Incoming councilwoman: Knockout attacks may be caused by black-Jewish tension

An incoming New York City councilwoman said the wave of so-called knockout attacks may be caused by tension between blacks and Jews.

Councilwoman-elect Laurie Cumbo, who was elected to represent the Crown Heights neighborhood and will take office next month, made the statement in a Facebook post on Tuesday calling for a zero-tolerance policy toward the “knockout game” and for strengthening the relationship between African-Americans and Jews.

In the game, attackers try to knock out someone with one punch. At least ten such attacks have taken place in the Brooklyn borough of New York City since September, most directed at identifiably Jewish people, according to reports.

Cumbo said that she had many discussions with local residents during the primary season and that “many African American/Caribbean residents expressed a genuine concern that as the Jewish community continues to grow, they would be pushed out by their Jewish landlords or by Jewish families looking to purchase homes.”

The councilwoman-elect said she did not mean to bring up the issue “as an insult to the Jewish community, but rather to offer possible insight as to how young African American/Caribbean teens could conceivably commit a ‘hate crime’ against a community that they know very little about.”

Cumbo stressed her admiration for the Jewish community. However, she added, “I also recognize that for others, the accomplishments of the Jewish community triggers feelings of resentment, and a sense that Jewish success is not also their success.”

She called for the communities to “gain a greater understanding of one another so that we can learn more about each other’s challenges and triumphs despite religious and cultural differences.”

Cumbo called for a detailed investigation of the knockout attacks, leading to “arrests and legal action.”

“If one person attacks another, regardless of the motivation, there is no justification for such an action,” she wrote.

Jewish leaders reportedly criticized Cumbo for her assertations.

The Anti-Defamation League said that Cumbo’s statement “evokes classic anti-Semitic stereotypes.”

“As an organization that has worked for more than 20 years to improve Black-Jewish relations in the aftermath of the Crown Heights riots, we are troubled by the incoming councilwoman’s sentiments, particularly her comment about resentment over Jewish economic success, which evokes classic anti-Semitic stereotypes,” New York Regional Director Evan Bernstein said in a statement.

Other incidents of knockout attacks have occurred in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., The Associated Press reported.

Jan Perry’s quest: Spirituality, pursuit of L.A.’s well-being

I asked City Council member Jan Perry, a candidate for mayor of Los Angeles, if she was on a spiritual quest when she converted to Judaism. “Right,” she replied. “Your question is a good way to put it.”

Perry, whose conversation offers a mixture of the spiritual and practical politics, is perhaps the most interesting of those planning to run for mayor in 2013.  She’s Jewish, African-American, a woman and an articulate challenger of the insider old-boys club that runs City Hall. She currently is the only woman on the 15-member City Council, which another woman, Pat Russell, once led as president and where, in the past, other female council members have had considerable power.

I found her discussion of spiritual values intriguing, considering all her years in a city hall where standards are governed mostly by campaign contributions and political deals. Perry, who is currently in her third four-year-term representing Council District 9, has taken part in those deals and has both won and lost.

She was victorious in her efforts on behalf of the downtown projects of AEG, the entertainment giant, pushing through city financial aid and favorable zoning for Staples Center, subsidies for new nearby hotels, and her support was crucial to the development of the entire AEG L.A. Live complex of theaters and restaurants. She also won city financial aid for the company for its proposed National Football League stadium in the area.

But she was a loser earlier this year when she went up against fellow Council member Herb Wesson and voted against him for the council’s top job of president. Wesson prevailed, then, supported by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, had the council pass a reapportionment plan that stripped development-rich areas of downtown from Perry’s district.  Wesson obviously believes in the political adage, “Don’t get mad, get even.”

Perry and I talked over lunch at the Omni Hotel on Bunker Hill, one of the areas removed from her district in the reapportionment. She was friendly, relaxed and confident. Even when she was lashing out at the council’s ruling clique — my words, not hers — her voice was modulated and her manner calm. She doesn’t seem much different now than when I met her during her time as top aide to Rita Walters, the council member who previously represented her district. The mother of an adult daughter, Perry is divorced from her husband of 17 years. “We were friends then; we are friends now,” she said.

She’s the first of the potential mayoral candidates I’ll interview over the next several months. Best known among the others are City Council member Eric Garcetti, City Controller Wendy Greuel, radio talk-show host Kevin James, developer Rick Caruso and Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. Of these, only Perry, Garcetti, Greuel and James have formally announced their candidacies.

We talked about her journey from the Protestant home of her politically active parents in Cleveland to her embrace of Judaism while a student at USC about 30 years ago. Her spiritual quest took her to Rabbi Laura Geller, who then headed Hillel at USC. Perry said she was “on the hunt for something big. Why am I here? What is my purpose, my role as a woman, my role in society?” She also studied with Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Felder, director of UCLA Hillel, and then converted.

“The big moment for me in being Jewish was to be more community oriented in developing my observances, being part of a community,“ she said. For example, she said that on Yom Kippur, “When I was younger, I didn’t understand how important it is” on this day of repentance and atonement to pray “in a community,” among those who share her beliefs.

I can see something of her religion in her handling of one of her biggest and most complex issues, Skid Row, where she is following the Jewish imperative of reaching out and helping those in need. Politicians and the rest of Los Angeles avoids visiting the dangerous neighborhood, or even thinking about it. But, according to Jon Regardie, executive editor of the Los Angeles Downtown News, Perry has “spent more time addressing Skid Row than any other official had in decades.”

Skid Row, recently removed from her district in the reapportionment, is a wide area just east of the commercial heart of downtown Los Angeles, reaching eastward from around Main Street to near the Los Angeles River. It is filled with the homeless and other down-and-outers, many among them substance addicts, mentally ill, physically ailing and victims of the recession. Skid Row’s population also includes families with children, as well as a group of dedicated nonprofit organization workers who strive to provide housing, medical help, rehabilitation and other services, despite many obstacles.

Perry told me Skid Row should be a “recovery community,” where the homeless can find housing, make appointments with doctors, see therapists and drug counselors, a place “where they can rest” rather than live the risky life on the streets.

By coordinating efforts with the several nonprofit organizations in the area and helping them with the complicated task of obtaining public and private financing, Perry said she spurred construction of 1,200 units of permanent housing, with facilities for counseling and medical care. In addition, 5,000 units of low-income housing have been built within the boundaries of the area she represented in pre-reapportionment days.

As Perry sees it, Skid Row encapsulates the kinds of problems she would face as mayor. It’s poor. She dealt with conflict between property owners who want the homeless out of there, and with human-rights advocates who stand up for the poor and see her as a hard-hearted ally of business. She also worked with the Los Angeles Police Department, which tries to control the rampant drug dealing and other crimes on Skid Row, to enforce public health statutes and also comply with court decisions protecting homeless rights.

Also in her downtown district, Perry, in addition to supporting L.A. Live, is credited by council observers with helping developers build the condos and apartment houses that have upscaled parts of Skid Row and the areas around it. Critics have called her a handmaiden of AEG and other downtown developers, but she defends her support for the company, saying it’s a model for how to bring in more jobs and housing. She said she would “be a strategic job creator.” She wants more hotels downtown for conventions and would “promote jobs along transit lines and make sure housing is available.”

After our lunch, I wondered how she would do if elected mayor. Although I am more cynical than spiritual, I was impressed by her spiritual qualities, nurtured by her mentors, Rabbis Geller and Seidler- Felder, both of whom I respect. But being a student of practical politics, I was also impressed with her toughness. If she wins, the City Hall old boys may find out whether she, like them, follows the political rule of “Don’t get mad, get even.”

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).

Billion-Dollar Plan on Line in Fight for 11th


Quick geography quiz: In the past half century, which region has seen only a handful of leaders, and today is focused on a controversial multibillion-dollar reconstruction project?

No, it’s not Iraq. Welcome to the Westside — or more specifically, the 11th City Council District.

In March, City Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski will be termed out of office. Two well-connected front-runners, Bill Rosendahl and Flora Gil Krisiloff, are already battling for the prize of representing the quarter-million people — including the sizable Jewish communities in places like Brentwood and Pacific Palisades.

From the LAX expansion to the Skirball and the Getty, from the Pacific to the Ballona Wetlands, there is a lot at stake, and both candidates know it. At first glance, they actually seem to have a lot in common.

Both are tired of gridlock, especially near the airport. Both want more responsible development. Both are longtime L.A. residents with a passion for public policy. And neither has ever been a politician.

“The transportation traffic headaches have turned into gridlock. Regional issues haven’t been worked on regionally,” Rosendahl said in an appeal to Southern California unity. “The 88 cities in L.A. County have to work together to solve these problems. An L.A. problem is also a Santa Monica problem, a West Hollywood and a Culver City problem.”

Rosendahl said he would push for a regional summit on transportation and a light rail line from downtown to the coast.

On the issue of gridlock, Krisiloff notes one of her proudest accomplishments: The work of the San Vicente Design Review Board. “That’s a four-lane highway that’s ended up being very pedestrian friendly,” Krisiloff told The Journal. “We were ahead of the curve 20 years ago in having a vision for that street.”

Crucially, both Krisiloff and Rosendahl also oppose Miscikowski’s deal with Mayor James Hahn on the expansion of LAX — a plan that calls for a major overhaul, including moving passenger check-in to a new structure in Manchester Square and tearing down three existing terminals at a cost of $11 billion.

Rosendahl, in his usual style, advocates the regional approach. “When I looked at LAX, I thought of the three airports that serve the New York area. But for some reason in Los Angeles, it’s all at LAX on the Westside,” he said.

He said he would support modernization of LAX, but only up to the 78 million-passengers-per-year mark (the current promised expansion limit). He said Los Angeles needs to provide incentives for airlines to fly nonstop from Ontario Airport to take the pressure off of LAX and the Westside.

Krisiloff bristles at the thought of another broken LAX promise. “With the [Miscikowski] LAX master plan, there’s no constraint that will honor what all the mayoral candidates pledged three years ago that growth would be held at 78 million passengers per year.”

“It’s all about trust,” Krisiloff said. She spoke of the hazards of unchecked LAX expansion for the communities in that area in terms of rising health risks and traffic.

But, similar policies aside, Krisiloff and Rosendahl have very different perspectives on how politics work.

Rosendahl has a background in media, and mass communication is his metaphor. “We are a megalopolis of some 15 [million] to 18 million people that has no center pulling together the community,” he said. “Our television and our radios and our newspapers are the way that people interact.” Rosendahl used his media expertise to produce numerous public-affairs TV shows on issues ranging from Los Angeles politics to the Middle East peace process, including an interview with former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

Even today he educates others as a professor at California State University, Dominguez Hills, teaching such courses as Media & Politics and Public Affairs Television.

But despite his laudable emphasis on public awareness through the media, he still faces association with his maligned former employer: Adelphia Communications. That fraud-ridden media corporation has no part in any politician’s ideal resume.

“I’m a victim of Adelphia’s corruption,” Rosendahl explained. “I lost my job in a layoff, I lost all my stock value.”

“I’m not a yes man, and I stood up to these corporate people,” Rosendahl said of his campaign to increase wages for his workers while at Adelphia. “In my last two years at Adelphia, I produced my [public-affairs] shows and had no operating responsibilities,” he added.

Krisiloff’s background is rooted in the nonprofit and community organizations of West Los Angeles, such as the Los Angeles West Area Planning Commission and the Brentwood Community Council.

“I come from the neighborhoods, the community, from the trenches,” Krisiloff said.

She said her experience with West Los Angeles has taught her to take the public’s concerns on development especially seriously. One of Krisiloff’s best known battles took place in Washington, D.C., as she lobbied to save the Veterans Administration buildings near Brentwood from commercial development.

“I was working with [Rep. Henry] Waxman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Sen. Barbara Boxer, with the mayor, with Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky,” Krisiloff said. “The process was really flawed and I demanded a new master plan. They told me it would never happen. Well, a couple months ago we were told by the secretary of Veteran’s Affairs that we will get it.”

On the question of garnering Jewish support, Rosendahl has more well-known ties to the community, including friend Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, Western regional director of the American Jewish Committee. One of his many television programs, “Mideast Perspective,” was focused on that most emotional of issues to many American Jews.

Rosendahl’s base of support, as a matter of fact, is its own unique story. Candidates in Los Angeles must disclose their campaign contributors. Rosendahl has been funded by such varied figures as Peter Camejo (Ralph Nader’s 2004 vice presidential running mate), Bush/Cheney 2004 Jewish liaison Bruce Bialosky, California Democratic Party Chair Art Torres and, perhaps expectedly, the Adelphia Political Action Committee.

Those names certainly give merit to Rosendahl’s claim of bringing together people of all political inclinations, a skill he says he learned from hosting guests on public-affairs TV.

But Krisiloff is not worried. “I always say the difference is not what we’re promising or what we’re identifying now as problems, because in the end we’re all going to sound alike in terms of the rhetoric,” she said. “So how do you differentiate? I have a 20-year track record of leadership in West Los Angeles.”

Clearly, the fight for the 11th has been a long time coming. It promises not to disappoint in 2005.