2 Jewish congressmen, 1 Valley district: Sherman lists endorsements, Berman waits


The next congressional election is more than a year away, and although California’s new political boundaries were formally approved on Aug. 15, Republicans are already considering launching a referendum to overturn them.

But in the competition between two Jewish Democratic incumbent congressmen who have both announced their intent to run for re-election in the same newly redrawn district in the West San Fernando Valley, the opening salvo in the 2012 campaign already has been fired.

On Aug. 5, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) released a list of more than 100 political and community leaders endorsing his bid for re-election in the 30th Congressional District in 2012. The list, which is also posted on Sherman’s campaign Web site (bradsherman.com), included endorsements from more than a dozen state and local elected officials and featured a quote from former President Bill Clinton praising Sherman’s work.

“Brad has worked tirelessly for the people of California and I hope he will continue to do so,” the quote from Clinton reads.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, California State Controller John Chiang, state Sen. Fran Pavley and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom are included among Sherman’s endorsers. L.A. City Attorney Carmen Trutanich and four members of the Los Angeles City Council also pledged their support.

Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys), meanwhile, appears to be holding his fire, at least for now. On July 29, the day California’s Citizens Redistricting Commission released its final draft of the state’s political lines, Berman said in a statement that he had every intention of running in the 30th District but would wait until the maps were final before formally launching his campaign.

Sherman’s announcement about his supporters didn’t appear to provoke any change in Berman’s approach.

“Congressman Berman is not going to be focused on endorsements until after he formally announces his candidacy,” Berman spokeswoman Gabby Adler wrote in an e-mail. “There will be plenty of time to campaign, but right now congressional business, including job creation and addressing the economic woes facing our nation, is priority number one for Congressman Berman.”

Both Berman and Sherman live in the newly drawn 30th District. Although members of Congress are not required to live in the districts they represent, neither Berman nor Sherman has shown any sign of backing away from their competing claims on the West San Fernando Valley district.

The prospect of these two veteran lawmakers each laying claim to the same district has been imminent since the release of the first draft of maps by the commission in June. That map gave the first concrete indication that a new majority Latino congressional district would be drawn in the East San Fernando Valley.

The final draft of maps, which the commission approved on Aug. 15, maintains this division of the San Fernando Valley into one mostly white district and another mostly Latino district. Both districts lean solidly Democratic.

The e-mail, which was signed by Sherman and sent to thousands of supporters, is designed to strengthen the eight-term incumbent’s position and to make clear that he will not capitulate in the face of the more senior Berman. (Berman was first elected to Congress in 1982.)

In a recent Jewish Journal cover story exploring the prospect of a race between Sherman and Berman, most Jewish leaders expressed hope that a Berman versus Sherman race could be avoided. A few, including former Congressman Mel Levine, said they felt Berman’s position as ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee would ultimately lead Israel supporters to consider his continued presence in Congress to be essential.

Just two Democratic leaders, both long-time friends of Berman’s, came out and explicitly endorsed him over Sherman. One, veteran Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman, said Berman’s seniority made him indispensable.

“We are very lucky to have him play the role he plays,” he said. “And I think the country is lucky. A freshman Democrat is not going to take his place. Brad Sherman is not going to take his place.”

In a recent interview, Sherman told The Jewish Journal that the only people objecting to his running for re-election in the West Valley district are Berman and Waxman, and the list of those endorsing him shows that quite a few local leaders are throwing their support in his direction.

Assemblyman Mike Gatto, L.A. City Councilman Mitchell Englander, Los Angeles Community College Board Member Scott Svonkin and Burbank City Councilwoman Emily Gabel-Luddy all endorsed Sherman in the weeks immediately before the list was circulated.

Los Angeles City Councilmen Dennis Zine and Paul Koretz endorsed Sherman many months ago, before the first redistricting maps were released in June and before the prospect of a Berman-Sherman competition became more likely.

Trutanich, who endorsed Sherman in June, had not been aware that Sherman might face Berman when he pledged his support, but that didn’t shake the city attorney’s commitment to Sherman.

A spokesman for Baca, who offered his support to Sherman sometime around July 8, equivocated slightly, saying that just because Baca endorsed Sherman does not mean the sheriff won’t endorse other candidates.

“He [Baca] believes both of them [Berman and Sherman] are valued assets to the Congress and both of them have served their constituencies well,” Sheriff’s Department spokesman Steve Whitmore said. “So it is not one over the other. Right now, it’s speculative because those districts have not been finalized yet.”

Of the prominent endorsers on Sherman’s list who could be reached — spokespeople for Clinton, Chiang and Pavley all declined to comment, and Newsom did not return calls —Baca might be the only one on Sherman’s list who is still attempting to avoid choosing one of these incumbents over the other.

Raphael Sonenshein, a professor of political science at California State University, Fullerton, and an experienced observer of political campaigns, said that this type of “pre-battle battle” is standard practice and very significant.

“Many battles are won before they’re fought,” Sonenshein said. “You don’t wait until Election Day; you try to clear the field.”

High-profile endorsements are one way to scare off potential opponents. “Clinton’s endorsement remains one of the most influential endorsements one can get among Democrats, and Brad Sherman is a lucky man to have his recommendation,” said Eric Bauman, vice chair of the California Democratic Party.

“Endorsing one candidate over another doesn’t necessarily negate the quality of the other candidate,” Bauman added. “It reflects the fact that endorsements are about relationships and working together. I’m sure that Congressman Berman will also have a very diverse list of supporters.”

Another way politicians attempt to convey the strength of their campaigns, Sonenshein said, is by amassing a large war chest.

“That’s why incumbents raise so much money when it appears that they don’t need it,” Sonenshein said. “You try to make it appear to the other person that it’s too costly to take you on. This is normal behavior.”

As of the most recent reports filed with the Federal Elections Commission, Berman had $1.5 million cash on hand to spend on a campaign. Sherman had $3.7 million — which included $250,000 that Sherman loaned to his campaign on June 30, the last day of the reporting period.

Options exist for both incumbents beyond the 30th District. Berman could run in the Latino-majority district in the East San Fernando Valley; Sherman could run in a Ventura County district (that was once solidly Republican but is now believed to be Democratic-leaning) that lies directly to the West.

As of now, neither lawmaker appears to be open to either of these possibilities, which worries Israel supporters.

“It’s really clear that it’s not in the interest of people who support Israel for the two of them to run against each other,” Howard Welinsky, the board chair of Democrats for Israel, said.

So far, nobody from the Democratic leadership has stepped in to attempt to push for a resolution.

“If there was going to be a deal brokered, most likely it would be coming from the House Democratic Caucus leadership,” Bauman said. “To the best of my knowledge, I’m not aware of that being the case in this race at this time.”

Ultra-Liberal Socialists for Barack Obama


Rabbi Retracts Claim Against Hahn


 

A Los Angeles rabbi has retracted his charge that Mayor James Hahn’s re-election campaign was “dishonest and manipulative” in claiming endorsements from Jewish community leaders.

Rabbi Steven Weil said he now believes that Hahn volunteers within the Jewish community were to blame, and that Hahn’s professional staff had nothing to do with it.

In recent weeks, eight prominent Jews had alleged that their signatures were forged on Hahn endorsement forms, including Weil, who angrily denounced the Hahn campaign at a March press conference. Weil now insists the campaign staff was not responsible.

“After having researched this and having seen the [endorsement] forms, in my mind it is beyond a shadow of a doubt that the mayor’s campaign did absolutely nothing wrong and is beyond reproach,” Weil told The Journal last week,.

Weil’s change of heart is the latest turn in one of the most bizarre stories associated with this year’s city elections. He had been among the most outspoken of the Jewish community leaders during the earlier press conference, which was set up with assistance from City Councilman Jack Weiss. Weiss has endorsed Hahn opponent City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa.

The questionable endorsements had appeared in Hahn-for-mayor advertisements; the ad ran twice in The Journal prior to the March 8 primary where Villaraigosa placed first and Hahn finished second, just ahead of challenger Bob Hertzberg. Villaraigosa and Hahn will meet in the May 17 runoff. Hertzberg, who is Jewish, was the candidate favored by most of the Jewish endorsers who said their names were misused. The matter did not surface publicly until a March 18 article in The Journal.

Weil isn’t backing away from saying that he and others never signed endorsement forms. And there seems little doubt that the Hahn campaign incorrectly claimed the endorsements of leading Jews who actually preferred Hertzberg. The number of bad endorsements might surpass 30, though that number has not been independently verified. Eventually, however, Weil was persuaded that the Hahn campaign had no ill intent, nor any advance knowledge of the problems.

“There were a number of zealous, well-meaning Jewish volunteers, having nothing to do with the campaign, who overstepped their bounds,” Weil said.

He declined to name anyone or provide further details, but The Journal independently confirmed that Weil has been in close contact with both Hahn and Hahn’s campaign.

Not everyone has been turned around, though the Hahn camp and even Hahn himself are trying. Campaign staff won’t comment on the mayor’s efforts, but one apologetic telephone call last week went out to Dr. Irving Lebovics, who chairs Agudath Israel of California, an Orthodox group. Lebovics, too, has insisted that someone forged his signature on an endorsement form.

What still bothers Lebovics is that the Hahn campaign persistently chose to put all responsibility for the forms on longtime Hahn backer Joe Klein, a Jewish community leader who died in June 2004.

So what did happen?

A number of the bad endorsements were those of individuals who had backed Hahn in 2001. And some also may have supported Hahn’s reelection bid before Hertzberg entered the race.

One scenario, suggested by sources who requested anonymity, is that volunteers working with Klein got sloppy in their work. These volunteers may have simply transferred names — and even signatures — from 2001 endorsement forms to forms for the 2005 campaign. They also may have relied on Klein’s verbal assurances about whom he expected to support the mayor.

“Who exactly wrote the card is irrelevant as far as I’m concerned,” said Lebovics last week. “I got a call from the mayor yesterday, and I told him the fact that they used Mr. Klein’s name was problematic to me.”

Lebovics emphasized that he believes the mayor himself is not at fault, but that his campaign should have simply apologized and admitted an error when it realized the endorsements were tenuous. Instead, they laid responsibility on Klein, a revered Orthodox Jew who also served Hahn as head of the city’s Planning Commission.

To help mend fences, the Hahn campaign had the help of Alan Goldstein, a local businessman who owns the Shalom Retirement Home. Goldstein described himself as a close friend of Klein’s for decades. Goldstein declined to discuss his activities on Hahn’s behalf in detail, and the Hahn campaign insisted that Goldstein was strictly a volunteer acting on his own.

But Hahn did not leave the matter to surrogates. Lebovics noted that the mayor himself apologized both by phone and letter for allowing Klein’s name to become embroiled in this controversy: “Now they did what they should have done in the beginning and hopefully it’s behind us all.”

He considers the matter closed.

But some damage, perhaps lasting, was done to Hahn’s reelection effort. The fracas created an entrée into the tight-knit Orthodox community for challenger Villaraigosa, who won some endorsements from a group that had no particular prior grievance with the incumbent mayor. Lebovics is listed among those scheduled to attend an April 17 Villaraigosa fundraiser at a kosher restaurant. Lebovics said he’s endorsing Villaraigosa.

Weil has not said who he’s endorsing, but, on Saturday, Hahn attended services at Beth Jacob, the Orthodox shul in Beverly Hills where Weil is senior rabbi. Hahn also stopped by services at Young Israel of Century City, another Orthodox congregation.

“I think somebody in [Hahn’s] campaign had poor judgment,” Lebovics said. “Where and how they got the signatures is not the point. The point is that it was attributed to someone who is no longer with us, who was a major supporter of the mayor’s, and that was unfortunate. To allow that to go out publicly was a mistake.”

 

False Endorsement Allegations Continue


 

The campaign to re-elect Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn is struggling to contain damage from newly emerging allegations that it falsely claimed endorsements from local Jewish leaders.

Four more community members have inspected Hahn endorsement letters and declared their signatures on them to be forgeries, bringing the total of alleged forgeries to eight since the issue first came to light last month.

The total of bad endorsements may well surpass 30, said community sources, but this claim has not been independently verified.

The Hahn campaign has denied any wrongdoing and continues to insist that the forms were provided by the late Joe Klein, a longtime Hahn backer who served as head of the city’s Planning Commission. Another community member, Alan Goldstein, has stepped in to repair the harm, urging angered Jewish leaders to reconsider supporting the incumbent mayor.

The furor arose out of Hahn campaign ads that listed more than 100 Jewish endorsements. The ad ran twice in The Jewish Journal prior to the March primary. In the primary, City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa placed first and Hahn finished second, just ahead of challenger Bob Hertzberg. Villaraigosa and Hahn will meet in the May 17 runoff. Hertzberg, who is Jewish, was the candidate favored by most of the Jewish endorsers who said their names were misused. The matter did not surface publicly until a March 18 article in The Jewish Journal.

The latest development is that four additional Jewish community leaders, when shown their Hahn endorsement letters, insisted that their signatures were obvious fakes.

The four are Joseph Kornwasser, chair of National Bank of California; Irving Bauman, president and COO of Sunmar Health Care; Rabbi Baruch Kupfer, executive director of Maimonides Academy; and Rabbi Nachum Sauer, rosh kollel of the Yeshiva of Los Angeles.

“Someone has scribbled my name here,” Bauman said. “I’ve never seen the form to begin with.”

“This document is not authentic. It is not my signature,” Sauer wrote in an e-mail to The Journal after seeing his name.

Kupfer also wrote in an e-mail he had never seen the form before and never signed it, but believes Klein may have mentioned it to him at some point.

A sore point in this saga has been the Hahn campaign’s insistence on blaming any problems on Klein, a beloved leader in the Orthodox community who has been universally praised for his integrity (even by the Hahn campaign), and who died in June 2004.

Several individuals incorrectly named as Hahn endorsers say Hahn supporter Goldstein, a local businessman who owns the Shalom Retirement Home and was a close friend of Klein’s for decades, contacted them.

One person who says he got a call is Rabbi Steven Weil. Weil said he was contacted shortly after he complained about his name being used in Hahn ads without permission. At the time, Weil knew only about the published endorsement; he didn’t realize that his signature appeared on a Hahn endorsement form until The Journal showed it to him — and Goldstein didn’t tell him, Weil said.

Goldstein apologized about the published endorsement, telling Weil, “We had the names from years ago and we just assumed,” according to Weil.

In an interview this week, Goldstein confirmed that he spoke with “one or two people” after the endorsement controversy began.

“I was curious to see if they changed their minds,” he told The Journal.

Goldstein denied that he was acting on behalf of the Hahn campaign.

“Nobody asked me to do anything,” he said.

Goldstein added that he remembers Klein collecting endorsement forms in 2003 and early 2004. In fact, he signed such a form himself. He insisted that nobody in the Hahn campaign could possibly have forged them.

“The mayor’s campaign did not know these people or have access to them,” he said.

Hahn campaign consultant Kam Kuwata would not discuss Goldstein’s specific role with the campaign, adding his view that there was no reason to write anything more about the issue. Kuwata had provided The Journal with copies of the questionable endorsement forms, but last week called The Journal a “tool of the [Villaraigosa] campaign.”

Hahn’s campaign suffered a widely anticipated setback this week when former mayoral candidate Bernard Parks, who lost in the primary, endorsed Villaraigosa. Support from the African American Parks, an ex-police chief, could sway some black voters.

Meanwhile, both campaigns continue an aggressive play for the Jewish vote that went with Hertzberg in the primary. Hahn and Villaraigosa each appeared at last week’s fundraiser for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills. Neither candidate spoke at the event for the pro-Israel lobby group. The candidates competed only in the applause meter, and in that category the edge went to Villaraigosa. The same thing happened at a San Fernando Valley event honoring Rabbi Harold Schulweis.

But Hahn had the spotlight to himself during an event at the Museum of Tolerance. There he joined Jewish leaders in accusing London’s mayor of anti-Semitism for remarks he made in February likening a Jewish newspaper reporter to a German concentration camp guard (see briefs page 28).

At a press conference, Hahn released a letter to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, in which he wrote, “Unless and until Mayor Ken Livingstone of London apologizes for his comments … he will not be accorded or offered any official welcome to the city of Los Angeles, and I am urging my fellow mayors to do the same.”

 

Rabbi Retracts Claim Against Hahn


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A Los Angeles rabbi has retracted his charge that Mayor James Hahn’s reelection campaign was “dishonost and manipulative” in claiming endorsements from Jewish community leaders. Rabbi Steven Weil says he now believes that Hahn volunteers within the Jewish community were to blame, and that Hahn’s professional staff had nothing to do with it.

In recent weeks, eight prominent Jews have come forward alleging that their signatures were forged on Hahn endorsement forms, including Weil, who angrily denounced the Hahn campaign at a March press conference. But Weil now insists that the campaign staff was not responsible.

“After having researched this and having seen the [endorsement] forms, in my mind it is beyond a shadow of a doubt that the mayor’s campaign did absolutely nothing wrong and is beyond reproach,” Weil said on Wednesday.

Weil’s change of heart is the latest dramatic turn in one of the most bizarre stories associated with this year’s city elections. Weil was among the most outspoken of the Jewish community leaders who inspected endorsement forms kept on file by the Hahn campaign and who then asserted that their signatures had been forged. Weil stood center stage during the March press conference. The bad endorsements had appeared in Hahn-for-mayor advertisements; the ad ran twice in The Jewish Journal prior to the March 8 primary.

In the primary, City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa placed first and Hahn finished second, just ahead of challenger Bob Hertzberg. Villaraigosa and Hahn will meet in the May 17 runoff. Hertzberg, who is Jewish, was the candidate favored by most of the Jewish endorsers who said their names were misused. The matter did not surface publicly until a March 18 article in The Journal.

The Journal, in this week’s print edition, updated the story by noting that the number of alleged forgeries had increased from

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