2013 L.A. city elections mean new milestone in history of city Jewish voices

In 2009, the Paul Koretz and Eric Garcetti were the sole Jewish voices in Los Angeles City Politics. As of 2013, there will not only will there be three Jewish Councilmembers in Paul Koretz, Bob Blumenfield and Mitch Englander, but the entire executive leadership of Los Angeles will be Jewish.

Mayor-elect Eric Garcetti’s mother is Jewish and he has been a member of Ikar, a progressive synagogue in the Miracle Mile area. Mike Feuer from the Faifax neighborhood, is also Jewish, having served as Executive Director of Bet Tzedek Legal Services and been elected to represent the predominately Jewish 5th Council District and 42nd Assembly District. Ron Galperin from Bel-Air-Beverlycrest, is an attorney and former Cantor (he is also the first citywide LGBT official).

Los Angeles has never had an elected Jewish Mayor. Bernard Cohn, who was appointed to finish the term of Frederick McDougal, died in 1878, less than six months before his term ended. Cohn was a colorful figure.  When he passed away, two women stepped forward claiming to be his wife, one was Jewish, the other Latina.   He also gained great wealth by “buying” all of Governor Pio Pico’s landholdings in exchange for paying off Pico’s gambling debt.  Pico, who was illiterate, claimed that he thought he was signing a mortgage, not a deed.

Since then, our Jewish city politicians have served with much more distinction. City Coucilmember Roz Wyman, Ed Edelman, Zev Yaroslavsky and Ruth Galanter each had great achievements while serving on the Council. Ira Reiner served as both City Attorney and Controller, and we have had several Jewish Controllers such as Laura Chick and Rick Tuttle.   

Of course, that does not mean that the Jewish community is completely accepted.  According to the Anti-Defamation League, there were over 235 incidents of Anti-Semitism in California.   But the fact that every citywide position in Los Angeles could be held by Jews at one time shows a broader acceptance.  The Jewish community has made allies through common cause for civil rights.   The Jewish community was key to the coalitions that led to the election of the first Latino City Councilman Ed Roybal and the election of Tom  Bradley as the first African-American Mayor of Los Angeles and Antonio Villaraigosa as the first Latino Mayor of modern Los Angeles.   In my own work with African-American, Latino and Asian-American candidates, I have found a uniform desire to work with our community to make policy affecting all Angelenos.

But now that every executive position in Los Angeles City government is held by Jews, does that mean that all eyes will be on our community to set an example? Will our leaders let their Jewish values affect how they govern?   Eric Garcetti talked a great deal on the campaign trail about how his faith affects his drive for social justice and preserving the environment.   I have no doubt that the successes (and failures) will both reflect on our community and that we should be proud of having come so far.

Andrew Lachman is an alum of the Jewish Federation New Leaders Project and the ADL Salvin Leadership Program and has coordinated Jewish community outreach for a variety of candidates and elected officials.