewish mayor does arise, he or she will have to win far more than Jewish voters, indeed, more than white voters, and that in itself will make such a candidate more than a representative of the Jewish community. That Jewish candidate might be a liberal appealing to the Westside or a moderate appealing to the Valley.

But from the very start of the campaign, such a candidate will have to work nonstop to reach out to minority voters. Minority votes might not be available until the runoff, if there are strong minority candidates in the primary, but the ground must be laid.

The reconnection of the Jewish political community, whether starting in the Valley or the Westside, into the heart and soul of Los Angeles’ minority communities will be a fine and appropriate reminder of the long years of mutual trust and effort during the Bradley years.

Raphael J. Sonenshein, a political scientist at California State University, Fullerton, was the Election Day political consultant for the Los Angeles Times’ exit poll.