Sherman drops bid for post


Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks), after winning re-election in a bitter fight against Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys), has abandoned his pursuit of his rival’s old position as ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. 

Among the Democratic representatives on the committee, Sherman is the most senior. But facing opposition from members of the California Democratic delegation, most of whom backed Berman’s re-election bid, Sherman endorsed the next most-senior Democratic congressman on the committee seeking the post, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.). 

At a meeting Nov. 14, Sherman’s colleagues were, according to Politico, “furious” about a mailer sent out by a pro-Sherman Super PAC during the campaign to Republican voters in the district that appeared to touch on racial and anti-gay themes.

“Maxine Waters, Barney Frank and Barbara Boxer all want you to vote for Howard Berman,” read the text on the mailer, which the Los Angeles County Democratic Party denounced as “despicable.” Waters is black and Frank is openly gay; Boxer is an outspoken feminist and a proponent of environmental legislation.

Two days after the meeting, Sherman (who also condemned the mailer shortly after it was sent in October) endorsed Engel.

“I believe that Eliot will do an outstanding job as ranking member,” Sherman said in a statement on Nov. 16. 

Eni Faleomavaega, the delegate from American Samoa, is also seeking the post. Faleomavaega can vote in committee, but cannot vote on the House floor. He would be the first delegate to serve as chairman or ranking member of a full committee, according to Politico. 

Like Sherman, Engel is a long-serving Jewish incumbent who is seen as reliably pro-Israel. “Rep. Eliot Engel is a fantastic leader,” Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, founder and former president of The Israel Project, wrote in an e-mail. “He is smart, devoted and has served many years on the committee.”

Letters to the Editor: Berman will be missed, Fight for life, Seeking survivors


Howard Berman Will Be Missed

Last week’s election was incredibly emotional for me. With the support of my community, a kid from Pacoima won a seat in the United States House of Representatives. But I, like many others, was also very saddened to see Congress lose one of its greatest unsung heroes, and my friend and mentor (“Sherman v. Berman: Counting the Wins, Losses,” Nov. 9). Howard Berman has been the epitome of a statesman over the course of his 30-year career. He has been a dedicated public servant for the San Fernando Valley, California, our country and the world. He helped ensure that the San Fernando Valley received the federal help it needed after the 1994 Northridge Earthquake rocked our community. In good times and bad, he brought resources to our neighborhoods to meet the growing needs of our communities. He has also been an advocate for business, helping to protect crucial job creators in our state, like the entertainment and high-tech industries. And he has been an indispensable voice on foreign affairs, helping to guide our country in the right direction when it comes to international relations and policy as well as protecting our strong bond with our oldest ally in the Middle East, Israel. To say he will be missed is a huge understatement. I would not be surprised though if someone with his exceptional skill set ends up working in some other capacity in this administration. I know that I, for one, will humbly ask for his guidance whenever possible.

Thank you Howard Berman, for your unparalleled commitment, your amazing dedication and your exemplary leadership.

Congressman-elect Tony Cardenas


Forget Vacation, Fight for Life

Dr. Albert Fuchs forgets several key principles in cancer or in any terminal disease — they are faith, hope, prayer and, most importantly, the inner strength of the individual (“Telling the Truth,” Nov. 2). My wife was diagnosed with metastatic pancreatic cancer in July 2009. If my family had followed the thinking and approach of Fuchs, our seven children would be without their most amazing mother. 

It is imperative that families pursue all avenues for life extension. My wife has undergone more than 120 rounds of chemotherapy; we are now four years later, we have seen our son finish his Army service and our daughter marry, and my wife plays with her granddaughter every day. Every member of the family has watched their mother fight and survive, through her inner strength, the force of communal prayer, hope for a cure and faith in our God. Fuchs’ suggestion that we end life with a vacation is very sad indeed; we end life only when God decides. In the meantime, each of us is responsible to go to the ends of the earth to help our loved ones fight another day.

David Rubin
Los Angeles


Support Moderate Muslim Women

It is refreshing to see a moderate Muslim in the Middle East advocating both women’s rights and peace between Israel and the Palestinians (“Palestinian Provokes Hamas,” Oct. 26). We should support Asma al-Ghoul as she is the type of person who will serve to improve our communications with the Palestinians. I applaud her courage as a woman in Gaza who stands up for women’s rights and nonviolent peace with the Israelis despite dangerous repercussions from Hamas. While she is not completely pro-Israel, we must continue to support moderate people like her if we are to hope for peace in the Middle East.

Eliana Kahan
Los Angeles 


Seeking Holocaust Train Survivors

On April 7, 1945, a train was released with 2,500 Jewish prisoners from the German concentration camp Bergen-Belsen, including some 700 children.

The train was liberated on April 13, 1945, by American soldiers from the 30th Infantry Division of the Ninth U.S. Army near the city of Magdeburg, Germany, at the town Farsleben. Most of the survivors were from Hungary, Poland, the Netherlands, Greece and elsewhere.

Two American soldiers were among the liberators of this train and now live in Florida. One of them was a tank commander and the other an infantry liaison officer who helped lead the survivors to safety and provided them with food and medical care.

Today we know of about 220 survivors who were children then, who are scattered throughout the world and who have been contacting their liberators to tell them thank you.

If you are one of these train survivors, please contact Frank Towers at towersfw@windstream.net or Varda Weisskopf at hila_64@inter.net.il.

Varda Weisskopf
Israel


Correction

A column about “Mating in Captivity” author Esther Perel reported that she attended Oxford University (“The Erotic Life,” Nov. 9). Perel holds degrees from Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Lesley College in Cambridge, Mass.

Sherman v. Berman: counting the wins, losses


From the start, the rationale by which voters would have to choose between Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) and Rep. Howard Berman (D-Valley Village) was somewhat murky. The two congressmen have very similar voting records, and, as far as pro-Israel voters were concerned, both Jewish legislators are considered reliable advocates for the U.S.-Israel relationship. 

But starting in the summer of 2011 — when supporters of the two candidates and others were wringing their hands over the fact that neither of these two men appeared willing to budge from the newly drawn 30th Congressional District — the race began to look less like a possibility and more like an inevitability, and members of the Jewish community in California and beyond, and participants in the Democratic Party in the San Fernando Valley, in particular, had to start choosing sides. 

[UPDATE: Sherman beats Berman, 60-40]

The majority of the congressional delegation lined up behind Berman; most local elected officials threw their support behind Sherman. Major pro-Israel donors overwhelmingly backed Berman, who is the ranking member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Sherman got backing from a number of union groups, in part because of his stance against free-trade agreements.

Still, part of what made the race between Berman and Sherman so unusual was that while all elections have consequences, the consequences of this one were clear even before the first voters in the newly drawn 30th Congressional District began casting their ballots this fall: one long-serving Jewish Democratic incumbent would be leaving Congress at the end of 2012. 

The many Latino voters in the East San Fernando Valley who had been waiting for at least a decade for a chance to elect a Latino to represent the Valley in Congress, saw that historic event take place this Election Day, when Los Angeles City Councilman Tony Cardenas won the new 29th seat without facing a challenge. 

But for other constituents in this region — which is predominantly Democratic and has dense populations of Jews — even if one congressman might win, everyone felt a bit disappointed at losing one of the two congressmen. 

On Election Night, though, the mood in Sherman’s headquarters was buoyant. Even before the first results came in, staffers were calling the gathering for their supporters on Election Night a “victory party.” And when the first results came through shortly after 8 p.m., showing that Sherman had taken just under 59 percent of about 35,000 ballots cast by early absentee voters, while Berman took about 41 percent, a cheer went up from the crowd. 

“Sherman! Sherman! Sherman!” chanted the congressman’s supporters as one TV reporter after another interviewed Sherman. 

Sherman struck a magnanimous tone, casting an optimistic eye toward the future. 

“I have a lot of friends who have supported Howard, and he has a lot of friends who have supported me,” Sherman said on Election Night. “And I’m sure we’ll all be friends tomorrow.” 

This long, expensive and very closely watched campaign was anything but friendly, though. 

From its earliest stages, Sherman had been releasing polls showing him to be in the lead, propelled in part because he had represented 60 percent of the newly drawn 30th Congressional District in the West San Fernando Valley over the previous decade. Sherman lobbed attacks at Berman over a variety of issues, ranging from the independent Super PACs that supported Berman to the foreign trips Berman had taken during his three decades as a congressman. 

Berman ran a primarily positive campaign in the primary, but when Sherman came in first among the eight candidates on the ballot in June, beating Berman by 10 percentage points, Berman shifted his campaign tactics in an effort to pick up ground in November. 

With a new campaign manager at the helm, Berman trained his sights on attacking Sherman. If his slogan for the primary was “Berman is effective,” the last five months of the campaign have been more “Sherman hasn’t done anything in Congress.”

Early on Election Night, Berman headquarters was mostly subdued, with the biggest cheer going up when the election was called for President Obama. With a truck serving In-N-Out burgers out front, and news trucks in back, Berman circulated among the volunteers, giving hugs and receiving praise. Supporters checked their phones and other devices for updates, following not just the congressional contest, but also the fate of a few statewide ballot initiatives and the few states that had not been called for either Obama or his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney. 

And around 10 p.m., when a young group of volunteers came into the room chanting “Howard! Howard! Howard!” Berman demurred, waving off the evening’s master of ceremonies. 

“A few more minutes,” Berman said.

Letters to the Editor: Berman v. Sherman and Woody Allen


Berman-Sherman Analysis Falls Short

As a legislator and a Jewish Journal subscriber, I was deeply disappointed in “Berman vs. Sherman: Evaluating Their Congressional Records” (June 29), Bill Boyarsky’s effort to measure each member’s legislative effectiveness through an Internet search engine.

The effectiveness of a legislator can be judged by whether people listen when they speak, whether they can capably influence the legislative process, and whether the amendments and bills that they offer have a meaningful impact on the debate.

If Mr. Boyarsky wanted to truly gauge the effectiveness of Reps. Berman and Sherman, he could have asked some of their colleagues from the California congressional delegation and surveyed why Sens. Feinstein and Boxer and 25 of the 27 members who have issued endorsements have endorsed Rep. Berman.

He could have probed for a perspective about which member is more capable at garnering votes for key pro-Israel legislation or at smoothing passage of legislation by enabling other members seeking visibility on an issue to take credit. Both are hallmarks of Rep. Berman’s tenure in office.

I not only question Mr. Boyarsky’s methodology, I was also surprised that his article appeared to downplay the significance of Rep. Berman’s success in passing and enacting legislation this year in a gridlocked Congress lambasted for enacting the fewest bills in congressional history. Mr. Boyarsky’s calculations don’t even account for Rep. Berman’s key role in enacting strong sanctions against Iran’s central bank early this year as part of the Defense Authorization bill or his current efforts to shepherd the Iran Threat Reduction Act into law.

I wish The Journal’s readers could have gotten a straightforward analysis that truly reflects the legislative effectiveness of the members.

Henry A. Waxman
Congressman, 30th District

Editor’s note: The race is not over, and columnist Bill Boyarsky will continue to examine the two congressmen’s records.


Woody Allen Crowdfunding Is Publicity Stunt

The Journal’s attempt to raise money for Woody Allen to make a movie in Israel is a cute publicity stunt, and editor Rob Eshman may even have his heart in the right place, but as a business model, it’s misguided and ill conceived.

Eshman’s assumption that Woody makes films in various countries, simply because those countries finance the films, shows a lack of understanding of Allen’s creative process. The financing is only half the story. When countries offer Allen financing to make a regional film, his stock answer essentially boils down to, “Thank you. If I find I have an idea that works in your country, I’ll let you know.” Maybe that idea comes in a month, maybe five years, maybe never. And if the idea never comes, no harm, no foul. So Eshman’s comment, “All it would take to get (Allen) to immortalize Israel is a paltry $18 mil” strikes me as highly irresponsible, if not unethical.

Traditionally, the deal with crowdfunding is that if you raise the goal amount, the money is collected. If not, the pledges are released. Does Eshman really believe that Allen will say, “Thanks for the check. I’ll get working on that script right away?” Allen hasn’t accepted a work-for-hire gig since writing the screenplay for “What’s New Pussycat?” in 1965. For argument’s sake, if it takes $18 million to make a movie, and $9 million is collected through Jewcer.com without the matching grant raised in advance, are the crowdfunded pledges then collected, or released? If I were donating to Eshman’s pet project, I’d sure want to know the answer to that one.

And if Woody’s response is, “I’ll let you know when and if I have an idea,” what next? Is the crowdfunding collected and put in escrow, “just in case?” Is it returned and then the process starts all over again if Woody decides to make “Vicky Cristina Tel Aviv” in 2018? Has Eshman spent 10 seconds thinking this plan through?

Lastly, it’s interesting that Eshman is already handing out credits to pledgers such as “assistant director” (the DGA may have something to say about that), and “executive producer” (Woody’s actual Executive Producers may have something to say about that). I could just as easily start a raffle and sell tickets for people to co-star with Brad Pitt in his next movie. But I might be wise to run the idea by Pitt and his team first.

And just watch the backlash if Woody says, “Thanks, but no thanks.” Not only will The Jewish Journal (a publication I read and respect, by the way) take heat for pulling people into a funding scheme that has no basis in reality, but I can already see the letters complaining that “Woody thinks he’s too good to bother with Israel. He obviously prefers his Jews on the Upper East Side.” Just watch.

As my dear Jewish mother used to warn me when my brother and I would get into a play-fight: “It’s cute until somebody gets hurt.”

Robert B. Weide
Producer/Director
“Woody Allen: A Documentary”

Rob Eshman responds:

In crowdfunding, if you don’t raise the money, the pledges are never cashed. No bank accounts were harmed in the making of my column.

Two misconceptions: I never offered any movie credits in exchange for donations. That was misreported in some press reports. You don’t become an “assistant director” by donating $18,000 to the Woody Allen Israel Project any more than you become editor-in-chief by donating $100,000 to The Jewish Journal. (That costs at least $1 million, by the way.) I also made clear that Woody Allen doesn’t make a movie just because he gets the money. He’s received offers from Russia and China — clearly we have yet to see “Curse of the Jade Oligarch.”

So, then, what was the purpose of my column?

1) On a very practical level, I wanted to raise the possibility of someone offering to fund a Woody Allen movie in Israel — get it out there among people who have the means, get them thinking about it. Whether it’s an L.A. producer, a wealthy Israeli or an Israeli government film fund, the idea is now out there. Late last week, Mr. Allen’s representatives responded to The Journal that he was open to the idea. This week, Israeli President Shimon Peres said he broached the subject with Woody as well.

2) I also wanted to provoke a conversation about what it means for Woody Allen to present Israel through his eyes. It’s a clash of Jewish self-images, a clash of Jewish histories, or, as I described it to Los Angeles Times’ columnist Patrick Goldstein, a fish-out-of-water story in which both the fish and the water are Jewish.

You’re welcome to take my suggestion literally and worry about all the poor shlubs who will lose their nest egg on this, as if I’m the demon spawn of Max Bialystock and Bernie Madoff, but on the off chance we come up with the $9 million, I made it clear that if Woody declines, the money will go to fund movies through Jewcer. The people who give are doing so to promote movie-making in Israel. If the bizarre amount of publicity my column has received focuses some attention on filmmaking in Israel, it’s all to the good. l

Opinion: Berman vs. Sherman: Evaluating their congressional records


Much of the debate in the San Fernando Valley contest between Reps. Howard Berman and Brad Sherman has revolved around their congressional records, but I’m having trouble deciphering them. And if it’s hard for me, after spending years writing about legislation, pity the interested voter. In their years in Congress — 29 for Berman, 15 for Sherman — they have cast many votes and introduced bills, either as a main author or collaborator. Because there’s a public record of this activity, you’d think it would be easy to look it up, rather than rely on the candidates’ speeches, charges and counter charges.

But, as David A. Fahrenthold wrote in a fascinating article in the Washington Post, the main source of a Congress member’s votes and proposed legislation is a Library of Congress Web site called THOMAS, named for Thomas Jefferson. As Jefferson was an accomplished scientist as well as our third president, he would no doubt be appalled by the backwardness of his namesake site. Its clunky system, Fahrenthold wrote, permits searches of bills by name, author and subject. “But researchers can look only at one bill at a time — divorced from the patterns, history and context that make all the difference on Capitol Hill,” Fahrenthold said.

It took a Princeton freshman, Josh Tauberer, to figure out how to incorporate all this into a database.  Today, 11 years later, his site, GovTrack.us, puts it all together. While Tauberer says his site isn’t perfect, many groups depend on GovTrack.us. “What happens if he walks in front of a bus?” Daniel Schuman of the nonprofit Sunlight Foundation asked Fahrenthold.

I looked up Berman and Sherman on the site. First of all, I learned that only about 4 percent of bills introduced in the House ever pass, which provides a bit of context to the Berman and Sherman boasts of effectiveness. I know that bills passed are an incomplete measure of work done in the House. Much of what members accomplish is done behind the scenes, through deal making, vote trading and calling in of favors. In addition, Berman and Sherman have often been co-authors of bills when other members took the lead and got top billing. And, as minority liberal Democrats in a House run by conservative Republicans, their power is currently severely limited. Still, that 4 percent figure is interesting and not one mentioned on the campaign trail.

Although GovTrack.us compilations go back to when Berman entered the House in 1983 and Sherman in 1997, I limited my search to 2011 and 2012. Time and space prevented a more extensive search, but interested readers can dig deeper at the GovTrack.com Web site.

In 2011 and 2012, most of the bills Berman introduced appeared to be going nowhere. President Barack Obama signed his measure allowing some Israeli investors to work in the United States, and the House passed his bill designed to promote exports. Most of his legislation went to committee, where GovTrack.us gave the bills low chances of approval, ranging from 7 percent for a bill increasing aid for Israel missile defense down to 1 percent for most of the rest of them. That doesn’t tell the whole story. For example, Berman’s proposal to give special status to foreign farm workers, given a 3 percent chance of passage, might be part of immigration reform, if that ever passes.

Sherman’s bills also went to committee, and they, too, were given a slight chance of passage. They include measures authorizing the president to stop transfers of goods and services that would hurt national security, provide a form of the Dream Act for illegal alien students, toughen sanctions against Iran, and prevent state and local governments from banning circumcision. None of his bills became law during this period.

I didn’t think this information told the whole story. Previously, Berman and Sherman had sent me lists of their legislation that they felt was important, but I wanted it in their own words. So I called Berman and Sherman and asked each of them what were their proudest accomplishments in the House.

Each gave me two. “Hansen Dam,” said Berman. He told me that in 15 years of work, he got the federal funding to turn the huge area in the northeast San Fernando Valley from a disreputable gang hangout into the popular recreational area it is today, with swimming, fishing, athletic facilities, picnic areas and other features.

Second, he said, was Iran, where Sherman has accused him of being too soft on sanctions. “My opponent will try to tear it down, but I have been the congressional leader in this effort,” he said. Success will come “when Iran has abandoned its nuclear weapons. We are in the middle of this effort. They are still enriching uranium.”

For his part, Sherman said, “My two most important accomplishments consisted of blocking bad things, which is just as important as passing good bills.” He cited his part in leading in the effort to rewrite the 2008 recession bailout program — the Troubled Asset Relief Program, known as TARP — to protect taxpayers and the government from loss.  Second, he cited his work with other members to block regulations that would have made it more difficult to get a home mortgage. “The regulations would have banned mortgages for even high qualifiers unless they had 20 percent down,” he said. “That would have depressed the entire Valley economy.”

Each man is campaigning as if he were a master of Congress. But what the record shows is that it’s hard for a liberal Democrat to be Superman in this conservative House. So the fight goes on, and so does the digging by journalists, interested voters and by those dark-arts workers in the two campaigns, the specialists in opposition research. To be continued as the campaign unfolds.


Bill Boyarsky is a columnist for The Jewish Journal, Truthdig and L.A. Observed, and the author of “Inventing L.A.: The Chandlers and Their Times” (Angel City Press).

Susan Shelley: Berman-Sherman’s Republican Jewish opponent


Earlier this month, when the Los Angeles Daily News announced its endorsements in the San Fernando Valley’s 30th District Congressional race, the newspaper tapped two Jewish candidates — but not the same two candidates whom voters have been hearing so much about.

Along with its endorsement of Rep. Howard Berman of Van Nuys — who is, thanks to redistricting, facing off against another Democratic incumbent, Rep. Brad Sherman — the paper also endorsed Susan Shelley, a first-time Republican candidate.

Democrats outnumber Republicans two to one in the 30th District, and with three Republicans on the ticket, the Daily News called Shelley “a long shot” in the so-called June 5 primary, which will allow all voters, regardless of party, to vote for any candidate, regardless of party affiliation.

Still, the editorial board called Shelley “exactly the type of GOP candidate California needs.”

“Like many Californians,” the endorsement said, “she’s conservative where it counts (on fiscal policy and personal liberty issues) and liberal about social policy (she’s pro-choice, for example).”

“I don’t think the government should control your body; I do not think the government should be in your bedroom,” Shelley said in a recent interview with The Journal. She described her views on such subjects as “socially libertarian, socially ‘leave-us-alone.’ ”

While she is as much a fiscal conservative as any in the Tea Party caucus, Shelley’s support for marriage equality for same-sex couples and her pro-choice stance have placed her on a collision course with some of the more established forces in the Republican Party.

In March, the Los Angeles County Republican Party endorsed another candidate, Mark Reed, a businessman and actor who unsuccessfully ran against Sherman in 2010. California no longer holds party-based primaries, and Shelley believes that endorsement was made, in part, because of her moderate social views.

But even if that’s what pushed the Republican Party away, Shelley believes her mix of political positions will win her fans among Jewish voters in the Valley.

When it comes to Israel, a country Shelley has not visited, she stands staunchly against anyone who would minimize the Iranian threat to the Jewish state.

“I’m sensitive to the fact that bad things can happen,” Shelley said, “and they happen to the Jews first, more often than not.”

A writer and former game-show producer, Shelley is the creator of the “tidbits” word puzzle. Many newspapers that used to carry the puzzle, including the Los Angeles Times’ now-defunct Valley edition, have since stopped; still, she creates a new puzzle each week for distribution on her Web site.

Born in Chicago, Shelley moved to the Valley with her family while she was in high school. A reliable Republican voter since 1980, Shelley, who declined to state her age, was actually a registered Democrat for most of her adult life.

“We were Jewish, Chicago, registered Democrats,” Shelley said. “In California, there wasn’t much going on in the Republican Party, so if you wanted to pick a candidate for Senate or the House, the primary to vote in was the Democratic primary.”

In 2008, that changed.

“The Democratic Party was going too far left for me; I couldn’t stand it anymore,” she said, sitting in a large room at Los Angeles Mission College set up for a candidate debate later that afternoon. “The talk about health care being a right instead of a commodity that has to be paid for bothered me. I’m a liberty person, and I believe in freedom.”

Shelley admits to having minimal political experience in her stump speeches. In 2010, she volunteered as communications director for Republican David Benning, who in 2010 narrowly missed the chance to challenge Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Beverly Hills) when he finished second in the Republican primary. In August 2011, when Benning decided not to run again this year, Shelley jumped into the 30th District race.

Deciding to run for Congress was easy; getting validation as a viable candidate turned out to be somewhat more difficult for Shelley.

When Shelley learned she would not be included in a candidates debate sponsored by this newspaper last February, an event that included Sherman, Berman and Reed, she filed a formal complaint with the Internal Revenue Service against The Jewish Journal’s parent company, TRIBE Media Corp., alleging that by excluding her, the company was acting to advance Berman’s candidacy and thereby overstepping the limitations placed on nonprofit publishers.

“I did not feel that there was any valid reason to include [Reed] and exclude me,” Shelley said. “I felt it was probably because a Jewish woman perhaps could be seen as an attractive alternative to the incumbents by the Jewish community.”

When he spoke of the decision to the Los Angeles Times in early February, Rob Eshman, The Journal’s publisher and editor-in-chief, listed a number of criteria — including fundraising numbers, having a campaign organization and having been included in polls — that Shelley and another candidate had failed to meet in order to qualify for the debate.

“We have limited resources, and people have limited time,” Eshman told the Times at the time. “You want to include people who have a shot. … You can’t [have a viable campaign] with just a Web site. It really does cost money.”

Data released since then suggest Shelley continues to be a very long shot.

In March, all seven of the candidates running in the June 5 primary — including Shelley — were included in a poll conducted by the Sherman campaign. Shelley polled at 5 percent — behind Reed, who polled at 12 percent, but one point ahead of Navraj Singh, a Republican candidate who has already made two unsuccessful congressional bids, losing to Sherman in 2008 and to Reed in the Republican primary in 2010.

According to documents obtained from the Federal Election Commission (FEC) in April, Shelley’s campaign, at the time she filed her complaint with the IRS, had spent just $227, on campaign buttons. She also had loaned her campaign about $200, about half of which was spent on expenses associated with her campaign’s Web site.

The FEC documents also show that as of March 31, the largest single donation Shelley’s campaign has received is $1,659 in “in-kind legal services” from attorney Mark Bernsley, covering his time spent preparing Shelley’s complaint.

Nevertheless, since February, Shelley has been included in every debate held for candidates running in the 30th District, and she spends her days reaching out to voters, mostly at meetings with different groups around the district. She spends much more time talking about her fiscal conservatism than about her social libertarianism.

“In this race, which has two Democratic incumbents who think the same way about almost everything, someone should be in the race to make the conservative argument for the economic policies that will bring back growth,” Shelley said.

The centerpiece of her economic argument is a flat tax — and at 5 percent, her flat tax is significantly lower than ones proposed by many Republicans over the years, including Texas Gov. Rick Perry (who proposed a 20 percent flat tax) and Herman Cain (whose “9-9-9 plan” included a 9 percent flat income tax).

Like many flat-tax proponents, Shelley says her proposal may not necessarily result in less revenue coming into the federal government, thanks to a broader tax base. But she acknowledged she doesn’t actually know what the budgetary impacts of her proposal might be, and Shelley’s 26-page e-book outlining the flat tax, “Uncle Sam’s Nickel,” includes very few numbers.

“It’s not a budget document, obviously,” Shelley said. “It’s an idea: What would you, personally, do if you knew tomorrow you could keep 95 percent of the money you made doing it?”

Shelley was not specific about where she would cut government spending, instead she proposed remaking the federal government piece by piece, from the “essential workers” upward.

Because, to prepare for the possibility of a government shutdown, all federal government departments are required to keep lists of which workers are essential, Shelley said she would like to ask each department to submit that list to Congress and then make the case to lawmakers for any funding over and above those “essentials.”

“Then the elected representatives of the people of the United States can decide if we still need that,” Shelley said.

Berman snags newspaper endorsements, Sherman files complaint against Berman campaign


With California’s congressional primary election scheduled to take place on June 5, Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys), has won endorsements from the editorial boards of the Los Angeles Times and Los Angeles Daily News.

As a result of redistricting, Berman, who has represented parts of the San Fernando Valley in Congress since 1983, is running for re-election against another incumbent Jewish Democratic Congressman, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks), who has been representing an adjacent Valley district since 1997.

While the editorial boards of both papers acknowledged the service of both men to their constituents, each paper ultimately endorsed the more senior Berman, in part because his seniority brings with it increased clout in congress.

Berman has staked his candidacy on the argument that his legislative record demonstrates that he is the more effective lawmaker. Whether the message resonates with voters in the newly redrawn 30th District remains to be seen, but the pitch appears to have held sway with the newspapers’ editorial boards.

The Daily News endorsement, published on May 7, said that Berman “holds more power in Congress than Sherman,” even as it misidentified Berman as the chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs (he is the committee’s ranking Democrat) and neglected to mention that Sherman has reportedly declared his intent to succeed Berman in that post, should he win in November. 

In its endorsement of Berman on April 30, the Times noted the congressman’s “long record of bipartisan achievement,” and his endorsements from “the overwhelming majority of the California Democratic congressional delegation, including both of the state’s U.S. senators, as well as by Gov. Jerry Brown.”

“[T]here is reason to believe that Howard Berman will be more effective in the years to come at serving the voters of his district,” the Times’ endorsement concluded.

Although California’s new open primary system now allows all voters to vote for the candidate of their choice, regardless of party affiliation, Berman was not the only candidate to be endorsed by the Daily News. In addition to backing Berman, the paper’s editorial board pushed Republicans to back another Jewish candidate, Susan Shelley. A first-time candidate, Shelley is, the Daily News editorial board wrote, “moderate enough to get support from voters of all affiliations.”

Sherman’s campaign, meanwhile, filed a formal complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) on May 7, alleging that the Berman campaign illegally coordinated with an outside group, a “Super PAC” formed to support Berman.

In a 22-page complaint, Scott Abrams, Sherman’s campaign manager, outlines what he calls “blatant coordination” between the Berman campaign and a Super PAC called The Committee to Elect an Effective Valley Congressman.

The Committee to Elect an Effective Valley Congressman raised $210,000 in the first three months of 2012, including $100,000 each from investor and media mogul Marc Nathanson and Peter Lowy, Co-Chief Executive Officer of the Westfield Group and the chairman of the board of TRIBE Media Corp., which publishes the Jewish Journal. Tech entrepreneur David Bohnett donated $10,000.

The Sherman campaign’s complaint centers on the actions of a consultant, Jerry Seedborg, who has worked with Berman’s brother, political consultant Michael Berman, on many campaigns in the past. Seedborg was paid $132,300 by Berman for Congress in the first three months of this year, a sum that was reportedly paid to sever his contract when a new manager was hired in March. During the same period, the pro-Berman Super PAC reported a $23,595 debt to Voter Guide Slate Cards, a company founded and headed by Seedborg.

Our Annual Purim Spoof Cover 2012: Angry Beards, Donald Trump, Berman v. Sherman, Proxy Baptism


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Obama’s numbers could swing 30th district race


Rep. Brad Sherman doesn’t intend to follow Rep. Henry Waxman’s advice to give up his San Fernando Valley congressional race against Rep. Howard Berman.

Instead, he has hired a high-profile campaign manager, Parke Skelton, who has worked for many Democrats, including Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Skelton e-mailed me the following: “Brad Sherman is running for re-election in the district that he lives in and where he represents the majority of the residents. He has a long history of effective leadership in this community and is proud to be supported by hundreds of local leaders from throughout the West San Fernando Valley.” That echoes what Sherman said last month: “I will run and am confident of winning.”

The contest for the 30th congressional seat will be one of the most-watched congressional races in the nation. Two well-known and successful Democratic Jewish candidates are opposing each other. In addition, there’s the President Barack Obama factor. His popularity is dropping in California. Will the candidates try to avoid being associated with him?

Another wild- -card factor is that the election will be run under new rules. Democrats, Republicans and independents will be on the same ballot. The top two finishers in the June primary will run against each other in the November 2012 general election. The primary and the runoff are expected to cost between $12 million and $13 million.

The state reapportionment commission created the district after giving Berman’s present Valley district a Latino majority. The commission then placed both Berman and Sherman in the 30th.

Trying to avoid such an expensive and uncertain race, Waxman, the veteran Westside congressman, feels the district should go to Berman, who is a friend and longtime colleague. “If we have this race between two Jewish Democrats, it is not because of Howard, it is because Brad chooses it,” Waxman said.

He’s proposed a solution: In Waxman’s view, Sherman should pull out of the race and run in a new Ventura County congressional district, which has no incumbent. That district would be more challenging to a Democrat than the 30th. It is 42 percent Democratic and 35 percent Republican — a margin that makes the seat winnable for the GOP. Gov. Jerry Brown lost the somewhat conservative area by 1 percent when he was elected in 2010. President Obama won the area in double digits in 2008, long before his current popularity decline.

Waxman conceded that the 30th “is not a great Democratic district,” but Sherman “has enough money to win it.”

Waxman called me to object to my analysis that it would be “suicidal” for Sherman to make that choice. “Why is it suicidal for a guy with $4 million [Waxman’s estimate of Sherman’s campaign funds]?” Waxman asked. “He could do himself a favor, he could do the Jewish community a favor, and keep himself in Congress without this unnecessary battle.”

Obama’s level of popularity will be an important factor in the 30th District race.

The Sept. 14 Field Poll showed that 46 percent of registered California voters approved of the way he is doing the job, while 44 percent disapprove. That’s an 8 percent drop from a Field Survey last June. His job approval rating is declining even among Democrats, dropping from 79 percent in June to 69 percent this month. In Los Angeles County, the decline was 9 percent, from 63 percent to 54 percent.

Polling figures on Obama for the 30th District aren’t available. But the West San Fernando Valley district tends to be more conservative than the East Valley and parts of the county across the Santa Monica Mountains. In addition, both Berman and Sherman may have to deal with the skepticism toward Obama that is prevalent among many Jewish voters, a substantial part of the district.

That skepticism was a force in the New York upset by Republican Bob Turner in the recent contest for the New York City seat vacated by Rep. Anthony Weiner. Turner’s victory coincided with a drop in Obama’s popularity in New York. The district is heavily Democratic.

As noted by Jewish Journal reporter Jonah Lowenfeld, there are differences in the way Berman and Sherman talk about the president. For example, when Obama gave his jobs speech on Sept. 8, Berman said he was “pleased to see President Obama take a definitive step tonight towards bringing this gridlock to an end and finally jump-starting efforts to get the economy moving again.” Berman added that he would soon introduce two separate jobs bills and exhorted the Republican majority to allow jobs legislation to pass.

Sherman was somewhat critical. “We need a bolder spending program over the next two years to get us out of this recession,” Sherman said. He called the president’s plan for job creation “good but insufficient,” and said it must be “paired with an even bolder program to reduce the deficit over the next 10 years.”

These are mild differences, but as Lowenfeld wrote in his jewishjournal.com Berman v. Sherman blog, “subtle doesn’t mean inconsequential.”

Watching this unfold is a Republican candidate, Susan Shelley, a novelist who is also Jewish. Rather than appearing only on a Republican ballot, as was the law in the past, Shelley and other Republicans will share the same ballot with Berman, Sherman and other Democrats.

She said in an e-mail, “Voter anger over President Obama’s Mideast policy, combined with frustration over the economy, could lead many Democrats to cross party lines and vote for a socially moderate Republican.”

Unlikely, perhaps. But whoever thought a Republican would replace Anthony Weiner in New York City?

Bill Boyarsky is a columnist for The Jewish Journal, Truthdig and L.A. Observed, and the author of “Inventing L.A.: The Chandlers and Their Times” (Angel City Press).

California’s new citizen-led redistricting panel could force two Jewish Democrats into a face-off


Over the past two months, political observers have been keeping close watch on draft maps being released by California’s new, citizen-led redistricting panel. Though Jewish leaders haven’t been actively lobbying the Citizens Redistricting Commission on behalf of the community (see sidebar), they have been paying particular attention to the lines dividing the San Fernando Valley into new Congressional districts, which could pit two veteran Jewish, Democratic, staunchly pro-Israel Congressmen against one another for a single seat in the House of Representatives.

Rep. Howard Berman, the ranking Democrat and former chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs, was first elected to Congress in 1982. He currently represents California’s 28th District, which includes about half of the San Fernando Valley and the Hollywood Hills. Rep. Brad Sherman, who was first elected in 1996, represents the 27th District, also in the Valley, which includes Northridge, Reseda and part of Burbank.

In the first draft of the new Congressional maps unanimously approved by the commission in June, Berman’s home in Van Nuys and Sherman’s in Sherman Oaks were drawn into the same district. That has not changed in subsequent working drafts — called visualization maps — released, without a vote by the commission, in mid-July.

Members of Congress are not required to live in their districts, and a race between these two experienced and well-resourced lawmakers is by no means inevitable, but also does not come entirely as a surprise. In the eyes of many political observers, a Berman versus Sherman contest is 10 years overdue and is an inevitable consequence of California’s new redistricting panel and the continued growth of the Latino population in the Valley. Both men have said that unless the district lines change dramatically, each plans to run in the West San Fernando Valley district where they both live.

Berman, 70, is considered something of an elder statesman in the Democratic Party. His Web site states the years in which he graduated from UCLA as an undergraduate (1962) and law student (1965), but it doesn’t mention that Berman co-founded the Los Angeles County Young Democrats with fellow Bruin and Congressman Henry Waxman.

Berman’s supporters often talk about his work in pursuing anti-piracy legislation, an area of particular interest to Hollywood, and they tout his relentless support for Israel. They talk less about the degree to which Berman had a hand in orchestrating the last round of California’s once-a-decade redistricting process.

Sherman, 56, is known for spending a good deal of time in his district. When he’s in Washington, he does not hesitate to speak up — to anyone. In June, Sherman’s amendment to defund military action in Libya as part of the military spending bill passed in the House with bipartisan support —and snubbed President Barack Obama.  Sherman framed the amendment in strict legal and constitutional terms, accusing the president of acting in violation of the War Powers Act.

As the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade, Sherman co-sponsored a bill in April to stop U.S. companies from servicing the American-made engines on Iranian aircraft. But his legislative interests range widely, and, in June, he introduced a bill that would prohibit states or cities from outlawing or regulating male circumcision.

Sherman’s sense of humor tends toward the dry, and when he finds a joke he likes, he’s prone to reuse it. According to the Federal Election Commission, Sherman spent $9,500 on “COMBS” in 2009-2010. Sherman, who is bald, has given out promotional combs, printed with his office phone number, since at least 2003. Another instance of Sherman’s joke recycling popped up in a daily newspaper covering events at the Capitol. When his first daughter was born, in January 2009, Sherman told The Hill, “Mother and daughter are doing splendidly and father is expected to recover.” He made the same remark when his second daughter was born the following year.

For now, from all appearances, Sherman and Berman are working in concert — last month, for example, Berman signed on as a co-sponsor of Sherman’s bill protecting the right to perform male circumcision. But in spite of the proximity of their residences, their shared party affiliation and the fact that their last names rhyme, there reportedly is tension between the two congressmen, and that can be traced back at least as far as the last redistricting process.

The last round of redistricting was done by politicians, and no Congressman had more influence over that process than Berman, because it was his brother, political consultant Michael Berman, who was hired by most of the 32 incumbent Democrats to act as a redistricting consultant.

According to a 2001 Los Angeles Times article, Sherman was displeased with the way Michael Berman redrew his district, and he was reportedly overheard saying, “Howard Berman stabbed me in the back.”

If the goal of the 2001 lines was to protect incumbents from both parties across the state, it worked. In the last decade, just one of California’s 53 congressional seats changed party hands.

In the San Fernando Valley, in particular, the lines created two districts that don’t appear adjacent so much as interlocking. The one that includes Sherman’s home meanders around the district in which Howard Berman lives. Critics said the district lines unfairly diluted the impact of Latino voters by dividing them between two districts, in both of which they were a minority.

A Latino civil rights group challenged the lines in 2002, but was unsuccessful.

What has changed now — along with the continued growth of the Latino population in the Valley and across the state — is the way redistricting in California is done. In 2008, voters passed Proposition 11, and then, in 2010, passed Proposition 20 and rejected Proposition 27, giving the power to draw California’s Congressional, State Assembly, Senate and Board of Equalization district lines to a 14-member commission. The newly named commissioners — required to include five Democrats, five Republicans and four affiliated with neither major party — were told to draw lines without considering where incumbents live or what the previously drawn districts look like.

And so, at the beginning of 2011, and with increased intensity in the past two-and-a-half months, that commission has been working to draw lines dividing California into new political districts. They are guided by data from the 2010 U.S. Census, and are considering oral and written testimonies from citizens, as well as from organizations representing ethnic groups, special interests and certain regions.

On July 9, the commission announced it would not be voting on a second draft of maps; that same day, the panel also distributed working draft maps of the congressional districts in and around Los Angeles. Though the exact boundaries had changed from the first draft, issued on June 10, the two most important political and demographic facts about the new San Fernando Valley Congressional districts did not: Most of the voters in the Valley’s western district are white, and most of the voters in the eastern district are Latino.

Berman and Sherman both spoke with The Journal last week, and while each acknowledged that the lines being discussed remain provisional, each one reiterated his preference to run in the West San Fernando Valley district, where each believes he has a better chance of being re-elected.

“I do hope to run where half the voters, at least, are familiar with my work as their Congressman,” Sherman said, referring to the proposed West San Fernando Valley district.

Sherman estimates that 60 percent of his current constituents live within the boundaries of the new proposed district, and guesses an additional 30 percent of those who live there were in the somewhat different district he represented in the 1990s.

Berman was similarly unequivocal about his desire to run in the West Valley. “I clearly intend to run for reelection,” he said, putting to rest any rumors that he might consider retiring. “I’m going to wait until the district lines are set before I make any kind of announcement or start asking people to sign up with me.”

And, Berman said he believes “a significant amount” of the voters in the proposed western district have been his constituents in the past. He therefore expressed a strong preference for running there.

Both the eastern and western San Fernando Valley districts are considered reliably Democratic, and many analysts believe that Democrats could pick up additional Congressional seats in California as a result of redistricting. Still, party leaders are looking for ways to protect incumbents, especially ones with experience and seniority.

“Frankly, I think it would be a tremendous loss for the Los Angeles community, not to mention the Jewish community, to lose either of these guys,” Eric Bauman, chair of the Los Angeles Democratic Party and vice chair of the California Democratic Party, said.

One need only look at the number of California Republicans currently chairing committees in the House to see how much seniority the state’s Congressional representatives have accumulated. Buck McKeon (R-Santa Clarita) chairs Armed Services, Dan Lungren (R-Gold River) is chair of Administration, Darrell Issa (R-San Diego) is head of Oversight and Government Reform, and David Dreier (R-San Dimas) chairs the Rules Committee. Within committees and subcommittees, it is the chair who often gets to decide which bills get priority and which ones don’t.

This gives the more senior representatives a great deal of power, and that is why there’s so much concern about the possibility of losing experienced Democratic lawmakers like Berman and Sherman.

Story continues after the jump.

Waxman, the ranking Democrat (and former chairman) of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said that he, like many incumbents, opposed the effort to create the new redistricting commission, in part because of what it would mean for California’s representation in Washington.

“I think we ought to have redistricting commissions,” Waxman said, “but it ought to be in every state. For California to be unique in the country, where redistricting is done without regard to continuity of representation … in a Congress where seniority matters so greatly in terms of power, it seems to me to put California at a disadvantage.”

In 2010, many of Waxman’s Democratic colleagues joined with labor unions and big political donors in financially supporting Proposition 27, which would have abolished California’s commission. But voters rejected that measure, and now the commission has drawn lines that pave the way for a Berman-Sherman matchup.

Many Israel supporters are hoping that won’t happen.

“The lines are not final, and I think that people are hoping that this problem will go away,” said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, founder and president of The Israel Project. “I hope that in August, when the final lines are announced, these lines are changed.”

Mizrahi has given money to Sherman’s campaigns and calls him “one of my best friends.” But, as the head of a nonprofit, she tried to “steer clear of politics.”