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.

Briefs: The Milken JCC pool; Valley Cities JCC fundraiser; Iran divestment bill moving forward

Federation Asks Milken JCC to Relinquish Property Rights

With little notice, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles closed the Olympic-sized swimming pool at The New JCC at Milken on April 25, citing possible mold damage but having already been issued a permit on April 11 by the City of Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety to demolish and fill in the pool.

Now The Federation appears to have more extensive plans for the financially troubled JCC, offering them a one-time supplemental allocation of $350,000 in return for signing a quitclaim deed relinquishing their historic right to be the major tenant on the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus in West Hills.

After June 30, 2008, the JCC’s space and budget could be greatly diminished as The Federation intends to rent the space to former tenant New Community Jewish High School, giving them a substantial portion of the Milken campus.

In response to that proposal, which was faxed to the JCC on May 22, the JCC board of directors has scheduled a membership meeting on Sunday, June 10, 2 p.m., to present and vote on The Federation’s rescue plan. Prior to that meeting, however, JCC officials are hoping to raise $500,000, giving them the ability to consider other options.

“We have a lot of financial problems and some mismanagement. Nobody’s denying that,” former JCC president Bonnie Rosenthal said. “But we do serve people and it seems that Federation is not interested in the people we serve.”

Those people include 125 preschoolers, many from single-parent, working-parent and immigrant families who depend on the extended daycare hours. Additionally, the JCC serves more than 700 seniors who come for classes, cultural events and fitness programs.

Federation spokeswoman Deborah Dragon said that it is a coincidence that the pool closure happend at the same time as the JCC’s financial distress. She added that The Federation wants to see the best communal use of the property and intends to work with the JCC to continue a downsized version of its early childhood and senior programs.

Dragon and Andrew Cushnir, Federation vice president of planning, said that without signing the quitclaim deed, the JCC will not receive supplemental funding and, like all Federation agencies, must apply for a 2008 allocation, with no guarantee.

“The JCC is losing members in droves because of the pool closure and the lack of information that Federation is giving out,” said Marty Rosenthal, JCC treasurer and past president.

Meanwhile, the pool remains closed with no set demolition date.

— Jane Ulman, Contributing Editor

Valley Cities JCC Holds Fundraiser

In what could be a last hurrah, the Valley Cities Jewish Community Center (JCC) will hold a BBQ social on Sunday, June 10, 2-7 p.m., complete with a bounce house for children, face painting, bands and silent auction. The entrance fee is $10.

The center, which uses property owned by the Jewish Community Centers Development Corp., is facing closure as soon as June 15. The development corporation had agreed in principle to a Burbank philanthropist’s $2.7 million offer to buy the property and turn it over to Valley Cities JCC. But in April everything fell apart.

“We keep making them offers, and they just keep turning their backs on us,” said Michael Brezner, the center’s board chair. “They are not nice people.”

The BBQ is part fundraiser, part public relations initiative.

“We want people to know we are here. We want to stay,” said Lori Brockman, a concerned parent who helped organize the event.

Valley Cities JCC is in Sherman Oaks at 13164 Burbank Blvd. For more information, call (818) 786-6310.

— Brad A. Greenberg, Staff Writer

Iran Divestment Bill Passes Assembly Appropriation Committee

[SACRAMENTO] — A proposed California State Assembly bill that would require state pension funds to divest an estimated $24 billion from more than 280 companies doing business with Iran, took one step closer to become law on May 31 after being approved by the Assembly’s Appropriation Committee.

The bill, also known as AB 221, was first introduced by freshman Assemblyman Joel Anderson (R-El Cajon) and unanimously approved by the Judiciary Committee on April 24. Anderson has said the primary goal of the legislation is to secure the California Public Employees Retirement and the State Teachers Retirement pensions with wise investment strategies, since both are valued at nearly $400 billion and funded by taxpayers.

AB 221 has received wide support from 14 national and state Jewish organizations and dozens of Los Angeles-based Iranian Muslim groups opposed to Iran’s regime, as an economic means to bring down the already crippled Iranian economy. The National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a Washington D.C.-based pro-Iran lobby as well as the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers have been the only groups opposing AB 221. The Assembly will have a final vote on the bill in the first week of June and supporters said they expect it to become law by January 2008.

— Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer