Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is running for governor of California. Photo by Lynn Pelkey

Confident Villaraigosa eyes governor’s office: ‘I was everybody’s mayor’

Though he’s not Jewish, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa might be the most Jewish candidate in the 2018 election for California governor.

In a recent visit to the Journal’s office, he sold his long connection with L.A.’s Jewish community — as well as its other ethnic communities — as a winning attribute for the state’s next chief executive.

“I was the Jewish mayor, I was the Muslim mayor, I was the Korean mayor,” Villaraigosa said. “I was everybody’s mayor. I was in every community. I think that counts for something.”

Villaraigosa is one of several Democrats running to succeed Gov. Jerry Brown in next year’s gubernatorial election. The others are Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, California Treasurer John Chiang and Delaine Eastin, the former state schools superintendent. Among Republicans running are Travis Allen, a state assemblyman from Huntington Beach, and David Hadley, a former assemblyman from the South Bay. The Journal has extended invitations for interviews to leading candidates for governor.

Villaraigosa’s back-to-basics campaign is aimed at asking voters to let him do for California what he did as Los Angeles mayor from 2005 to 2013.

Asked about education, he cited a turnaround in the high school dropout rate in L.A. during his term as mayor. Asked about California’s role as a climate leader, he cited a decline in the city’s emissions during his tenure. On transportation, he cited the rail lines and busways his administration either built or initiated.

Villaraigosa sought to paint himself as a veteran legislator and administrator who would get the state’s trains running on time — literally, with long-awaited high-speed rail.

But moreover, he sold himself as the only major candidate in the race who would lead with experience and solid ethics. Asked about how he differed from Newsom and Chiang, he quickly shot back, “The courage of my convictions. Demonstrated leadership.”

Although Newsom is seen as the frontrunner, a June poll from UC Berkeley put Newsom and Villaraigosa near a tie, at 22 and 17 percent of the vote, respectively, with almost 40 percent undecided.

Making his gubernatorial pitch, Villaraigosa turned first to education and job training.

A former speaker of the California State Assembly, he lobbied to bring Los Angeles public schools under mayoral control. While that effort failed, he led a group that took over 16 of the L.A. Unified School District’s lowest-performing schools, and their graduation rate improved more than 40 percent between 2008 and 2015. Among the schools he helped rehabilitate was his alma mater, Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights, which had a significant Jewish population when he attended.

“I ran on that,” he said of school improvements. “I’m going to run on that this time around.”

Villaraigosa’s vision for education in California includes more per-pupil spending, technical education at the high school level and greater connectivity between high schools and community colleges.

“Everybody’s got to graduate from high school with either a skill or college-ready,” he said.

On infrastructure, the former mayor touted his help in winning voter approval for Measure R, a county sales tax that raised billions of dollars for transportation projects such as the Purple Line train down Wilshire Boulevard. But L.A. projects like the that subway line also are funded partly by federal dollars.

“It wasn’t just Measure R money,” Villaraigosa said. “We went to the federal government. I went to [former President Barack] Obama. At first, they laughed me out.”

He said the president told him, “ ‘You’re asking for an earmark for L.A.’ I said, ‘No, I’m not. I’m asking you to reward cities and counties that are putting [up] our own money.’ ”

Villaraigosa promised California would use the same tactics under his leadership.

He said he supports a high-speed rail project in the works between Los Angeles and San Francisco, saying it would help connect the economically challenged Central Valley with the wealthy metropolitan centers.

“At what point are we going to get into the 21st century?” he said.

While he said he would lobby the federal government in funding California’s public works and work to protect health care funds, he promised to take on President Donald Trump’s administration when it comes to immigration and the environment.

“We’re actually going to take a page out of Texas’ book,” he said, promising to fight the president in court as Texas did repeatedly under Obama.

Villaraigosa is a liberal Democrat, but he set himself apart from the more liberal elements of his party at several points in the two-hour interview.

He pushed back against the idea of a single-payer health care system for California in the near term, an idea California’s legislature considered this year.

“I philosophically support single-payer, and I have since 1994,” he said. But he estimated it would cost more than California’s annual budget to achieve — an impossible benchmark for now.

“I think one day we’re going to get there,” he said. “We should build toward that, but today’s not that day.”

He suggested environmental reviews could be expedited or loosened for projects with significant public benefit, such as affordable housing, and said, “fixing the broken regulatory environment so you can do it quicker and cheaper” could help speed up infrastructure works.

He promised to confront anti-Semitism from both political extremes, saying that discriminatory incidents against Jews on liberal California college campuses was “the left meeting the right.”

Moreover, Villaraigosa said he would make the governor’s office a platform to speak out against bigotry in all its forms.

“Eight years as mayor, I never shrunk from using my bully pulpit against anti-Semitism,” he said.

The former mayor didn’t miss the opportunity to tout his long relationship with the city’s Jewish community.

Villaraigosa, 64, grew up in Boyle Heights in East L.A. at a time when the neighborhood’s status as a bastion of Jewish life was fading but still apparent. Last year, he was the keynote speaker at Fiesta Shalom, an annual gathering of Latino and Jewish community leaders hosted by Israel’s consulate in Los Angeles.

He described multiple trips to Israel and said he’s visited the home of every consul general the Jewish state has sent to Los Angeles since 1994.

He sees his connection to L.A.’s ethnic and racial communities as an asset.

“We need a governor that’s comfortable in every community. That’s why I criticize the Davos Democrats,” he said, referring to the Swiss city that hosts an annual gathering of the global elites.

“It’s real nice driving your Tesla,” he said. “But people drive Toyota pickups too. My mother rode a bus. The Democratic Party in this state has got to be for those people, too.” 

Steve Grossman, ex-AIPAC chair, running for Mass. governor

Former AIPAC chairman Steve Grossman, now the treasurer in Massachusetts, said he will run for governor in the state.

On Wednesday, Grossman told a local television station that he plans to announce his candidacy for the November 2014 election at the state’s Democratic Party convention on Saturday. Gov. Deval Patrick is not seeking re-election.

Grossman, a 67-year-old businessman, is a longtime influential Jewish community leader and Democratic activist. He served as chairman of the American Israel Political Action Committee from 1992 to 1997. He has headed the national and state Democratic parties.

The former campaign chair for Boston’s Jewish federation is a philanthropist who has served on the boards of many Jewish institutions.

“Being governor of the Commonwealth is about leadership, and providing leadership that leaves no one behind,” Grossman said.

Grossman, who ran unsuccessfully in the 2002 Massachusetts gubernatorial primary, is among a growing list of Democratic contenders for the post, including Donald Berwick, former chief of Medicare and Medicaid in the Obama administration, and Daniel Wolf, a businessman and state senator.

No Republican candidates have announced their intentions to run, though many speculate the list may include Scott Brown, a former U.S. senator.

Obama to governors: Tell Congress to stop spending cuts

President Barack Obama urged state governors on Feb. 25 to pressure Congress to prevent $85 billion in across-the-board government spending cuts from going into effect on March 1, saying he is willing to reach a compromise with Republicans.

But the president gave no indication that he would try to start negotiations or take steps to blunt the effect of the cuts. He bemoaned what he described as a confrontational atmosphere in Washington, where budget battles have provoked one near crisis after another since the summer of 2011.

“Some people in Congress reflexively oppose any idea I put forward,” he said before a meeting with governors at the White House.

Officials in his administration continued a week-long effort to portray what they describe as the dire consequences of the cuts to popular programs.

The latest warning came from Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, who said the cuts — known as a “sequestration” — threatened to slow research on cancer and Alzheimer's disease, and development of a new flu vaccine, among other things.

Meanwhile, Republican leaders in the House of Representatives have scheduled a brief news conference for 4 p.m. EST on Monday to discuss the cuts, but they are not expected to announce any new initiatives, according to a senior House Republican aide.

“Congress is poised to allow a series of arbitrary automatic budget cuts to kick in that will slow our economy, eliminate jobs and leave a lot of folks who are already pretty thinly stretched scrambling to figure what do,” the president told the governors on Monday.

With the deadline drawing closer, Obama asked the governors, who are in Washington for their annual meeting, to persuade Congress to come to terms with the administration and break a stalemate over taxes and spending.

“While you are in town, I hope you will speak with your congressional delegation and remind them in no uncertain terms exactly what is at stake,” the president said. “These cuts do not have to happen. Congress can turn them off any time with just a little bit of compromise.”

The White House has sought to highlight in recent weeks in stark terms the disruptions that would result if the $85 billion in spending cuts go into effect as scheduled March 1.

Obama has asked Congress to buy more time for a broad budget deal with a short-term measure that boosts revenues by ending some tax breaks that benefit the wealthiest Americans.

But congressional Republicans have rejected his call for more tax revenues, saying their agreement in early January to let taxes rise for those earning above $450,000 a year was the only concession they are willing to make in the form of higher taxes.

Republicans have long sought deep government spending cuts, and while the sequestration was originally designed to be so harsh that it would force both sides to compromise, many lawmakers appear ready to let them go into effect.

Senate Democrats have put forward a plan that focuses on those tax loopholes, and this week Republicans are expected to propose alternatives.

Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer to step down

Stanley Fischer is stepping down from his position as governor of the Bank of Israel.

Fischer, 69,  will be leaving office on June 30 after serving eight years that included shepherding the Israeli economy through the global financial crisis of 2007-08. His term was scheduled to end in 2015.

He reportedly informed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of his decision on Tuesday, according to the bank. He is scheduled to hold a news conference on Wednesday morning to discuss his decision to leave.

Fischer said in a statement issued Tuesday by the bank that he was grateful for the opportunity to serve as the governor of the Bank of Israel, “especially during a challenging period that included the global economic crisis, a complex geo-political reality, and domestic social issues.”

In 2010, Fischer was named the world's best bank governor. Following the global economic woes of 2007-08, in September 2009, the Bank of Israel became the first bank in the developed world to raise its interest rates.

Fischer became an Israeli citizen when he assumed his position. He is known for his American-accented but nearly flawless Hebrew.

He previously served as chief economist at the World Bank.

Fischer earned a doctorate in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he also worked as a professor.

Netanyahu said Fischer played a major role in the economic growth of the State of Israel and in the achievements of the Israeli economy.

“His experience, his wisdom and his international connections opened a door to the economies of the world and assisted the Israeli economy in reaching many achievements during a period of global economic crisis,” Netanyahu said after meeting with Fischer.

Opinion: Can Democrats govern California?

Facing the likelihood of conflicting tax initiatives on the November ballot, Gov. Jerry Brown last week reached agreement with the California Federation of Teachers (CFT) on a compromise, unified measure. While the CFT’s “millionaire’s tax” had polled well, the union agreed with Brown to propose instead a tax increase on high earners, a slightly smaller sales tax increase than in the governor’s proposal, and to set a time limit for the new rules of seven years instead of the CFT’s open-ended plan. Now that the threat of competing tax measures on the ballot may have been averted (although Molly Munger’s broad-based tax proposal still remains on the ballot, despite polling poorly), the question remains whether the tight timeline on getting enough signatures to place the initiative on the ballot can be met.

Further, this moment of unity is only the beginning of a perilous road for the state’s Democrats from here to November. Political observers often ask, “Is California governable?” A better question right now is, “Can Democrats govern California?” Because despite numerous governance obstacles, that is largely who is in charge.

California has gone from being a divided (“purple”) state to a solidly blue one. In 2008, Barack Obama won California by a margin of more than 3 million votes. Even in the heavily Republican wave of 2010, Jerry Brown won the governorship by 1.3 million votes.

Between Obama’s election in 2008 and early 2012, Democratic registration rose from 42.7 percent to 43.6 percent; Republican rolls dropped from 33.5 percent to 30.4 percent. And the changes are geographically widespread. Among California’s 58 counties, those with Democratic pluralities increased from 23 to 28, while Republican-leading counties declined, from 35 to 30.

And for the Republicans, the bottom may not yet have been reached — a recent Los Angeles Times article suggested that Democrats have new potential in the historically Republican Inland Empire. No one is even mentioning Republican candidates for governor for 2014, while there are already three major Democratic contenders angling for position. Democrats may win a two-thirds majority in the state Senate in November.

As Democrats celebrate their entrenched position, capping a run that began with Bill Clinton’s election in 1992 and continued with the vast rise of Latino voting in the decades of the 1990s along with a resurgent and enthusiastic labor movement, we cannot avoid the deeper and more profound question posed above: Can Democrats govern the state?

The problem comes down to revenue: Voters passed a simple majority budget rule in 2010, facilitating the first on-time budget in years. But the two-thirds majority of the legislature needed to pass tax measures that became enshrined in the state constitution with the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978 remains. And until that two-thirds majority rule on new taxes is overturned by voters, governing will be a tough slog for Democrats.

As weak as the Republicans are in California today, due in part to their party’s hard-line stance on immigration, they will revive if Democrats drop the ball.

Republicans are not without “weapons of the weak,” a term developed by professor James C. Scott in another context. Unity in the Republican legislative caucus against tax increases, bolstered by the two-thirds requirement, has already forced Democrats onto the risky and uncertain path of ballot-box budgeting. Republicans’ recent embrace of Brown’s pension-reform plan showed a long-absent nimbleness placing Democratic legislators on the defensive.

Like President Obama, Gov. Jerry Brown spent (or wasted) time trying to convert Republicans to support tax increases. Brown learned more quickly than Obama that Republicans could not help him, not because they didn’t like or respect him personally (and even if he adopted some Republican ideas), but because of the internal dynamics of their own party. While social issues divide Republican voters, opposition to taxes unifies them. That, and not personality or intimidation, is why Grover Norquist has so much clout.

Business, however, is one piece of the Republican coalition that can sometimes act independently. While low taxation is the mantra for Republican voters, fighting regulation is the key for business. The Republicans’ ties with business can be tenuous and in need of care, as the Democrats no longer count on the uncritical support of labor (the CFT battle with Brown being one recent example). The state’s Chamber of Commerce quietly signaled non-opposition to Brown’s original plan, so now that Brown reached a deal with the CFT, he will be trying to keep business from opposing the compromise measure.

Brown has work to do to get this compromise measure on the November ballot. But the real battle will be in November, with Brown’s and the Democrats’ credibility to govern this blue state on the line.

That will be painfully hard, as the Democratic Party, both in California and nationally, is still fighting an uphill battle against Ronald Reagan’s famous line: “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

Can Democrats revive the notion that public investment in California is of true value, as last articulated by Jerry Brown’s father, Pat? A lot has happened since the elder Brown’s day to undermine faith in that vision, and it will not be easy for Democrats to restore a philosophy promoted in an earlier, more optimistic time. But they will have to try.

If Democrats fail on the budget, their work will be without purpose except to implement draconian cuts that will further undermine the performance of government. Recent polls by the Field Organization and the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) indicate overwhelming public opposition to across-the-board cuts to the schools. Who will be blamed if the inevitable cuts happen? Nobody’s going to be looking for Grover Norquist.

The most recent PPIC poll found that the governor’s proposal, which closely resembles the compromise measure, is supported by only 52 percent of voters, with 40 percent opposed and 8 percent undecided. It is winnable, but not easy. The presidential election, with Obama’s name on the top of the ballot, will help generate a Democratic turnout, and that base is generally supportive of the tax measures. But it will take more to get the majority of voters needed to get the initiative passed. No matter how blue the state, taxes are never popular.

Much will depend on the perceived value of the programs California has built and that are jeopardized by budget catastrophe, such as the historic university system. As Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton recently wrote, voters will also want to know that the government plans to become more efficient. They want to know where the new money would go — assurances that it will not be down a rat hole. To promise that will require reform. It may mean embracing efficiency recommendations, including some steps that will annoy Democratic interest groups.

When the public sector works well, as it often does, its advocates have to energetically and without apology shout those successes from the rooftops. When it falls short, its supporters need to be the first on the scene to fix the problem. The positive impact of the work of government (your tax dollars at work), as well as a willingness to ride herd on that government, both have to be proven all over again, every single day. The ascendant Democrats must put those two strategies in place in order to go beyond winning elections to turning the state around.

Raphael J. Sonenshein is executive director of the Edmund G. “Pat” Brown Institute of Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles.

Russ Feingold will not run for Senate or Wisconsin governor

Former senator Russ Feingold has taken himself out of contention for both a Wisconsin Senate seat and a run for governor.

In an email to supporters Friday morning, Feingold explained that he wanted to devote himself to teaching at Marquette Law School, where has been working since leaving the Senate; finishing a book he is authoring, and leading his political committee.

“While I may seek elective office again someday, I have decided not to run for public office during 2012,” Feingold said in the email.

The move is a blow to Democrats. Polls had shown Feingold, who lost his Senate seat in 2010, to be a favorite against potential Republican candidates in the 2012 race to fill the seat now occupied by retiring Senator Herb Kohl, a fellow Jewish Democrat.

With Kohl’s retirement, and Feingold declining to run, Wisconsin may lack a Jewish senator for the first time since 1989.

Jews joining union showdown in Wisconsin over gov’s proposal

A growing number of Jews in Wisconsin are joining the protests in Madison against a budget-cutting proposal by the governor to eliminate most collective-bargaining rights for public-sector employees.

“Judaism has long stood for the rights of the worker, beginning with the biblical injunction of Deuteronomy: ‘Do not take advantage of the hired worker who is poor and needy,’ ” said Rabbi Bonnie Margulis.

Margulis joined two other Madison rabbis on Tuesday at a news conference at the state capitol building organized by the Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice to protest Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal.

This is the second week of protests against the bill, which prompted the 14 Democrats in the state Senate to flee the state on Feb. 16, two days after the bill was introduced. Under Wisconsin legislative procedure, their continued absence effectively blocks any vote on the matter in the Republican-controlled state Senate.

Rabbi Bruce Elder of Glencoe, Ill., was one of two clergy members to offer the Wisconsin Democrats sanctuary, via an initiative of Interfaith Worker Justice. He said he has not heard back from the legislators.

“We don’t know where they are, but we assume they are OK,” he wrote in an email. “Our offers of sanctuary remain open and standing.”

In a “fireside chat” Tuesday night, Walker, a Republican, defended his proposal, saying it has nothing to do with curtailing workers’ rights. “The legislation I’ve put forward is about one thing,” he said. “It’s about balancing our budget now and in the future.”

Some Wisconsin rabbis and Jewish rights groups disagree, saying the proposal is an attempt to break the unions, who have agreed to take an 8 percent pay cut but refuse to give up their bargaining power. Similar battles between unions and state government have spread to Ohio and Indiana.

Rabbi Jonathan Biatch of Madison’s Temple Beth El, who is Margulis’ husband, told JTA this is “absolutely” a Jewish issue.

“For years in America, the Jewish community has supported workers’ right to organize, to bargain collectively, and for other purposes,” he said. “These rights are now in danger in Wisconsin because of Gov. Walker’s proposal to eliminate collective-bargaining agreements with public sector employees.”

Arguments have focused on the effect Walker’s proposal will have on teachers, but it also would impact sanitation workers, bus drivers and other municipal and state workers, Biatch and Margulis said. Police, firefighters and other public safety employees are exempt.

Rabbi Renee Bauer, director of the Interfaith Coalition, says Madison’s Reconstructionist and Jewish Renewal congregation, Shaarei Shamayim, is drafting a letter opposing the governor’s bill and hopes to get the city’s three other congregations to sign on.

The Jewish federations of Madison and Milwaukee have decided not to take a position on the issue.

“It’s really due to the diversity of our donor base,” said Jill Hagler, executive director of the Madison federation. “This is a very important issue, and we have a number of diverse opinions.”

The Jewish Community Relations Council of Milwaukee also is refraining from taking a position, and for the same reasons, according to director Elana Kahn-Oren.

She noted that the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the umbrella body representing 14 national and 125 local federations and JCRCs, put out a resolution several years ago supporting the right to collective bargaining and that the American Jewish community “has deep roots in labor.”

But, Kahn-Oren pointed out, not all Wisconsin Jews oppose the governor’s bill. “There are Jews who support Walker and those who have joined the protests,” she said.

Hagler said she had not heard of any rabbis or Jewish organizations that have come out in support of the governor’s bill, called Senate Bill 11.

The president of the local chapter of the Zionist Organization of America, Warren Jacobson, said he voted for Walker but opposes the bill.

“I’m basically conservative and I vote Republican across the board, but the fact that he wants to get rid of collective bargaining was a big surprise to me,” Jacobson said.

Jacobson retired two years ago after 18 years as a public school teacher, and he says teachers need the protection of collective bargaining.

“I’ve tasted anti-Semitism and discrimination, and I want someone supporting me,” he told JTA. “I paid $800 a year to the union. They let me down on a number of occasions, but we still need them.”

Rabbi breaks with Carl Paladino over apology


The alliance between the Republican Carl P. Paladino and an Orthodox rabbi from Brooklyn has fallen apart, with the rabbi denouncing Mr. Paladino on Wednesday for his apology over remarks he had made about homosexuality on Sunday.

The rabbi, Yehuda Levin, who helped write those remarks, said Mr. Paladino “folded like a cheap camera” because of the uproar they had set off. And the rabbi said he could no longer support Mr. Paladino’s candidacy for governor of New York.

Gov. signs, vetoes Holocaust-related bills

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, faced with two bills rooted in the Nazi era, has signed one and vetoed the other.

With hundreds of legislative bills on his desk and a looming deadline, Schwarzenegger on Thursday night signed into law a bill benefiting descendants of Jewish art collectors, whose paintings were taken by the Hitler regime.

The law, which applies to art, cultural, historical and scientific artifacts looted during the last 100 years, extends the statue of limitations for initiating recovery lawsuits from three years to six.

In addition, the countdown doesn’t begin until the former owner or his heirs first discover in what museum, gallery or private collection the disputed art is located.

Likely to be affected immediately by the new law is the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, which is being sued by the daughter-in-law of a Dutch-Jewish art collector for the return of the diptych “Adam and Eve.”

Painted by the German artist Cranach the Elder in 1530, the work is valued at $24 million.

At the same time, the outgoing California governor vetoed a bill that would have required companies bidding for a piece of the state’s lucrative high-speed rail contract to disclose their roles in transporting Jews to Nazi concentration camps.

The legislation, which overwhelmingly passed the state’s assembly and senate, did not name a specific company. However, the bill’s chief sponsor, Woodland Hills Democratic Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield, made it clear that the main target was the French national railway SNCF, or Societe Nationale du Chemins de Fer Francais.

In vetoing the Holocaust Survivors Responsibility Act, Schwarzenegger said he sympathized with victims of the Nazi deportations, but that the legislation “needlessly places the state in a position of acknowledging the activities of companies during that time.”

SNCF is now expected to bid for a major role in the $45 billion project, which is expected to zip passengers by 2020 from Los Angeles to San Francisco and Sacramento at speeds of 220 miles per hour.

Blumenfield had charged earlier that SNCF had profited from its wartime collaboration, had never admitted its actions, disclosed its record, or be held accountable to victims.

In their defense, SNCF officials asserted that the French railway system was under German control during most of the war and that the Nazis executed about 800 railroad workers and deported another 1,200 for disobeying orders.

Following Schwarzenegger’s veto, the railroad company released a statement that “The atrocities committed by Nazi Germany during WWII were so horrific that we can never forget, nor should we. That’s why SCNF will continue its commitment to complete transparency of its WWII history, and will voluntarily comply , and even exceed, the requirements [the bill] would have mandated.”

Blumenfield pledged that he would hold SCNF officials to their promise.

Texas governor meets Jewish leaders

Orthodox Jewish community leaders in Texas met with senior state officials including Gov. Rick Perry, who expressed support for a school voucher program.

The April 29 meeting, under the auspices of the Orthodox Union’s Institute for Public Affairs, included business leaders from the Austin, Dallas, Houston and
San Antonio areas, rabbinic leaders and OU staff to discuss hot-button issues with the governor, including implementing a corporate tax credit program that would generate scholarship funds and creating opportunity for the nonprofit sector to receive energy retrofit incentives.

Perry expressed his support for these issues as well as for a potential school voucher program, the Institute for Public Affairs said in a news release.

Meeting participants thanked Perry for his strong commitment to Israel and for leading the charge on divesting state funds from Iran.

The OU also met with state House Speaker Joe Straus and the chiefs of staff of both Attorney General Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.

“We must remain an unwavering supporter of a strong Jewish state in the Middle East, and I also look forward to continue building on the good relationship we have by working together to address issues important to the Jewish community here in Texas,” Perry said.

Fischer to remain Bank of Israel governor

Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer will serve a second five-year term.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a news conference Wednesday at the Knesset announced that he would ask the Finance Ministry to approve the appointment.

Fischer agreed to the appointment after the Knesset voted in favor of a new Bank of Israel Law that he made contingent on agreeing to a second term.

The law, which passed its second and third readings on Tuesday, sets a series of checks and balances on the bank and the governor. The law currently governing the bank was passed in 1954.

Fischer, 66, became a citizen of Israel in 2005 in order to assume the post. He has kept Israel’s economy stable during the recent global recession.

Superintendant Romer Wants to End Term Early

Los Angeles schools Supt. Roy Romer, the central figure in efforts to improve local schools, has quietly informed top school officials that he would like to leave the job by September, some nine months before his contract expires.

Romer made his request to L.A. Unified school board members at a recent closed-door meeting, where they were discussing the process of choosing his successor. The conversation was confirmed for The Journal Friday by district spokesperson Stephanie Brady, a senior member of Romer’s staff. In the meeting, Romer assured board members that, if needed, he would serve out his contract, which runs through June of next year.

Romer, the former three-term governor of Colorado, has overseen a significant rise in student test scores and academic standards since accepting the job in June 2000. His efforts to build new schools helped jump-start one of the nation’s largest public works projects. At the same time, these reform efforts have been frustrated by an ongoing high dropout rate and lagging academic improvements in middle schools and high schools.

Romer, who is on what staff termed a mini-vacation, was unavailable for comment, but the details of the school board meeting were confirmed by spokesperson Brady. She did not speculate about Romer’s reasons for preferring an early exit. At the meeting during which Romer expressed his wishes, he and board members discussed the hiring of an executive search firm to find a replacement for him and how that firm would do its work.

Board members were less than eager to offer their own confirmation. “He may choose to do that,” said board member Julie Korenstein. “He mentioned he would be willing to leave earlier. But he cannot leave until we find a replacement. We haven’t had a whole lot of discussion on this yet. This has to do with our success in finding a replacement and how long it takes to do our national search.”

Board member David Tokofsky, who could only respond briefly because he was reached during a meeting, said he disagreed with any assertion that Romer would be departing early.

Another board member, Jon Lauritzen commented, “We’ve had some serious conversations in closed session but I can’t confirm anything — although it sounds like your sources of information know what they’re talking about.”

Added board president Marlene Canter: “It’s not something I would even want to comment on. The school board is beginning to do a search for a replacement, as we would have done anyway. His contract goes to June 2007, and he will stay as long as we need him to stay up till June of 2007.”

She added that board members have decided that community input would be an important part of this search. The selection process that, six years ago, led to Romer had been criticized as not sufficiently involving community members.

Rumors about Romer’s future as superintendent already had been circulating widely. These were sparked earlier this week when a senior administrator, addressing a meeting for principals, said, “Romer might be not back for the next school year,” according to two principals in attendance.

The reference was so brief that another principal who was present didn’t recall the remark. The senior administrator was unavailable for comment Friday afternoon.

Some of the recent speculation has focused on whether Romer would be willing to work under the auspices of the mayor’s office. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has vowed to get control of the L.A. Unified School District, with authority similar to the mayors of New York City and Chicago. But even under the fastest scenario, it was never clear that Romer, who is 77, would still be serving by the time Villaraigosa might be calling the shots.

Individual school board members have criticized Villaraigosa’s efforts, which could complicate the search for Romer’s replacement. A top candidate might be more reluctant to take the job if it isn’t clear to whom he or she will answer.

Romer became the L.A. schools chief with mixed expectations after being persuaded to apply by businessman-philanthropist Eli Broad. The school board’s first choice had been Henry Cisneros, former San Antonio mayor and Clinton administration official. L.A. Unified had run through four superintendents in the previous decade and predictions abounded that Romer would be a short-timer or ineffective.

The longtime politician was not an educator, but he’d championed education issues as Colorado’s governor. Romer’s substantial political skills, his selective stubbornness and a determination devoid of personal ambition began both to impress observers and also to make headway on some seemingly intractable issues, notably school overcrowding.

During his tenure, Romer avoided a teachers strike, while also remaining on good terms with a business-civic coalition led by Richard Riordan both during and after his terms as mayor — even though Riordan’s coalition pointedly opposed the influential teachers union.

“I wanted a politically astute leader,” said board member Korenstein. “He was definitely not an educator. On that part, he has been okay. His lasting legacy will be building 180 schools.”

Lauritzen was more unstinting in his praise. “His performance has been fantastic in terms of the building program — absolutely magnificent and his success in increasing performance in test scores has been remarkable as well. In those areas he’s exceeded expectations.

Lauritzen added that there would be plenty of work for Romer’s successor. “The biggest area is the dropout rate. We’ve simply got to get that under control. And we still have a lot of work to do in terms of academic achievement in secondary schools.”

Board president Canter echoed that sentiment: “Governor Romer has brought more change to the district in the last five or six years than has happened in a long time. But none of us is satisfied with where we are. We all feel an urgency for bold reform, and we’re looking for another bold reformer.”

O.C. Election Set for Rosh Hashanah

Jewish groups are expressing anger that government officials, including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, have scheduled a special election in Orange County to fall on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, one of the holiest days of the year for Jews.

The Oct. 4 election is to fill the congressional seat left vacant when Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach) accepted the chair of the federal Securities and Exchange Commission.

Area Jewish leaders estimate that more than half of Orange County’s 80,000 to 100,000 Jews live in Cox’s former 48th District, which includes Irvine, Newport Beach and Laguna Beach, among other cities. Cox has held the seat since 1988.

Holding the election during the Jewish New Year will disenfranchise scores of Jewish voters who would otherwise go to the polls, said Shalom Elcott, chief executive officer of the Jewish Federation of Orange County. Elcott, who co-authored an Aug. 16 letter to Schwarzenegger urging him to reschedule, said O.C. Jews had been marginalized.

“Somebody made a conscious decision that the Jewish vote doesn’t matter,” he said.

On Oct. 4, many Jews will be in synagogue with loved ones in “contemplative prayer and not in voting booths,” said Rabbi Marc Dworkin, director of the American Jewish Committee, Orange County chapter. He called the timing of the election for the 48th District “outrageous, more than insensitive.”

Officials characterize such criticisms as unfair, contending that they were simply hamstrung by limited scheduling options. Local officials also pledged to pursue remedies, such as distributing more absentee ballots.

In an interview Thursday, Orange County Registrar of Voters Steve Rodermund said he had been aware that the primary would fall on Rosh Hashanah, and that he discussed the matter with his staff as well as with staffers for the Orange County Board of Supervisors

Rodermund said he advocated the chosen date as the best alternative available, given the need to fill the empty seat and the constraints posed by the holiday season and the statewide special election on Nov. 8. The Oct. 4 election for Cox’s seat is a primary, where voters choose who will represent their political parties. The next and final step, the general election, is scheduled for Dec. 6.

Schwarzenegger ultimately is responsible for setting election dates, but his office said he merely deferred to the wishes of local officials. When asked whether Schwarzenegger could have chosen a different date or whether he now regretted scheduling the primary on Rosh Hashanah, a spokeswoman said she had no comment. Once set, the election date cannot be changed, she added.

To the extent that the governor’s office has not sufficiently responded to local Jewish groups to explain its position, the Schwarzenegger braintrust has made a political miscalculation, said Raphael J. Sonenshein, a political scientist at Cal State Fullerton.

“This can turn a relatively small snafu into a much bigger one,” said Sonenshein, who has recently written articles about how Schwarzenegger’s transformation into an “AM talk radio Republican” has eroded his support in the Jewish community. “One of the great things about saying, ‘We screwed up,’ is that people are quite understanding of screw-ups, especially if you’re trying to fix them,” Sonenshein said.

Larry Greenfield, California director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said it was “unfortunate” the primary fell on Rosh Hashanah. He plans to send e-mails to his organization’s estimated 500 Orange County members telling them that his group will work with the governor’s office and registrar of voters to ensure high Jewish participation.

That’s the stated goal of the Orange County Registrar Rodermund, too. Ideas under consideration include setting up some polling places where Jews could cast their ballots early, said Rodermund, who added that he looked forward working closely with area Jewish groups.

“We were really constrained by what the law allows,” Rodermund said. “Our objective now is to work with the Jewish community to ensure that we minimize this impact to the maximum extent possible so they can exercise their right to vote.”

Although disappointed about what happened, Joyce Greenspan, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, Orange County/Long Beach, said she would work to mitigate the damage. The ADL, she said, plans to assist in the distribution of thousands of absentee ballots in synagogues and at other Jewish agencies.


Schwarzenegger Is Losing Jewish Vote

In November 2003, California voters recalled Gov. Gray Davis and replaced him with Arnold Schwarzenegger. White voters backed the recall by a large margin, but Jewish voters swam against the tide, with 69 percent voting against the recall. On the second part of the ballot, where voters chose a replacement candidate, Schwarzenegger collected a surprising 31 percent of Jewish voters.

I suggested then in these pages that Schwarzenegger might eventually do well with Jews: “Jewish voters aren’t likely to abandon the Democratic Party anytime soon, but will likely give Arnold Schwarzenegger a chance to prove that he can govern in a bipartisan, moderate manner…. If Schwarzenegger truly seeks to solve the state’s problems without being a tool of right-wing forces, and with an open-minded, progressive approach, he may find a surprising number of friends among California’s Democratic-leaning Jewish voters.”

Chance given, chance blown.

Political historians will surely marvel at the precipitous political decline of California’s celebrity governor, especially because Schwarzenegger should have been a lock with Jewish voters. He came into office as a moderate Republican with lots of Democratic friends (he’s even married to a Democrat), with pro-choice views on abortion and as an advocate of “reform,” a concept dear to many Jewish voters. Schwarzenegger invited comparisons to Gov. George Pataki of New York, a Republican moderate who is finishing his third term in a very blue state. Over time, Schwarzenegger even seemed likely to attract support from elements of organized labor.

In the beginning, Schwarzenegger was a whirlwind, reaching out across party lines to Democratic leaders and listening to a broad range of advisers who included Democrats. He split his opposition by making budget deals with the teachers and with other key interest groups. He looked like a problem-solver, not an ideologue. For Democrats enraged and alienated by the narrow-cast politics of the Bush administration, he seemed to offer a different way.

Then, under no external pressure to do so, Schwarzenegger morphed into an AM talk radio Republican. As the governor’s deal with the teachers unraveled, he had to choose between outraging Republicans by raising taxes or reneging on the original deal. His choice revealed him to be less like Earl Warren, and more like Pete Wilson. No longer surrounded by Democrats (something that had annoyed the Bush White House), he now listened to Wilson’s advisers. He blasted teachers and nurses as obstacles to change. After a transparently showy attempt to consult with Democrats, he hewed to the Bush-Rove line that all problems could be solved if Democrats and unions were excluded from the table.

Then, to add a little spice for the AM radio crowd, the governor began to talk about “closing the borders” and praised the Minutemen group carrying guns to block illegal immigrants. (Jewish voters, remember, were the one group of voters other than Latinos to oppose Wilson’s Proposition 187 campaign in 1994.) And Schwarzenegger kept up the juvenile rhetoric and media stunts that had long since worn out their welcomes.

Finally, and catastrophically, the governor called a special election for November, watched his poorly designed initiatives drop one at a time, and now finds himself fighting a battle he never should have picked.

He dropped dozens of points in the polls, completely losing Democrats and most independents. Like Bush, he now has to depend on a highly ideological Republican base. Unlike Bush, these really aren’t his people, but they are all he’s got. They certainly don’t look like Jewish voters.

Since there are a lot of Jewish teachers, it’s hard to imagine how demonizing the teachers’ unions will help with Jewish voters. Taking money without disclosure from muscle magazines that depend on unexamined, and possibly hazardous, dietary supplements while raising colossal amounts of special-interest money hardly comport with a “reform” image.

How to reverse the decline?

Jews will definitely vote for the right moderate Republican candidate in statewide elections. But for a Republican to win over Jews requires accommodating their Democratic loyalty and leanings at least halfway. The Wilson Republican camp says Schwarzenegger just needs to push harder in the same direction; the opposition, in their view, will fold like a house of cards. Others suggest that the governor ought to return to what he once seemed, a bipartisan, imposing, socially moderate problem-solver free of special-interest control. While the second option is obviously more sensible, it may not be easy to backtrack.

Schwarzenegger is playing a much weaker hand than when he swept into office. At the time, conservatives suspected that he was a potentially troublesome moderate, and on whose popularity their own party’s prospects depended. Democrats were impressed by his popularity and charm, and could perceive a real threat to their conventional thinking and political dominance. Riding high, Schwarzenegger might have challenged the orthodoxies of both parties and in Clintonian fashion, could have “triangulated” them. Now that he has put himself in the partisan box, he has raised expectations on the right and a fighting spirit on the left.

To break out now, Schwarzenegger might have to rise more strongly to challenge the Bush Republicans. He has already done so on global warming and stem cell research. Schwarzenegger will have to reach out to Democrats and make them part of the solution to the state’s problems, an attitude which, if sincere rather than a setup, would send a positive signal to Jewish voters. And then he has to get to work on the state’s problems, every day, without distractions and gimmicks. In the parlance of today’s partisan politics, this blue state will probably be amenable to a purple governor, but not to a red one.

Jewish voters are serious and attentive students of politics and government. They are a tough audience. If Schwarzenegger can win their favor, he will be on the way toward rehabilitating a crippled governorship.

Raphael J. Sonenshein is a political scientist at Cal State Fullerton.


For the Kids

Hey Arnold !

There are a lot of new things in our lives. First, we started a New Year. Then, we got a new governor. And now, we start reading the Torah over again (this week’s portion: Bereshit). What do you think of the new governor? If you were governor of California, what would you do for this state?

Answer these questions for the win!

Essay Contest

If I Were Governor of California… Write an essay or poem that
begins with the above words. Make sure the essay has some Jewish content. Send
it in to,
including your name, age and address. Deadline: Nov. 23, 2003. Win a $10 gift

A Viable Alternative?

Of all the candidates running for political office in the United States, it is a safe bet there is only one who:

* was named by People magazine as “one of the 50 most beautiful people in the galaxy” and dubbed The Hunk on the Hill while serving as U.S. congressman;

* read Martin Buber’s “I and Thou” in the original German; and

* is a Jew with a Muslim woman as his running mate.

Meet Dan (Daniel Eugene) Hamburg, candidate for governor of the state of California on the Green Party ticket.

Whatever one’s political allegiance, in an era of carefully packaged, poll-driven politicians backed by multimillion-dollar campaign chests, it’s refreshing to meet a candidate who doesn’t have to trim his sails, though it’s a given that his boat won’t cross the finish line first.

Hamburg was born in 1948, the same year as the state of Israel, he notes, and grew up in a Jewish, but not particularly observant, home in St. Louis.

Judaism exerted little influence until he enrolled in the Religious Studies Department at Stanford University.

He first feasted on the writing of the Christian liberation theologists, until he discovered Martin Buber, first in the philosopher’s “Tales of the Hasidim,” and then in his most famous work, “I and Thou,” which Hamburg read in German while an exchange student in Austria.

At Stanford, he minored in anti-Vietnam war protests, and then embarked on a somewhat erratic career, steadied by a consistent outlook that stood “at the intersection of spirituality and social action.”

His role models, then as now, were such men as Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela, whose examples he sought to follow during two years teaching in China, and later in Johannesburg, as political consultant to Mandela’s post-apartheid government.

In between, he earned a master’s degree in the philosophy of religion, and, at age 31, was elected to his first office as county supervisor in the Northern California town of Mendocino.

In 1992, running as a Democrat, Hamburg was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from California’s huge, sparsely populated first congressional district, which stretches for 350 miles from the Oregon border to just north of the San Francisco Bay area.

During his two-year term, Hamburg managed to alienate the National Rifle Association, the Christian Coalition and the influential timber and oil companies.

Even the widespread publicity he garnered as the handsomest solon in Washington didn’t help, and he lost his bid for re-election in 1994.

Two years later, Hamburg resigned from the Democratic Party, convinced that “it no longer was a vehicle for social change” and that our existing “duopoly represents one party with two heads.”

He did not remain long in the political wilderness. In the fall of 1996, when consumer advocate Ralph Nader, another of Hamburg’s exemplars, ran for the presidency as a Green, the ex-Democrat joined the campaign.

Nudged by Nader, Hamburg entered the governor’s race this year. Joining him as candidate for lieutenant governor is Sara Amir, born in Iran into a Muslim family, whose women’s rights activities did not please the ayatollahs. She is now a scientist with the California Environmental Protection Agency.

The Greens’ main platform planks go directly counter to the politics of most Californians, as expressed in recent referendums. The platform includes reinstatement of affirmative action, strengthening bilingual education, an “end to anti-immigrant bashing” and abolition of the death penalty.

The Hamburg-Amir ticket also advocates universal health care, ending subsidies to corporations, a living wage for all Californians, full recognition of Native American sovereignty and the “teaching of non-violence in schools.”

Surprisingly, the platform does not stress defense of the environment, the one issue most people associate with Green politics.

Hamburg, though an ardent environmentalist, says he wants to get beyond the stereotype of Greens as tree-huggers.

“We are really as much about justice as we’re about the environment,” he says. “Injustice to people and despoilment of the environment are two sides of the same coin.”

Scars Fall on Alabama

Scars Fall on Alabama

Close to half the Reform temples in Alabama are named “Emanuel,” which is Hebrew for “God is with us.” Jews all over the state are hoping it proves true this fall, when voters pick a governor.

In a way, the Alabama governor’s race is the very embodiment of a dilemma Jews face nationwide as they confront the growing strength of the Christian right. On one hand, Republican incumbent Gov. Fob James, a passionate defender of Israel whose conservative domestic views put him sharply at odds with most Jews. On the other hand, his Democratic challenger, Lt. Gov. Don Siegelman, best known for not being Fob James.

But James is no mere conservative. He’s one of the nation’s most strident political crusaders for a Christian America. He recently won headlines by defending a judge who hangs the Ten Commandments on his courtroom wall. His advocacy of school prayer reportedly borders on promoting civil disobedience. Critics say that his attacks on federal courts and the First Amendment — he claims that it doesn’t apply to states — are fueling an atmosphere of religious war in Alabama.

He resoundingly clinched his party’s renomination in the June 30 primary runoff after one of the most divisive races in recent memory. Local Jews are shaking their heads.

“The politics here are becoming really frightening,” Rabbi Jonathan Miller of Temple Emanu-El in Birmingham says. “This seems to be the place where the Christian right is making its beachhead.”

James is not really as devout a Christian as his rhetoric suggests, say most observers. But his wife is. Bobbie James’ brand of fundamentalism is said to be one of the chief influences on the governor’s agenda. A millennialist who considers Israel the key to God’s plan, she’s visited Israel at least 15 times. She’s close to several haredi rabbis and Likud politicians. One rabbi flew from Jerusalem to her husband’s last inauguration, in 1995, to blow a shofar and read from the Ten Commandments in Hebrew. Afterward, the band played Hatikvah.

Challenger Siegelman is not Jewish, despite his name. But his wife is. The Siegelmans are regulars at Montgomery’s Conservative synagogue, Agudath Israel, where their older daughter was bat mitzvahed in February. When Hatikvah was played at the 1995 inauguration, the lieutenant governor’s wife was reported to be the only one on the reviewing stand able to sing along.

And, yet, it’s Fob James who has made friendship for Israel and Jews a cornerstone of his agenda. His Alabama-Israel trade mission last fall was a high-profile event that yielded important contracts for Israeli firms. He elevated the state’s annual Holocaust commemoration from a small reception to a major public ceremony. “We stand with you forever,” he declared in his 1997 keynote, “and vow before God Almighty: Never again.”

Few doubt his sincerity. It certainly isn’t a bid for Jewish votes. Only 9,000 of the state’s 4.3 million residents are Jewish, barely one-fifth of 1 percent, and most are Democrats. Last year, a mild ruckus erupted during a meeting at the Birmingham Jewish Federation when the chairman of the community relations committee disclosed that one of the panel’s 15 members was a Republican. “Most people were very nice about it,” says the lone Republican, Hyman “Herc” Levine. “But not everyone.”

A year later, Republican Jews are harder than ever to find, and the reason is Fob James.

“Here’s a man who, with his wife at his side, will stand up and say he’s a friend of the Jews,” says Tuscaloosa attorney Joel Sogol, a member of the regional Anti-Defamation League board. “And, yet, he stands with a group of people who want to make Jews and other non-Christians second-class citizens.”

Sogol points to last year’s Ten Commandments case as typical. A judge in rural Gadsden had hung the tablets of the Law in his courtroom, and he was opening each session with a prayer — Christian only. Sogol, representing the American Civil Liberties Union, sued in federal court to stop the practice. The case was thrown out when the court ruled that nobody with a valid interest had complained.

That didn’t stop Fob James. He filed his own lawsuit, demanding that the federal court specifically endorse the rituals. When the court declined, the governor went on the warpath, claiming that the federal judge was impeding the practice of religion.

James was even more aggressive after another federal court barred recitals of Christian prayers in the public schools of rural DeKalb County.

“The court basically affirmed existing federal law, that children can pray during non-instructional time,” says Birmingham attorney Lenora Pate, who lost the Democratic gubernatorial nomination to Siegelman. “The governor has used it to make the case that 50 million children throughout America can no longer pray in school. He’s even urged students to some extent to disobey the law.”

“I’m a Christian, and I’m deeply troubled by the rhetoric,” says Pate, who is married to a Jew. “Back in the ’60s, we had this same type of states-rights, ‘those-federal-judges-can’t-push-us-around’ rhetoric. Back then, it was wrapped around race. We had Gov. Wallace, who ran all over the state, whipping people into a frenzy, and out of the blue we had church bombings and little girls were killed.”

“Today, the same rhetoric is wrapped around religion. I can certainly understand how my Jewish friends and family can feel a huge concern.”

James does have Jewish defenders, particularly in Mobile, whose 1,200 Jews include some nationally prominent Republican donors. They say the governor is misunderstood.

“Those who know Fob James don’t feel threatened,” says Mobile attorney Irving Silver, a former chairman of the B’nai B’rith International Center for Public Policy. “I think he has an abiding respect for people of faith, and I think he is crying out — perhaps not as articulately as he should — about the shortage of religious values pervading our society. But the world is not caving in. Those forebodings about Alabama becoming a theocracy are just ludicrous.”

But the fears aren’t just theoretical. Last year, in rural Pike County, a Jewish family named Willis was subjected to violent harassment after protesting the prayers imposed on their children in school. Jews throughout the state, particularly in rural areas, followed the case closely.

“Fob James is a very nice guy,” says Rabbi Miller. “And the fact is that our constitutional protections are still in place. So far, it’s mainly atmospherics. But you don’t know where things may lead. That’s what’s frightening.”

“When non-Jews say they’re scared,” says Pate, “they mean they’re concerned about our image nationally. But when Jews say it’s scary, they mean it personally.”

J.J. Goldberg writes a weekly column for The Jewish Journal.