Twice Upon a Time


The adoring crowd, a beaming Antonio Villaraigosa, a message of inclusiveness and leadership — the image could have been from four years ago, when Villaraigosa’s campaign for mayor energized much of Los Angeles.

But this time, Villaraigosa also got the more votes than the other guy, and then some, scoring an astounding 59 percent, to make incumbent James K. Hahn a one-term mayor.

Under a clear night sky, framed against a canopy of downtown skyscrapers, Villaraigosa projected energy and hope amid cheers that drowned out question marks and rumblings of unease in his very different, second-time run for mayor.

Across town in Hollywood, incumbent Mayor James Hahn got his first taste of political defeat, without ever admitting defeat. His campaign was the quixotic victim of perceived insufficiencies: a candidate with not quite enough money, too little charm and, to critics, a shortage of achievement, purposefulness and ethical fiber.

Polls had suggested a Villaraigosa win, but the 19-point spread stunned politicos. Villaraigosa led among Jews and Latinos; Valley residents, Eastsiders and Westsiders — pretty much the entire city (and 48 percent of African Americans) chose Villaraigosa. Jews accounted for 17 percent of the total vote and 55 percent of them chose Villaraigosa. For Valley Jews it was 54 percent; 58 percent on the Westside, according to L.A. Times exit polling.

Straightaway, Villaraigosa sought rhetorically to knit together a disparate metropolis that is frequently disengaged and clannish.

“We are all Angelenos tonight,” he said at midnight. “It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from. It doesn’t matter whether you grew up on the Eastside or the Westside, whether you’re from South Los Angeles or Sylmar. It doesn’t matter whether you go to work in a fancy car or on a bus. Or whether you worship in a cathedral or a synagogue or a mosque. We are all Angelenos and we all have a difference to make.”

This was vintage Villaraigosa, the hard charger of four years ago, who inspired excitement and loyalty even while losing to Hahn. The 2005 Villaraigosa campaign, however, differed tellingly from that of 2001; it was more bruising to Hahn and exceedingly cautious in staking out what Villaraigosa intends to do.

By Election Night, no one needed polls or returns to deduce the winner. The Villaraigosa event had the air of a multicultural coronation, with table after table of free tamales, Korean noodles, sushi and barbecue. Two blocks of Boylston Street were cordoned off. The press had its own filing patio; VIPs had a private indoor shindig. The stage setup resembled a presidential campaign rally, with a huge American flag as backdrop and an arch of red, white and blue balloons.

By 9:30 p.m., the streetscape swelled and bobbed with celebrants even as a line of well-wishers stretched around the block, waiting to get through four security screening stations.

At Hahn headquarters, at Element in Hollywood, no metal detectors were needed; this, in contrast, was a party searching not for weapons, but a pulse, looking more like a decently attended art-gallery opening than a political rally. The TV screens steadfastly refused to show anything but the Hahn-for-Mayor logo. There was no press filing area; reporters took interview subjects to a smoggy outdoor smoking patio on the side. Straight back from there, in a private area, anyone could catch glimpses of a calm and genial Hahn standing under a pepper tree, waiting it out with family members and his closest supporters. The party room itself could have seated the audience for a small dance recital, but the bar was long enough, sporting at least five shelves of spirits.

Bobbi Fiedler, the Republican former school board member and former member of Congress, looked like she needed a trip to the bar. She refused to call Hahn’s defeat, but her face foretold enough. She called Hahn “a man who has been working hard getting the job done as opposed to tooting his own horn.”

Hahn backers also included Evelyn Fierro, a San Pedro public affairs specialist and self-described liberal Latino, who had supported Villaraigosa in 2001. She lauded Hahn’s decision to fire black Police Chief Bernard Parks, a move that angered many black Hahn supporters in South Los Angeles.

Hahn had “the guts to stand up to people and bring in the best police chief [Bill Bratton, who is Anglo] in this country,” Fierro said, “knowing it was questionable politically. But he did what was best for the city. And this is how they’re rewarding him.”

Over and over again, Hahn was portrayed by the faithful as underappreciated, especially, they said, when compared to the more photogenic Villaraigosa.

“Our television society is taken by a flashy smile and charismatic personality, and can’t quite accept somebody who is low-key, smart and hardworking,” Fierro said. “Mayor Hahn deserves a second chance and the only reason he won’t make it is that he’s a low-key personality. What does that say about the citizenry of Los Angeles? How shallow can you be?”

But you didn’t have to love Hahn to fault the Villaraigosa of 2005, said David Hamlin, a public-relations consultant with ties to L.A.’s progressive community.

“I think you’d have to conclude that the guy everyone was excited about has decided it’s more important to win than to lead,” he said.

City Controller Laura Chick, in contrast, gave city voters, including Jewish ones, credit for deducing the better choice. She’d endorsed Villaraigosa in 2001, but backed Hahn for reelection early on, when Hahn looked unbeatable and before others entered the race.

“I thought Jim Hahn would be elected to a second term,” said Chick in an interview during the Villaraigosa bash, “and I wanted to show him that he could have confidence that I would be at his side.”

Instead, she lost confidence in Hahn, accusing him of resisting changes to city contracting practices, which had come under fire amid allegations that private firms made political donations to improve chances of winning city business. Recent voter-approved changes to the city charter, Chick added, “made the mayor of Los Angeles the No. 1 person on the firing line of accountability. What Jim has done is try to distance himself from that accountability…. The mayor’s staff, the mayor’s commissioners, the mayor’s general managers were opposing [reforms], and the mayor did nothing to change that.”

As for Villaraigosa, Chick gives an edge to the 2005 vintage over the Villaraigosa of 2001.

“He is a man who has been tempered and mellowed and humbled by the taste of defeat,” Chick said. “He’s also had hands-on city experience for two years as council member and understands much better the dynamics of city politics and the problems facing us.”

Villaraigosa’s success among Jewish voters in polls leading up to Election Day was no surprise to Chick.

“The Jewish community has always been interested in progressive reform and Antonio is a leader in those kinds of politics,” said Chick, who is Jewish. “And the Jewish community has tasted firsthand being the underdog. It identifies with Antonio as a member of a minority ethnicity with shared experiences.”

“But maybe, most importantly,” she added, “the Jewish community is very involved in civic life in Los Angeles, involved in giving back. I think they have identified in Antonio an elected official who can maybe correct some inequities that stand in the way of our city being truly great.”

Jews also need to be pragmatic about building coalitions in a city with a declining Jewish presence, noted Attorney Andrew Friedman, at the Villaraigosa rally.

“Twelve years ago, there were seven Jewish city council members,” Friedman said. “Today there’s only three. If we want our agenda to be accomplished, we must build bridges to all the other minorities.”

For some left-of-center progressives, Villaraigosa’s inclusiveness strayed too far right for comfort. Villaraigosa’s backers included property owners who oppose unionizing security guards, a top priority on labor’s agenda. Some property owners, in fact, made a point to side with Villaraigosa over Hahn. In the end, Villaraigosa’s fundraising swamped Hahn’s, though the mayor had his millions, too, as well as the backing of the County Federation of Labor.

All told, it was topsy-turvy and melancholy season for the powerful political apparatus of the County Federation of Labor. On Tuesday, most of the rank and file ignored their leadership’s directive and voted for Villaraigosa, who, after all, made his name as a labor stalwart. The result was a bizarre mirror image of 2001, when much of the labor leadership had enthusiastically backed Villaraigosa, but a plurality of union members voted for Hahn. Notably missing from the Hahn party was County Fed leader Miguel Contreras, an architect of labor’s rise in Los Angeles, who died this month at 52 of a heart attack. Contreras was a close friend of Villaraigosa’s, but had backed Hahn because Hahn delivered on his commitments to organized labor.

Villaraigosa’s “just win” strategy sounds defensible enough to Democrats who ponder the Al Gore or John Kerry administrations that might have been. But the alternative in Los Angeles was not George W. Bush, but an ideologically compatible fellow Democrat, who was enough of a coalition builder to earn the simultaneous support of labor and the Chamber of Commerce.

Hahn never did persuade enough people that Villaraigosa was too risky to elect. But Villaraigosa’s flirtation with the moneyed establishment put a scare into some longtime leftwing supporters who probably voted for him anyway. Members of the moneyed establishment, for their part, probably still regard Villaraigosa as slightly scary, but at least they went to bed Tuesday night knowing they had backed the winner. Hope and opportunity can work in mysterious ways.

Villaraigosa still has his true believers, of course, including Jewish attorney Julie Gutman, who felt devastated by the 2001 loss to Hahn.

“Antonio is a consensus-builder,” she said, “a unifier. He brings people together. He has the energy, leadership and vision to make Los Angeles the best city in this country.”

David Finnigan contributed to this article.

Insider, Outsider

I check in periodically with David Tokofsky, who has represented the Eastside on the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) since 1995, just to find out how long it takes to stop being considered an outsider.

For a Jewish boy on the Eastside, the answer is: more than two terms. Even now, despite winning two elections, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) has made him the target of redistricting, to insure that the next time out, someone with a Latino surname gets the job.

When Tokofsky, a teacher’s union activist fluent in Spanish and a veteran chair of the academic decathlon, first ran for the school board, friends and foe alike suggested he move to Agoura, just for job security.

"Guess I have ‘Agouraphobia,’" he quipped, and moved to Eagle Rock.

He’s had some grueling battles, beating down both a recall and a recount. He’s still in there, ready to fight again.

Not so many years ago, guys from our community, like Tokofsky, were called "liberals," hard working or caring. We looked at them in admiration for self-sacrifice. We expected one day they’d go to law school.

These days, well, I don’t know whether to be embarrassed. or not. The Tokofskys of the world are few and far between. Even with the emergency inducement of the current teaching shortage, there are still few Jewish teachers, and proportionately fewer Jewish students in public school. In East Los Angeles, there aren’t many of either.

Still, Tokofsky always makes me feel that his is the way it should be: talented, professional educators should be as natural to emerge from the Jewish community as rabbis. Naturally, these professional educators should go where they’re needed most, whether or not politicians say they are wanted there.

Because Tokofsky thinks his is the natural order of the universe; he tends to get offended when others react differently.

The map intended to front-load his 5th District with as many Latino voters as possible was not a surprise. What did surprise Tokofsky, was the way the rest of the Westside/Valley political establishment, distracted by secession and its own ambitions, seemed to cave in, ignoring the work of the citizens committee allowing MALDEF to become the major player.

When I spoke to Tokofsky this week, he was livid in battle, as might be expected, facing as he was many as four potential redistricing maps in which his Latino voter base in his 5th District varied anywhere from 51 to 58 percent. The City Council was expected to hear the matter on Tuesday, June 4.

"I’ll get there, one way or the other," Tokofsky told me. "I’m good for the election system. I bring out voters."

By now, it’s no surprise to find Tokofsky under attack, especially from Latino activists who want his seat for themselves.

A nicer surprise is who his friends are. Frank del Olmo’s Sunday Los Angeles Times column praising Tokofsky was gratifying.

"The LAUSD veteran could show other politicians how to serve Latino voters," del Olmo wrote.

And how might that be? Del Olmo praised Tokofsky for many of the maverick positions for which Westsiders criticize him.

Tokofsky started out as the lone defender of Ruben Zacharias, the first Latino school superintendent.

This month he was a lone voice defending standardized tests, while the rest of the board wanted tests that made the district look better, without improving student performance.

He refused to back the completion of the Belmont Learning Complex, saying it was still unsafe.

I don’t know. The man seems to know his district.

Our community is still reeling from the Katz/Alarcon senate race of a few years ago. So we understandably worry about a man who faces ethnic conflict every time he announces he’s running again.

That’s why del Olmo’s praise of Tokofsky deserves additional comment. There seemed to be two reasons for optimism that the ethnic tensions of the recent election cycle might be passing away.

First, del Olmo accepted that non-Latinos are part of the political landscape, by implication, deserving of respectful hearing and support when warranted from his community.

Second, del Olmo reminded us that human beings don’t change. City Councilman Arthur K. Snyder retained his seat throughout the ’70s by catering to the needs of his Latino district. With such concern for the district, Tokofsky can win, regardless if his seat looks like a salamander.

The piece was brief consolation. By press time, the City Council had approved the MALDEF map. The vote for MALDEF was 13-2 with no one from the Westside or Valley on his side.

Viva la Similarities

It was a great idea: a restaurant gathering at Tomayo’s, an East Los Angeles eatery known for its vibrant Latino cultural life, hosted by Israel’s consul general in Los Angeles, that would unite Los Angeles’ Jews and Latinos.

“The idea was to bring the Jewish people to the Eastside and have half Jewish food, half Mexican food,” said Yuval Rotem, the Israeli consul general.

That event was scheduled to take place on Sept. 12. In the aftermath of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, the consulate’s cross-cultural event never materialized. Six months later, on a clear March evening, 210 people set sail on a FantaSea Yacht from Marina del Rey’s Pier 52. And aboard the ship, the Israeli consulate, in conjunction with New America Alliance (NAA), finally realized its multicultural mission by holding its inaugural Jewish-Latino event.

Such bonding is only natural in Los Angeles, said Rotem of the city that happens to be home to the second-largest Jewish community and the largest Latino community in the United States.

“I think these kind of events help introduce different perceptions about each other, as well as sensitivities toward each other,” Rotem said.

“It was extremely festive,” said Naomi Rodriguez, the Israeli consulate’s liaison to the Latino community. “It was a huge party of community. It just felt like family.”

On the dinner cruise, the mariachi group Mariachi Sol de Mexico and Israeli singers, such as Pini Cohen, performed for a wide range of dignitaries from both communities.

Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles President John Fishel, University of Judaism President Dr. Robert Wexler, L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and attorney Gloria Allred were among those present from the Jewish community.

Representatives of the Latino community included Rep. Joe Baca (D-Rialto); former mayoral candidate Antonio Villaraigosa; Ruth Castro, president of the Alhambra School Board; Dorene Domiguez, NAA’s human capital committee vice chair and vice president of Vanir Construction Management, Inc.; and film producer Moctesuma Esparza.

The Jewish-Latino function is not the consulate’s first gesture to bring the two cultures together. A year-and-a-half ago, the Israeli consulate took a bold step by hiring Rodriguez as its liaison to the Latino community.

According to Rotem, it was the first time that a non-Jewish Latino was brought in on this level in any Israeli consulate. Only this week, an Israeli consulate in Texas began employing a Latino liaison.

Rodriguez will be stepping down from the position she inaugurated to work on L.A. Mayor James Hahn’s staff.

“We were able to introduce ourselves to dozens of leaders in academia, church, education, security — different elements of leadership. Not necessarily politicians,” Rotem said.

Rodriguez told The Journal that she is “both excited and sad that I’m leaving, because it’s just starting to pick up momentum.”

“A lot of my work has been groundwork,” continued Rodriguez, who spent her time facilitating introductions between Jewish and Latino community leaders. “Now what’s starting to happen is that more things are coming of it. So I’m very optimistic about the future of these relations. think I helped build a good foundation and the relationship between the communities will continue.”

In assuming her role as the mayor’s deputy director of protocol, Rodriguez said that she will still work with the consulate on some level.

“I’m still going to do whatever I can to move this agenda forward,” Rodriguez said. “I had a wonderful time working here. I just think I ended on a good note.”

Despite Rodriguez’s departure next week, “this position is going to be an integral part of the consulate,” said, Rotem, who added that the consulate is currently interviewing candidates to fill Rodriguez’s shoes.

Esparza formed the NAA three years ago in hopes of strengthening the world of American-Latino commerce. Today, the NAA is a thriving coalition of 70 Latino entrepreneurs who Esparza said pay $10,000 in dues annually to belong to the organization.

Esparza sees much overlap between the Jewish and Latino communities.

“There are several areas of commonality — historical experience of persecution and suffering of immigrant blocks and discrimination,” Esparza said, adding that both people are always “seeking tolerance, justice and acceptance.”

Then there’s the Jewish lineage that harkens back to pre-Inquisition Spain.

“Most Spanish names that end with a ‘Z’ are Sephardic origin,” Esparza added.

“By building bridges and understanding each other’s heritage and traditions,” said Baca, “we begin to respect one another. There is no difference between us. This is about inclusion.”

“We live in a city where we often don’t talk to each other,” said the Boyle Heights-raised Villaraigosa, who has long worked side by side with the Jewish community. Villaraigosa saw the cruise event as “an opportunity to reach across and embrace each other.”

Among those present on the dinner cruise was Teresa McBride, a self-made business success story who, after modernizing her Albuquerque restaurant, began helping others do the same. By 1986, she had turned her formula for computerizing businesses into a national computer consulting firm. Now based in Virginia, McBride commands a nationwide staff of 350 people.

She said that the American Latino community can learn a lot from American Jews.

“The Jewish community has years of experience and knowledge to establish programs, and they have done a phenomenal job in this area,” McBride said. “What they offered us very graciously is to give us insights on what they’ve done around the world.”

Likewise, McBride said that the Jewish community will exact much knowledge and inspiration from the Latino world “culturally — through our values, our work, our food, our art, our music. California has benefited greatly from Latino involvement in this state. Just look around you.”

McBride, indirectly invoking the Jewish notion of tikkun olam, affirmed that both communities have much to gain from forming a cultural and commercial exchange.

“When you help anyone, it improves everyone,” she said. “By helping others, you improve their environment, as well as yours. You make the world a better place.”

The grand irony of the evening did not escape Yaroslavsky.

“It’s funny how it took a foreign diplomat to put this together,” said Yaroslavsky from the podium.

Esparza said that he hopes that the goodwill continues, and added that he welcomes his Jewish friends to attend the NAA banquet-conference scheduled for May 19 at the Four Seasons Hotel, where Latino entrepreneurs will learn more about capital foundations and angel investors.

“Our communities should, on a social basis, break bread and get to know each other,” Esparza said.

Rotem plans to host more events like the cruise and to introduce visiting Israeli politicians to Latino community leaders and the Spanish-language La Opinion newspaper.

“This is an ongoing effort, not a one-shot event,” Rotem promised.