One influential Jewish representative was defeated, one venerated Jewish senator retired and the number of Jewish Republicans in the House may have tripled as a result of this week’s elections.Overall, the Jewish presence in Congress will increase, with several new faces in the House of Representatives.
The 107th Congress will have at least 27 Jewish representatives and at least nine senators. The 106th Congress had 23 Jewish representatives and 11 senators.
Two House races in which Jewish challengers were attempting to unseat incumbents were still too close to call Wednesday morning, as the nation waited to see whether Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) would become the first-ever Jewish vice president.
If Lieberman does not make it to the White House, he will return to the Senate, ensuring a Jewish “minyan” in the upper chamber.
But a Democratic Jewish colleague from Lieberman’s home state, Rep. Sam Gejdenson, will not be returning to Congress. Gejdenson lost his House seat and the important standing as the ranking minority member of the House International Relations Committee when he was unseated Tuesday by Republican Rob Simmons.
Gejdenson has long been viewed as a friend to the Jewish community and particularly strong on Israel issues.
Jews are losing another longtime friend on Capitol Hill with the retirement of Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), who stepped down after 18 years. His successor, Democrat Jon Corzine, who poured millions of his own dollars into the campaign, can thank the majority of the state’s 600,000 Jews who helped vote him into office.
Two other Jewish senators up for reelection – Dianne Feinstein (D- Calif.) and Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.) – both won.
Republican Jewish numbers in the House, meanwhile, may increase from one to two or three, depending on whether Republican Dick Zimmer succeeds in unseating incumbent Democrat Rush Holt and regaining the seat Zimmer once held.
Zimmer was originally declared the winner in New Jersey’s 12th District, but by noon Wednesday, the race was still too close to call.
The new Jewish Republican in the House is Eric Cantor (R-Va.). Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R-N.Y.) was reelected.
New Democratic Jewish members of the House are Susan Davis and Adam Schiff of California, as well as Steve Israel of New York, who was the regional director for American Jewish Congress on Long Island in the 1980s.
Jane Harman (D-Calif.) returns to the House seat she once held after defeating Republican incumbent Steven Kuykendall.
Another race, in Florida’s 22nd District, was still too close to call Wednesday morning. There, 20-year incumbent Republican Clay Shaw was trying to stave off a challenge from Elaine Bloom, a Jewish Democrat. The bitter campaign had both candidates hurling accusations at each other and vying for the votes of the more than 100,000 Jews in the South Florida district.
The district is 40 to 45 percent Jewish, and both Bloom and Shaw have strong relationships with the community, said Luis Fleischman, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council in Palm Beach County.
Some races were watched closely because the Jewish vote could have made a difference, while others highlighted a particular candidate’s positions that either turned on or turned off Jewish sensibilities. Among the results from key Senate races are:
In New York, Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton defeated Republican Rick Lazio. After a grueling campaign, the first lady rode to victory by an estimated 56 percent to 44 percent. But Jews, who made up 14 percent of overall voters, were deeply split.
Estimates were that anywhere between 53 percent and 58 percent of Jews voted for Clinton amid lingering concern over her controversial kiss last year of Suha Arafat, the wife of the Palestinian Authority president, and her support of a Palestinian state. But Lazio may have tried too hard with his charges that Clinton had ties to Muslim groups advocating terrorism.
In California’s 27th District, Democrat Adam Schiff won a decisive victory over Republican incumbent Jim Rogan, after the candidates waged what was one of the most expensive House campaigns in history. Over $9 million later, Schiff beat out Rogan, one of the House managers during at the Clinton impeachment trial, by 54 to 43 percent.
In Nevada, Republican John Ensign defeated Jewish Democrat Ed Bernstein. A well-known trial attorney, Bernstein had been down more than 30 points and then pulled within four points of his opponent, but it was not enough. Nevada is a conservative state, and Bernstein’s liberal message did not play well, as he lost 56 to 40 percent. The open Democratic seat is a major loss to Senate Democrats, who were hoping for a gain in numbers.
In Colorado’s 6th District, Ken Toltz, a Jewish Democrat, went up against Republican incumbent Tom Tancredo but did not manage to unseat him. Tancredo beat the Jewish businessman 54 to 43 percent, as Tancredo’s conservatism appeared not to give him problems. Gun control had become a major issue in the campaign particularly because this district includes the town of Columbine, the scene of one of the worst school shootings in U.S. history.
In New Jersey, Democrat Corzine decisively beat Republican Bob Franks. For many Jews, the idea of anyone replacing Lautenberg, who was venerated by the Jewish community, will be tough. But Corzine spent $60 million on the campaign and reached out to a significant portion of the state’s 600,000 plus Jews. In the end, 72 percent of Jewish voters backed him.
In Michigan, Democrat Debbie Stabenow defeated Republican incumbent Sen. Spencer Abraham. In a very close race only declared Wednesday morning, Stabenow finally dealt Abraham, the only Arab American senator, a defeat.
Abraham was accused of running a lackluster campaign, while the two-term representative Stabenow’s health care ideas may have resonated with voters. The much-touted Arab-American voting bloc may not have come out strong enough for Abraham. Michigan has more than 100,000 Jews, and over 300,000 Arab Americans.
Among the House races involving Jewish candidates: In Illinois’ 10th District, Lauren Beth Gash, a Jewish Democrat, lost to Mark Kirk, a Republican. It was a close race for the open seat vacated by retiring Republican Rep. John Porter, who was well regarded by the 50,000-strong Jewish community on Chicago’s North Shore.
Gash, who was an active member of the Jewish delegation to the State Assembly and serves on the regional board of the American Jewish Congress, tried to reach out to Jews, but she fell short.
Kirk may have enjoyed some advantage because he worked for Porter, knows the Jewish community well and is adept with issues of importance to the community, such as aid to Israel and immigration, said Jay Tcath, director of the Chicago Jewish Community Relations Council.
In Virginia’s 7th District, Republican Eric Cantor defeated Democrat Warren A. Stewart by a wide margin. Cantor, a Jewish real estate executive, was heavily favored to win the seat of retiring 10-term Republican Rep. Thomas J. Bliley Jr.
In New Jersey’s 3rd District, Democrat Susan Bass Levin gave Republican Jim Saxton a good run, but Saxton ended up winning by 58 to 42 percent. Saxton, a 16-year incumbent, beat Levin, the popular Jewish mayor of Cherry Hill, despite her work to get support of the area’s 30,000 Jews. Levin apparently did not boost her name recognition enough outside her home city.
Jews in the New Senate
Following is a listing of Jews who will serve in the next Senate. (An asterisk indicates senators who were elected or reelected Tuesday.) Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) was also reelected and will serve if he does not become vice president.
Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) Russell Feingold (D-Wisc.) Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) * Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.) * Carl Levin (D-Mich.) Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) Ron Wyden (D-Ore.)
Is there a “Jewish stake” in the district attorney race between two-term incumbent Gil Garcetti and head Deputy District Attorney Steve Cooley? Maybe it comes to this: How far out of step is this community going to be?
Steve Cooley has won the endorsement of every local newspaper, plus three former district attorneys, including the esteemed John Van De Camp, and the major police organizations. He is far ahead in the recent polls. He’s got the money to combat Garcetti’s negative campaign ads that paint Cooley, the former San Fernando Valley chief deputy and a nationally recognized master of welfare fraud prosecution, as soft on crime and, presumably worse from the Jewish community’s point of view, a Republican.
Despite this momentum, as Jewish Journal staff writer David Evanier reported, Garcetti maintains strong support from Jewish community leadership. They know him, feel comfortable with him and endorse his expanded vision of the office, including his outreach policies to women and minorities and his emphasis on crime prevention and truancy. Yet, with the Nov. 7 election staring at us, here’s the obvious: unless there is a reversal of the laws of nature, Steve Cooley is going to win, because, as almost every other segment of L.A. but our community has noted, the time for change has come.
I met with the 53-year-old Cooley last stormy Sunday in his second-story back office off Riverside Drive in Burbank, where he was working quietly with his wife, Jana, a court reporter, and a supporter, Deputy District Attorney Mike Grosbard. Cooley, wearing chinos and a Valencia Country Club polo shirt, calls himself a “real prosecutor,” not a politician; he doesn’t flatter, play cute with ethnicity, or go for the glad hand. Compared with Garcetti’s silver-haired glamour, Cooley is a dull coin.
“The office is in trouble,” says the 27-year veteran prosecutor and former police officer. “We’ve got to restore the integrity to the office and the sense of mission,” Cooley says.
Garcetti squeaked to victory four years ago against the underfunded John Lynch after the O.J. Simpson disaster. Since then, the issues have mounted: overzealous three-strikes enforcement, Ramparts abuses, helping the grandchild of a donor. That Cooley is, as expected, a straight arrow may be part of his appeal.”There’s something desperately wrong with the department,” Marsh Goldstein, a retired, 35-year-veteran of the DA’s office, tells me. The district attorney’s office, he adds, is about one-third Jewish.
“The district attorney has to set an example. Garcetti can be charming. But I don’t want him administering the office that I love,” Goldstein says.
The prosecutor is the linchpin of the criminal system, standing between the police and the judiciary. The office must file fair cases and win using fair evidence. That’s why the Rampart crises is the district attorney’s problem, not only that of the LAPD. The district attorney is obligated to turn over evidence to the defense that the testifying officer has prior conduct or credibility problems. Garcetti’s office has been accused of withholding information, something he blames on lack of a central database. But the fact that Garcetti disbanded the special “roll-out” unit created by Van DeKamp to investigate officer abuses has caused widespread concern.
“We call it ‘clientism,'” says Mike Grosbard, an 13-year veteran of the department, whose first legal post was in the federal office in charge of Nazi-hunting. “The DA thinks he has to maintain good relationships with the police department.” Garcetti has been called the “flypaper DA.” Perhaps unfairly, everything wrong with L.A. justice sticks to him. But the public is demanding accountability, and it’s not wrong.Take three strikes. It’s a disastrous law, made worse by Garcetti’s policies that have led to life sentences for minor offenses.
“It’s not a matter of being hard or soft on crime,” says Cooley. “The DA’s policy lacks proportionality. The policy lacks an ethical core.”
During our talk, Cooley takes out a 1964 newspaper profile of Evelle Younger, titled “A New Kind of DA.” Younger is the standard for Cooley. He gives him his highest compliment, calling him “real.” During the Younger era, the L.A. district attorney’s office was the finest in the nation, where the best people were assigned to a case and were left free to use their judgment. This, says Cooley, is what “real prosecutors do.”There’s a time for everything. Remember, Evelle Younger (who was a judge before being elected district attorney and then went on to attorney general) served only two terms.
Marlene Adler Marks will discuss “The Family Journey: The Book of Genesis and the Story of Our Lives” at the Skirball Cultural Center on Saturdays beginning Nov. 11 at 2 p.m. Her e-mail address is email@example.com
The political question of the week is, “What will David Tokofsky do now?” For four years, Tokofsky, the veteran teacher and former coach of Marshall High School’s champion academic decathlon team, has played the role of maverick on the Los Angeles Unified School District Board. He exposed the lack of textbooks in district schools; publicized the scandal-plagued Belmont Learning Complex; crusaded against “faddish” educational philosophies; and urged an end to social promotions (implementation of which was rescinded last week by Superintendent Ruben Zacharias). Against the “Cuckoo’s Nest” aura of LAUSD, Tokofsky has sounded like a visionary.
But now the outsider has to come in. Insurgent candidates backed by Mayor Richard Riordan’s Coalition for Kids won astounding victories on April 9, as Caprice Young and Mike Lansing defeated incumbents Jeff Horton and George Kiriyama, respectively. Genethia Hayes challenged incumbent Barbara Boudreaux and has forced a June runoff. Tokofsky, the only seated board member to get the mayor’s endorsement, is likely to become president of a board majority that is poised for revolution.
And just in the nick of time. There will be more money coming into all levels of public instruction during the Gray Davis administration — from federal and state coffers, plus a special fund set aside from cigarette litigation — than any time since the postwar baby boom: 51 new local schools over the next five years, the largest educational public works project in half a century. Tokofsky is the rare board member who straddles both classroom and bureaucracy: He alone among board members was at Zacharias’ birthday party last year.
Can all the money in the world reverse the erosion of respect and support for the 700,000-student school district?
“There’s no time for a learning curve,” Tokofsky told me last week. “It’s urgent that we get results in the first year.” Results mean test scores going up and dropout rates down (they’re now about 35 percent).
The challenges facing the district are daunting. About 80 percent of all incoming kindergarten students are already two years behind, he said. Many children don’t know their colors and can’t hold a pencil.
Teachers are another controversy. Tokofsky, who came to the board with solid union credentials, nevertheless understands rampant anti-teacher sentiment. In fact, he was appalled that so few teachers cried out about the textbook shortage, a sign that many teachers are still in the 1960s time warp, where textbooks of any kind were politically suspect.
“Today’s textbooks are intellectually demanding, a great teaching asset,” said Tokofsky, who added that he’ll back the testing of teachers only after the 7,000-teacher shortage is met.
And what is teacher competence, anyway? While many blame teachers for the schools’ decline, Tokofsky reminds us that the LAUSD (and schools everywhere) are now losing through retirement what he calls the “best and brightest” teachers in history — that generation of women, now in their 50s and 60s, who came to teaching because they had no other career options.
“These wonderful women are irreplaceable,” Tokofsky said, “because they have the memory of what real learning can mean and what education can mean to the whole society.”
As for secession, Tokofsky warns that however bad things are now, they might be worse if the Valley secedes from the city, a move, he said, that is based on faulty financing. “They [the Valley schools] don’t have the resources; they’ll be straddled with debt,” he said. It’s easier, and makes more sense, to fix the problems at their core.
“This is going to be interesting,” said one Jewish community political activist. “Can he really formulate an agenda that moves the district ahead?” If he can, Tokofsky instantly becomes the most credible authority on educational reform, a potential candidate for state Assembly or state superintendent of public instruction; Tokofsky stays in close touch with former Superintendent Bill Honig.
“Honig had the missionary zeal to make public education important to everyone,” Tokofsky told me.
But we are way ahead of ourselves. As of this writing, Tokofsky’s win hangs suspended. Only 301 votes separated the fully bilingual Tokofsky from his challenger, activist Yolie Flores Aguilar. When Mayor Riordan’s ad campaign urged voters to throw the bums out, he neglected to whisper “except Tokofsky.” His opponent, Aguilar, with no classroom experience, ran as “the community’s candidate.”
A special note: In contrast to last year’s high-voltage Katz-Alarcon state Senate campaign, the Tokofsky-Aguilar race carefully avoided racial minefields. Aguilar has strong ties in the Latino-Jewish coalition. And Tokofsky won endorsements of key Latino legislators, including Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa. Good conduct by all.
Tokofsky’s win awaits final tallying of absentee and provisional ballots on April 27. Then the future can begin. We’ll be watching.
Marlene Adler Marks, senior columnist of The Jewish Journal, is author of “A Woman’s Voice: Reflections on Love, Death, Faith, Food & Family Life” (On the Way Press). Excerpts from her book will be featured in the performance “Momma, Mommy, Mom,” May 2, at UJ’s Gindi Auditorium. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Her website is www.marleneadlermarks.com.