Florida primary is first big showdown for the Jewish vote


With Newt Gingrich gaining ground on frontrunner Mitt Romney, the stage is set for a crucial Jan. 31 Republican presidential primary in Florida. By playing a significant role in that day’s outcome, the state’s large Jewish population might set the tone for the rest of the GOP race.

About 638,000 Jews call Florida home, according to the December 2011 figures from the Jewish Virtual Library—in stark contrast to the relatively small Jewish communities in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, states that have held primaries and caucuses so far.

Up until 2004, Florida held its presidential primaries in March. Now, with an earlier contest—open only to Republican voters—an active Jewish electorate should wield significant influence, said Dr. Terri Susan Fine, a political science professor at the University of Central Florida.

If a primary is early in the calendar, Fine explained in an interview with JointMedia News Service, that means voters still have a choice of candidates—which is the case in Florida despite the dropouts of Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Jon Huntsman and Herman Cain. Fine said voters in early primaries “end up impacting the choice for the rest of the nation, because if [a candidate] drops out because they don’t do well in your state, or if they do very well in your state … the media presents you as if you’re the winner.” With a later primary in previous election years, some names on the Florida ballot were those of candidates who had already dropped out, meaning “the whole tenor of the campaign changed by the time it got to Florida,” Fine said.

The fact that Florida’s primary is closed to voters outside the Republican party means a low voter turnout is likely, which Fine said magnifies the importance of the Jewish population.

“High-turnout groups within a low-turnout electoral environment are going to be very impactful, and Jews demonstrate not only the highest voter turnout compared with any other religion, but at the same time you’re also talking about the fact that the candidates’ recognize this,” Fine said. “So, we see some ways in which the candidates are differentiating themselves from one another, and also distinguishing themselves from President Obama in order to secure that vote from among Jewish voters, particularly in Florida.”

Herb Swarzman, vice president of Tampa Jewish Federation and area chairman for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), told JointMedia News Service that there is a “great deal” of local interest in Florida regarding the presidential election “because of a general feeling amongst those who do contribute to political campaigns that Israel has not been treated well by this administration.” Jews for whom Israel is an important issue “want to participate to whatever extent they can in the Republican primaries so that they can defeat Barack Obama.”

Swarzman added that “there also is great concern amongst those who are actively involved, for those who read about the issues every day, for those who really care about the possible terrorist threat both in Israel and America, that the United States government is not dealing properly with Iran … and they are looking for a candidate who will be much more aggressive towards the Iranian attempts to create nuclear power.”

However, besides for voters concerned with Obama’s Israel policies, Rabbi David Steinhardt—leader of B’nai Torah Congregation in Boca Raton and Jewish Community Relations Council chair for the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County—told JointMedia News Service that he sees a “growing realization among many in the Jewish community that the early portrayal of President Obama not being a friend of Israel has been changing.”

Following Gingrich’s surprise 12-point victory over Romney in South Carolina, a new Rasmussen Report poll shows the former Speaker of the House garnering 41 percent support among likely Florida GOP primary voters, with 32 percent backing Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and winner of the New Hampshire primary. Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, who edged Romney in the Iowa caucus, and Texas congressman Ron Paul also remain in the race.

Swarzman said he is supporting Gingrich because he “was the most pro-Israel Speaker in the history of this country and I think that he will declare Jerusalem as the undivided capitol of Israel no matter what the State Department or the Arab countries say, if he becomes the president.”

Steinhardt said his “subjective reading” of the perception of the Republican primary in Florida “is one of disappointment.”

“By in large, I sense that the community feels that the Republican candidates don’t reflect the stature or the vision that they’re looking for in a president of the United States,” he said.

Steinhardt also believes “that the press has sold the Jewish community short, in that the Jewish community is not just a one-issue voting bloc anymore, and I don’t know if it ever was, but maybe we tend to think of it that way.”

“Jews are very concerned about healthcare, and very concerned about social policy, and very concerned about issues of war and peace and national defense and Israel,” he said. “Those are all on the agenda of engaged Jews who are politically aware and somewhat active in the process—certainly active in the conversation.”

With the highest percentage of elderly residents compared to any other state, issues such as Medicare, Social Security and healthcare are critical for Jewish voters in Florida, Swarzman and Steinhardt agreed.

The older nature of Florida’s Jewish voter base has another political impact, according to Fine. She said scholars have found that members of Congress born after 1950 take a different position on Israel than those born before 1950. This is attributed to memories of the Holocaust and World War II, and memories relating to the formation of the state of Israel, Fine explained.

“So, if you didn’t have that experience in your lifetime, or if you had the experience but don’t remember it, then that has an impact on your overall political socialization and that impacts how you function in Congress,” Fine said. “We found, for example, that older members of Congress had to be far more for one state of Israel, pro-Israel, but the other members of Congress are more likely to be more liberal when it comes to the notion of Palestinian rights and the right or return of Palestinians and those kinds of things.”

Looking ahead to the general election, one can easily remember 2000, when George W. Bush’s historically narrow victory over Al Gore in Florida—amid a recount of the vote and a Supreme Court ruling in his favor—essentially decided the presidency. Fine said Florida could have an even greater impact on the 2012 election because the state’s number of electoral votes has increased from 27 to 29, exceeding 10 percent of the total electoral votes a candidate needs to win.

With Florida’s “winner take all” system within the Electoral College, all a candidate needs is one more vote than the closest competitor to gain all 29 electoral votes—and that’s why the Jewish vote matters, said Dr. Ira Sheskin, director of the Jewish Demography Project of the Sue and Leonard Miller Center for Contemporary Jewish Studies at the University of Miami.

In close presidential elections, which are usually won by a margin of about 52 percent to 48 percent, candidates are fighting for small percentages and need to appeal to every vote they can get, Sheskin told JointMedia News Service. Although Florida’s Jews amount to 3.7 percent of the state’s total population, well over 90 percent of Jews are registered to vote—meaning they represent a more statistically significant 6-8 percent of Florida’s electorate, Sheskin said, adding that Jews are more likely to vote than other groups.

“[Florida is] very significant because the Jewish population is large here, and Florida is a significant state because of the Electoral College,” said Steinhardt, “so obviously there’s great importance to the Jewish vote here.”

Community Briefs


Jewish Candidate Drops Out of Insurance Chief Race

One of two Jewish candidates seeking the Republican nomination for California insurance commissioner has pulled out of the race.

Dr. Phil Kurzner, a Westside urologist, told supporters at a Feb. 21 fundraiser that he is withdrawing from the commissioner’s race, according to Dr. Joel Strom, a Santa Monica dentist who served as Kurzner’s campaign chair. The event took place at the Regency Club in Westwood and was attended by Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), who had come to help raise funds for Kurzner.

The likely front-runner for the Republican spot in the June 6 primary is Steve Poizner, who is also Jewish. Poizner is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who has made millions creating global positioning technology. Los Angeles businessman Gary Mendoza is the only other Republican in the race.

“The Republican establishment was lining up behind our opponent, Steve Poizner, and we felt that for the party and for party unity, we would withdraw from the race,” said Strom, former president of the Republican Jewish Coalition of Los Angeles.

In a campaign statement after Kurzner’s withdrawal, Poizner praised him, saying, “I am grateful that we will not have to face him in this primary.”

Strom said Kurzner’s campaign had raised more than $400,000 and Kurzner had made 200 campaign appearances over the past two years. At a Jan. 25 fundraiser at the Pacific Palisades home of former gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon, Kurzner told guests, “I’m not afraid to lose, and I’m not afraid to win.”

Poizner’s campaign funds are estimated to be at least $4.6 million, making him more financially potent than Kurzner might have been against Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, the Democratic front-runner for insurance commissioner. John Garamendi, the current commissioner, is running for lieutenant governor this year.

“The larger purpose is to defeat Bustamante,” Strom said. — David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

Two Officials Back Halted Jerusalem Museum Project

The Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center has the full support of Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski to continue construction on its new Center for Human Dignity-Museum of Tolerance in the heart of Jerusalem, despite Muslim concerns that the museum would be built atop a former Islamic cemetery, Gidi Schmerling, Jerusalem municipality spokesman, told The Jewish Journal Feb. 24.

Construction of the $200 million project was halted Feb. 15, when lawyers for two Muslim organizations sent a petition to the Israeli High Court of Justice. The petition asserted that thousands of Muslims who died during the Crusades of the 12th and 13th centuries are buried at the site where the center is being built. They also argued that in the seventh century, associates of the Islamic prophet Mohammad were interred at the site.

Last week, the High Court appointed former Chief Justice Meir Shamgar as a mediator. Shamgar has a month to find a resolution.

Lupolianski, the spokesman said, recently sent a letter to the Wiesenthal Center applauding the building of the museum.

“For the past three decades, this land has been utilized as a public car park, and it is commendable that it will now serve as the site for this important museum,” the mayor wrote.

The office of acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert also confirmed that Olmert has given his support for continued construction of the Wiesenthal museum at the current site. Olmert called the museum “an essential project for Jerusalem, a landmark that will change the face of Jerusalem forever.” — Yaakov Katz, Contributing Writer

 

The Westside Vote


 

There were two “Jewish” debates earlier this month, one in the Valley and one on the Westside. While Mayor james Hahn did not attend the

Valley session at Temple Judea, all five major candidates came to the Westside debate at Temple Beth Am. My visit to the latter debate allowed me to look at one constituency: Westside Jews.

With 6 percent of the city’s population, Jews cast between 16 percent to 18 percent of all votes in mayoral elections. That makes them one of the four key blocs in the electorate, along with Latinos (22 percent or more), white Republicans (around 20 percent) and African Americans (around 10-14 percent).

Jews are an increasingly important share of the declining white vote. Today, one-third of the city’s white voters are Jewish, compared to one-fourth a decade ago.

But “bloc” may be too strong a word. Los Angeles Jews were a loyal, devoted, and united bloc for Tom Bradley, and vote as a bloc for Democrats at the state and national levels. But in 1993, about half of the Jewish voters backed Republican Richard Riordan against Bradley’s presumed heir, Michael Woo; more than 60 percent supported Riordan in his 1997 re-election against Tom Hayden.

Jewish voters are somewhat split by geography. While Westside Jews are still quite liberal and supported Antonio Villaraigosa for mayor in 2001, more moderate Valley Jews went with Hahn.

Jewish voters gave considerable support to Jewish primary candidates Joel Wachs and Richard Katz in 1993, and Wachs and Republican Steven Soboroff in 2001. None of these Jewish candidates made the runoff, so we don’t know yet how uniformly Jews might support a Jewish candidate in the general election.

While Westside Jews remain overwhelmingly Democratic, it is hard to predict where they will end up in a race contested by five Democrats. This makes it hard for candidates to know how to appeal to Westside Jewish voters this year: Are they liberals, cautious Democrats, ethnic loyalists, civic reformers or what? This bloc-within-a-bloc is a significant force, because of its extremely high level of political involvement, campaign contributions and voter turnout.

My first impression during the debate was that the candidates were articulate, friendly and effective. What also struck me, however, was that none of the candidates was truly “at home” on the Westside — although Bob Hertzberg did joke about working “24/6” and referred to “this bimah,” and Villaraigosa managed to mix Hebrew and liberalism by using the phrase tikkun olam.

In this race, there is no candidate whose base is on the Westside of Los Angeles. That hasn’t happened often in Los Angeles political history.

Bernard Parks’ candidacy starts in South Los Angeles, and Richard Alarcon’s foundation is the East Valley. Hahn is running as the incumbent who has general appeal without generating great enthusiasm in any single community. While he has historically done well on the Westside in his numerous citywide races, he does not have the deep base there that would assure him that area’s support against strong opposition.

Hertzberg and Villaraigosa are the closest to having a second home on the Westside, followed by Hahn. Villaraigosa did very well among Westside Jews in 2001, winning a majority of their votes.

He might do well there again, but he does not have Bradley’s lock on these neighborhoods. His core base is among Latinos, principally on the Eastside, with hopes of holding his core of white liberals and Jews.

With his overall appeal to Jewish voters, Hertzberg can contest heavily for the Westside as well, but his base is the Jewish community in the San Fernando Valley. Between them, Hertzberg and Villaraigosa may cut deeply into Hahn’s support on the Westside.

I could feel the absence of Bradley, for whom the Westside was a second political home. When he campaigned in Westside synagogues, he was greeted as a well-loved member of the family. Even Republican Riordan, whose votes came more from the Valley, was personally and socially a Westsider (like his friend Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger).

Fighting crime, balancing the budget and filling potholes will win votes anywhere in Los Angeles and will certainly help on the Westside. And coalition politics with Jewish votes is not nearly the seamless, simple relationship that it was in the Bradley days. But one clue for any candidates who want to win the votes of Westside Jews is the importance of the reform and improvement of local government.

This highly attentive constituency, the least alienated of the city’s neighborhoods, fills the ranks of city commissions, closely observes the doings at City Hall and routinely votes in favor of measures to reform government. It was here that the 1999 City Charter won its largest margin of support, and where efforts to reform the Los Angeles Police Department generated the strongest backing among white voters.

A coherent, comprehensive agenda to prevent the sort of conflict-of-interest problems that have bedeviled the city government recently has yet to emerge in the campaign. The candidate who can offer more than a package of proposals and explain how the voters can be assured that both the commission system and the contracting process can be sensibly reformed may have the opportunity to stand out from the crowd seeking Westside votes.

Raphael J. Sonenshein, a political scientist at Cal State Fullerton, is the author of “The City at Stake: Secession, Reform and the Battle for Los Angeles” (Princeton University Press, 2004).

 

Coalition Lesson


Community activist Karen Bass’ victory in the 47th Assembly District’s Democratic primary provides a valuable opening for coalition efforts between the Jewish community and a new generation of African American and Latino activists.

Los Angeles has a long and distinguished history of biracial coalitions. Rooted in the 10th City Council District, then divided among African Americans, Jews and Asian Americans, the coalition behind Tom Bradley stormed the gates of City Hall.

Bradley was first elected to the City Council in 1963 and then to the mayoralty in 1973, a position he held for 20 years. The Los Angeles black-Jewish coalition became a national model for interracial politics and governance.

But the Bradley coalition has largely fallen by the wayside as the city’s politics have fragmented and as the leadership ties that sustained the coalition have atrophied. While promising efforts to build bridges between Jews and Latinos are beginning to bear fruit, they are still young.

The open 47th Assembly seat seemed likely to hurt rather than help intergroup coalitions. The 2001 redistricting had reshaped the district represented by former Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson from a surefire black seat to one potentially contested between African Americans and whites.

The district was moved westward and northward and now includes such white liberal — and significantly Jewish — areas as Westwood, Cheviot Hills and Beverlywood. Whites represent 37.8 percent of the population; African Americans, 40.1 percent; Hispanics, 22.6 percent; and Asian Americans, 8.5 percent. The voting population, however, is more skewed toward blacks and whites.

With three strong black candidates — Bass, Rickey Ivie and Nate Holden — fragmentation of the black vote and intergroup conflict with whites seemed possible. A white candidate could have potentially won the race but without broad-based support in the district.

Bass took the creative way out of the box: She reached out to Latinos, organized labor and white voters, including Jews. The three black candidates received a combined 88 percent of the vote, with Bass drawing a near-majority 48 percent. Clearly, Bass received strong support both from African Americans and white voters. Out of possible conflict came something much more promising — potential bridges among African Americans, Latinos and Jews.

I was less surprised than I might otherwise have been, because of my knowledge of Bass’ previous work. I first met Bass about a decade ago. A federal agency had contracted with me to study how a particular organization in South Central Los Angeles managed to impact the alarming dispersion of liquor stores.

I visited the offices of the Community Coalition for Substance Abuse Prevention and Training — later shortened, thankfully, to the Community Coalition — where I met Bass, the organization’s energetic director. She was working to prevent the rebuilding of some liquor stores that had been burned down during the violence of 1992. The office was brimming with energy, with young staff and volunteers, African American and Latino.

There was a serious conflict of interest between those who wanted the stores reduced in number and those whose livelihood depended on the stores staying open. In New York City, a similar conflict became highly racialized, as calls arose to "kick Koreans out" of inner-city communities.

By contrast, Bass’ dedication to keeping the conflict nonracial helped Los Angeles to keep the focus on the behavior of individual liquor stores and not on the ethnicity of the owners. Bass insisted that it did not matter who owned the stores, only how the stores were operated.

Because she and her organization stuck to that philosophy with such consistency, no traction could be created for an anti-Korean campaign.

I spoke with leaders of Korean American organizations who saw themselves under attack on the liquor store issue. Those I interviewed were very unhappy and resentful about the coalition’s pressure but recognized and appreciated that Bass kept the racial aspect to a minimum. Bass was also adamant about reaching out to Latinos in South Central Los Angeles and actively incorporated them in her organization’s activities.

Bass’ victory in the 47th Assembly District marks another new turn for the politics of urban Los Angeles. New participants — organized labor, Latinos, young minority activists — are reshaping the city’s traditional politics of black and white.

While African American candidates are likely to keep dominating the offices in Central, Mid-city and South Los Angeles for some time to come, their constituencies are shifting. The Jewish community should keep its eyes and ears open to these developments and look for new ways to connect to a promising, exciting and boundary-crossing politics of the next Los Angeles.


Raphael J. Sonenshein, a political scientist at California State University, Fullerton, is the author of “Politics in Black and White: Race and Power in Los Angeles” (Princeton University Press, 1993). His article, “The Battle Over Liquor Stores in South Central Los Angeles: The Management of an Interminority Conflict,” appeared in the July 1996 issue of the Urban Affairs Quarterly.

First Election Round Goes to Jews


While most Jewish politicians easily won Tuesday’s primary election, four out of six Jewish candidates in Los Angeles County Superior Court judge races survived the primaries, with two Jewish women competing this fall in a tough judge’s race.

California’s Jewish legislators who retained their seats Tuesday against token or zero opposition included Sen. Barbara Boxer, who had no Democratic opposition and now faces Republican challenger Bill Jones. Los Angeles County’s five Jewish members of Congress — Howard Berman (D-North Hollywood), Jane Harman (D-Venice). Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank), Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles) and Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) — all won, although Sherman faces Republican attorney Robert Levy in November.

In the vacant Superior Court Office 69 judge’s race, Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Judith Levey Meyer garnered 32.55 percent of Tuesday’s vote and runner-up and Los Angeles County Superior Court Commissioner Donna Groman earned 29.09 percent of ballots cast. The two square off in November as neither took the majority needed (51 percent) of the vote.

In other Superior Court races, Jewish candidates either lost to or still are up against Latino opponents.

Deputy District Attorneys Daniel Feldstern (Superior Court Office 18) and Jeffrey Gootman (Superior Court Office 29) both came in third in their separate court races, with Feldstern getting 26.1 percent and Gootman 22.3 percent; the top vote-getters in both races respectively were Latino candidates Mildred Escobedo, a Superior Court referee, and attorney Gus Gomez.

Deputy District Attorney Laura Priver came in second with 38.2 percent, and in November faces administrative law judge John Gutierrez for the Superior Court Office 52 seat.

Superior Court referee Daniel Zeke Zeidler, a dependency referee at Edelman Children’s Court, came in first in the Superior Court Office 69 race with 28.08 percent against his November opponent, Deputy District Attorney David Lopez, who earned 21.5 percent.

Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley, a Catholic, faces no fall election since he retained his seat with 59.27 percent of the vote. Jewish challenger Deputy District Attorney Denise Moehlman came in third with 9 percent.

In state races, Assemblyman Keith Richman (R-Granada Hills) won his primary unopposed, as did Assembly incumbents Jackie Goldberg (D-Los Angeles), Paul Koretz (D-West Hollywood) and Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys), with Levine battling Republican schoolteacher Mark Isler this fall. Similarly, state Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Los Angeles) had no primary opposition and won.

In the 47th District’s open Assembly seat, including Jewish neighborhoods in Pico-Roberston, Westwood and Cheviot Hills, African American Democrats Karen Bass and Nate Holden square off in November, with political science professor Richard Groper coming in fourth with 10 percent of the vote.

Republican political consultant Arnold Steinberg said the Jewish community took little interest in Orange County’s onetime Republican congressman Bob Dornan and his late, underfunded attempt to unseat incumbent Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) in the 46th District; Rohrabacher has become more sympathetic to Arab perspectives in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"The Jewish community has to be more interested in some of these races," Steinberg said. "The Jewish community simply was not involved in the race. [Dornan] brings a lot of baggage into the race and, as such, there wasn’t any substantive press coverage of the foreign policy issues, instead a focus on personality."

Susan Pinkus, director of the Los Angeles Times exit poll, said of Tuesday’s California turnout of Jews, "For all voters, it was 7 percent Jewish; for the Democratic primary voters, it was 11 percent and 71 percent of them voted for Kerry, 18 percent for Edwards."

Another 4 percent voted for Kucinich, she noted.

On the Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger-fueled Proposition 57 state bond initiative and Proposition 58 balanced budget initiative, "For 57 [Jews] voted for it, 59 percent to 41 percent. On 58, again, they voted for it, 69 percent to 31 percent," Pinkus said.

Proposition 55, the state school bond initiative, had 69 percent to 39 percent Jewish support, Pinkus said, while Jewish voters in a 47 percent to 53 percent margin opposed the state budget initiative Proposition 56, "they voted against it as everybody else did," she said. "They voted as did the rest of the electorate."

Jewish Candidates Fill County Ballot


Jewish candidates will be well represented in the March 2 election, with incumbents in Los Angeles County expected to sail through with no — or token — opposition in the Democratic and Republican primaries.

At the top of the ballot — after the presidential candidates, among whom the departed Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) is still listed — is U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, who has no competition on the Democratic side.

There also is no Democratic competition facing the county’s five Jewish Congress members, Brad Sherman (Sherman Oaks), Howard Berman (North Hollywood), Adam B. Schiff (Burbank), Henry A. Waxman (Los Angeles) and Jane Harman (Venice).

These five, who make up 28 percent of Los Angeles County’s 18 House members, represent the largest congressional Jewish contingent of any county in the United States, according to political expert Howard Welinsky. While New York City may have a larger overall Jewish total, each of its boroughs counts as a separate county.

In the November general election, Sherman will face attorney Robert M. Levy, who is unopposed in the Republican primary.

Running for an open state Senate seat is Assemblyman Alan S. Lowenthal (D-Long Beach).

One of the liveliest Assembly races is shaping up for the open seat in the 47th District. After the last reapportionment, the predominant African American population lost some demographic ground to mainly Jewish concentrations in Cheviot Hills, Pico-Robertson and Westwood.

The three black front-runners, Karen Bass, Nate Holden and Ricky Ivie, have been courting the Jewish vote, which is likely to determine the outcome in the Democratic primary, Welinsky said. Also competing in the same district is Democrat Richard Groper, a California State University political science professor and active member of Congregation Mogen David.

Among other Assembly races, Democratic incumbents Paul Koretz (West Hollywood), Lloyd Levine (Van Nuys) and Jackie Goldberg (Los Angeles), as well as Republican Keith Richman (Granada Hills), are unopposed in their respective primaries. In November, Levine will face Republican Mark Isler, a public school teacher, who faces no opponent in his primary, noted Michael Richman of the local Republican Jewish Coalition.

In additional Assembly contests, Ontario City Councilman Alan Wapner is a Republican contender in the 61st District, while in Orange County, Republican Todd Spitzer (Orange) is up for reelection.

Twelve members of Democrats for Israel are in the race for seats on the Los Angeles County Democratic Party Central Committee, and about an equal number are vying to serve as delegates to the Democratic National Convention, said Welinsky, who chairs the organization.

In a contest that is drawing some national interest in the Bay Area, Democratic Rep. Tom Lantos (San Mateo), the only Holocaust survivor serving in Congress and a champion of Israel, is again opposed by Palestinian American attorney Maad Abu-Ghazalah.

JCC Director to Leave Before Project Finish


Part of the team readying O.C.’s Jewish Community Center for its planned relocation and expansion next year in Irvine is not staying to see the result.

Gerry Buncher, 53, the JCC’s executive director since 1999, is resigning at the end of his current contract, effective Dec. 31.

“I decided it’s time to be closer to everybody,” said Buncher, who intends to relocate east in closer proximity to his two adult children and 88-year-old mother, hospitalized twice in the last year. He intends to seek a similar center job in the New York area.

Orange County and Long Beach are among seven communities currently recruiting top executives among the nation’s 275 centers, which have 1 million members, according to the Web site of the Jewish Community Center Association, the group’s national office.

Buncher’s successor will inherit a significantly larger job in a facility described as state-of-the-art. The JCC’s current $2.8 million annual budget is forecast to grow by more than 50 percent in its new location, predicted to open in September 2004, said Maryann Malkoff, the center’s president. The new director will also be responsible for expanding the center’s senior staff, such as new positions that will supervise programs in aquatics and cultural arts.

Future staffing levels will depend on programming, Malkoff said. “We’re still six months away,” she said, from needing to hire middle managers.

JCC membership of 1,200 units, which could be singles, families or couples, has remained stable for at least five years, said Jeanette Lewin, the center’s finance director. In September, the center will employ 38 people in full- and part-time positions. That includes 25 who work in the preschool, which has about 150 students. Staffing doubles in summer to 70 because of teen councilors hired for a day camp, she said.

Initially, the JCC board will consider prospective candidates exclusively from those recruited through the JCCA. “Why not exhaust the best resource first?” Malkoff asked. With a new facility, she predicted little trouble attracting potential job seekers.

Instead of the Jewish Federation, which currently manages the Costa Mesa campus, the JCC and its top executive will also assume day-to-day management responsibilities of the 120,000-square-foot Irvine campus, including its pool and gymnasium. Other Jewish agencies, such as the Bureau of Jewish Education, the Federation and Jewish Family Services, are to be tenants of the Orange County Jewish Campus, a recently incorporated nonprofit entity.

Between Pittsburgh, Columbus, Houston and Costa Mesa, Buncher has spent 26 years in center jobs. The new facility will be improved aesthetically because of insights he’s gleaned on how members use centers, such as eliminating fixed tables in work rooms rearranged for different uses.

“I would feel more guilty about leaving if this was the first year,” he said. “But they’re ready.”

Reality Recall


The summer television season’s newest reality show, "The California Gubernatorial Race," kicked off last week with almost enough twists and turns to make regular viewers of reality TV pay attention to politics.

"It’s beginning to look like ‘Last Comic Standing,’" a Jewish community leader said. And that was before she knew that the astute and hilarious comedian D.L. Hughley had officially entered the race, upping the punch-line quota even more.

I could list the candidates here, but I only have 850 words, and in any case, the race has been all over the national media, proving the axiom that if you ignore a problem long enough — California state politics — it will eventually take over your life.

Jewish voters, as Raphael Sonnenshein writes in the first of his regular monthly columns for us (see page 9), will play an important part in this race, far out of proportion to their numbers in the state. Just shy of 3 percent of California’s population, we represent an estimated 5 percent of the state’s registered voters. In a race that analysts predict will hinge on a minority of votes, a minority’s voting bloc will be crucial.

Our political contributions will wield influence as well. Nationally, American Jews account for more than half of the large individual contributors to the Democratic Party, and between 20 to 30 percent of the contributors to the Republican Party in recent years. That is why supporters of Republican governors past and Democratic governor present could all argue that their man was responsive to Jewish concerns, however narrowly or broadly those are defined.

In fact, the mainstream moderate candidates have a bipartisan Jewish appeal. That goes for columnist Arianna Huffington, running as an independent.

"Jews may not have an opinion on her, but some of her biggest supporters happen to be Jews," said a close acquaintance of Huffington. It was telling that when Huffington’s called on supporters to attend her press conference at A Place Called Home in South Los Angeles, her e-mail included only two sets of driving directions: from the South Bay and from the Westside.

Actor Arnold Schwarzenegger has long-standing connections to the activist Jewish community through the Simon Wiesenthal Center. His moderate politics and pro-entertainment industry stance will certainly appeal to moderate, pro-industry Jews. His challenge for educated voters: talk substance.

On the Democratic side, the buzz among L.A. Jewry’s largely Democratic voters is that many, if not a majority, would have swung happily toward (Republican) Richard Riordan. Sen. Dianne Feinstein would have come in a winner, too — she’d get more votes for president among L.A. Jews than any of the current crop of candidates.

But with Feinstein and Riordan out of the race, loyal Democratic Jews face the same hold-your-nose choice that all Democrats do. When The Jewish Journal published a cover story several weeks ago whose headline was, "Why Jews Won’t Dump Davis," we received hundreds of angry letters, e-mails and phone calls from Jews, many of them Democrats, who were eager to do just that. Someone from the Davis camp asked me why we didn’t publish any pro-Davis letters, and I told him the truth: We didn’t get any.

The thrust of the article (whose headline, mea culpa, was a tad misleading) was that as unhappy as Jews are with Davis’ performance as a governor, they found the recall and the people behind it even more off-putting. Reporter Marc Ballon found that even so, many Jews would vote for the recall if Riordan’s or Feinstein’s names appeared on the ballot.

An important lesson is that Jews are more centrist and moderate than just plain old liberal. A nonpartisan Ipsos/Cook Political Report Poll completed last March indicates American Jews remain strongly Democratic, with 64 percent of those surveyed describing themselves as Democrats and 26 percent describing themselves as Republicans. (While 46 percent of all Americans would definitely vote for Bush, for instance, only 25 percent of American Jews would do so.)

But large Jewish turnouts for Ronald Reagan and Riordan are evidence that, at voting time, Jews are more Prag-mocrat than Democrat. While the Republican Party is attracting increasing numbers of true believers among Jews, the Jews who remain Democrat don’t want to sacrifice their sense of independence and pragmatism to a party label. That’s why a Riordan scores well among Jews and why a Davis, a standard issue Dem, rates so poorly.

What about the loyal Democrats? "My strategy for Oct. 7?" said a ferociously liberal Jew about the date of the recall. "Hold on to the statehouse, hold on to the statehouse, hold on to the statehouse."

As sickened as they are by the recall, they don’t want to see Republicans, any Republican, use it to wrest control of the governor’s office. So this man also said he’d abandon Davis if a stronger candidate — Feinstein or Leon Panetta, for instance — came around.

At this point, in other words, winning is all that matters. And that’s a sentiment too many of his prior supporters believe Davis understands all too well.

Valley Races That Also Matter


With the spotlight on secession for the past few months, it is almost easy to forget that there are major political races involving Jewish candidates in the San Fernando Valley.

The most significant battle is the one being waged in the 27th U.S. House District. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) has been virtually invincible up until now in the 24th District. However, the district was redrawn in September, thus making him an unknown quantity to about two-thirds of his constituents and leaving an opening for challenger Robert Levy, an attorney from Woodland Hills.

"This [election] is a lot different," Sherman said. "In the year 2000, I was running in a district where people knew me. This campaign, the public appearance opportunities are limited because Congress was in session until three weeks before the election, but I am sending out a lot of mail."

Sherman said part of the challenge has been the sheer size and scope of the district — which now encompasses Northridge, Porter Ranch, Chatsworth, Granada Hills and Burbank — plus the fact that getting attention in a busy news town like Los Angeles has been difficult this year.

"You can’t take for granted that people are going to vote for you if they don’t know who you are," Sherman pointed out. "The days are gone where people are going to vote party line; a lot of people will skip a candidate if they don’t know you."

For his part, Levy said he is concentrating his campaign on the various ethnic communities within the 27th District.

"It’s extremely important to reach out to all segments of the community," he said. "Filipino, Asian, Hispanic, as well as Jewish."

Other Jewish congressmen facing reelection in the Valley are Howard Berman (D-Mission Hills) and Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles), both of whom are expected to retain their seats.

In the Assembly, two Jewish challengers, Democrat Lloyd Levine and Republican Connie Friedman, are vying to represent 40th District, which was left up for grabs by because Bob Hertzberg had reached the term limit.

Levine, 32, is the son of political consultant Larry Levine and a legislative aide for Assemblyman John Longville (D-Rialto). Friedman, 60, a longtime Republican activist, owns a human resources consulting business and is on the Los Angeles Civil Service Commission. The district is heavily Democratic, favoring Levine.

In the 38th District, Republican Assemblyman Keith Richman of Northridge is expected to win reelection in his race against challenger Republican Paula Calderon. However if Valley secession passes, Richman may find himself as the first mayor of the new city.

Also expected to retain his seat is Assemblyman Paul Koretz (D-West Hollywood), whose district includes a portion of the Valley.

In the West Valley, Jewish Republican Michael Wissot is attempting to unseat Assemblywoman Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), whose 41st Assembly District stretches from Oxnard to Santa Monica. Pavley has the advantage, as an incumbent and a Democrat, in a district that is 48 percent Democrat to 33 percent Republican, according to the Los Angeles Times.

"I carried 10 bills relating to education, several on transportation and public safety and several on the environment to the Assembly," Pavley said.

Pavley pointed out that legislation only comprises half of her duties as an assembly member, the other half being constituent services. For example, following a call from a concerned Holocaust survivor, Pavley worked with Bet Tzedek Legal Services of Los Angeles to have banks voluntarily waive fees charged to survivors receiving reparations payments via wire transfer.

Wissot, a former intern for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), is hoping to win votes away from Pavley by focusing on voters’ dissatisfaction with Sacramento’s handling of the economy.

Wissot said that going door-to-door has been the key element of his campaign. "People feel the effect, that somebody came to their door and listened to their concerns and wanted to do something about it," he said. "That’s the heart of representative democracy."

Of all the candidates in the various races, the 28-year-old Wissot has the best consolation prize if he doesn’t win: he met his beshert, Cantor Alison Wienir of Stephen S. Wise, on the campaign trail.

"If the sole purpose of this election was to meet the love of my life, I’ll accept that with great appreciation," Wissot said.

Elephant in the Valley


Used to be that every once in a blue moon, a rare Republican, who happened to be Jewish, would decide to run for office in the heavily Democratic San Fernando Valley, only to be soundly defeated at the polls.

This year, Jewish Republicans hope to change all that with three candidates: Robert M. Levy, who is running against Congressman Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks); Connie Friedman, who is up against Jewish Democrat Lloyd Levine for former Assemblyman Robert Hertzberg’s old seat in the 40th District, which covers most of the San Fernando Valley, and newcomer Michael J. Wissot, who will compete against Assemblywoman Fran Pavley in the heavily Democratic 41st District, which is located partially in Ventura County.

Pavley originally won the seat in 2000 in a race against another Jewish Republican, Jayne Shapiro. What was interesting about Shapiro was that she was progressive on social issues and once said she would be a Democrat, but for the fact that she was a fiscal conservative. The new crop of Republicans is decidedly more traditional in their outlook, citing the interference of big government in people’s personal lives as the main reason behind their party affiliation.

"I believe where government is small and doesn’t interfere with people, then people are more free to practice their religion as they see fit," said Levy, 49, an attorney in private practice in West Hills. "As a Jew, it is important for me to see to it that I have the freedom to practice my religion as I want, without undue government interference."

Friedman, 60, a consultant who runs a human resources outsourcing business, voiced similar views.

"If you look at the values of Judaism and those of the Republican Party, they are very much in line," she said. "Republicans are very devoted to family issues; they think people should take personal responsibility for their actions, which is also a part of Judaism."

Friedman said she believes that more Jews would be Republican if there was more emphasis on concrete areas of government and less on controversial topics such as abortion and gay rights.

"I don’t think choosing to be a Democrat or a Republican should be based on social issues," she said. "Whether someone has an abortion or is in a homosexual relationship is a personal issue. To me, the issues that should be political are the economy, education and the things that make up our state’s infrastructure, like roads and electricity. If everyone can choose to have an abortion but our roads are bad and our educational system sucks, what difference will it make? Social issues should be personal, not political."

Levy attributes the continuing association of the vast majority of American Jews with the Democratic Party as a leftover tradition steeped in the patriotic fervor of World War II.

"It was a good idea to vote for Franklin Roosevelt, but Franklin Roosevelt isn’t around anymore," he joked. "The needs of America are different now, and I think most of the feelings and values of the Jewish people can be found, oddly enough, in both parties. Nowadays whether people are registered Republican or Democrat, they vote for the people, not the party."

He said one significant reason he has been a longtime member of the Republican Party is its ongoing support for Israel.

"The various Republican presidents and the Republican leadership have been much more friendly to the cause of Israel and to the need for Israel to exist than has the Democrat leadership," said Levy. "As disgraced as a president he was, Richard Nixon helped save the state of Israel during the latter part of his presidency by supporting Golda Meir. And look at President Bush and what he is doing for Israel. President Bush basically believes Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority are terrorists and that Israel has the right to retaliate against terrorism."

For Wissot, 27, creator and managing general partner of dentistry.com, an online referral service for dentists nationwide, choosing the Republican Party was a natural outgrowth of what he was taught at his family’s shul, Temple Adat Elohim in Thousand Oaks.

"I grew up understanding the Torah as talking about being grateful but never being satisfied," he said. "That was something that had a profound effect on me throughout my Jewish education, and I strived to always be grateful for having a wonderful family and all these opportunities around me, but not to be satisfied with the status quo, to find ways to give back to the community. What I found in the Republican Party is that we should be thankful for where we have arrived, but we should not forget the future, we should not forget about giving back and tikkun olam. This is the party that is preparing for the future."

Although skepticism remains alive and a Republican’s chance of winning a Valley seat are slim, supporters contend there’s never been a better time to run.

"Until recently, Jewish Republicans were not taken very seriously," said Richard Sherman, a clinical psychologist who serves on the endorsements committee for the Republican Jewish Coalition in Los Angeles (RJCLA). "But there’s a reason why our organization has grown so quickly. To me, Jewish Republicans are more tolerant and more open-minded than Jewish Democrats. You come to our meetings and we’re talking about issues and questioning things. The Jewish Democrats are rank and file; they don’t even think, they just follow."

The RJCLA has endorsed Levy, Wissot and Friedman, who serves on the organization’s national governing board, as well as that of RJCLA.

"I really admire these people for having the courage to run," Sherman said. "The Valley used to be seen as Democrat, but I don’t know if it’s so Democrat-leaning anymore. A lot can happen between now and November. I’m struck by the idea that even a few months ago, people talking about the Valley becoming a separate city said there was no way it could happen, but now it is looking like more of a reality. So you never know."

All the Small Things


In a race that has enough candidates for a minyan, the fight for the 5th District City Council seat being vacated by city attorney hopeful Mike Feuer became even tougher following the Jan. 12 addition of Tom Hayden. With the former state senator expected to win a plurality in the April 10 primary, speculation is now limited to which of the other 10 candidates will face Hayden in the June 5 general election.

The candidates all but agree with each other on many of the pertinent issues –LAPD reforms, Valley secession, gridlock and the need for a full city audit — so minor divergencies will carry more weight among constituents in this Jewish stronghold, which includes Fairfax, Pico-Robertson, Westwood and Sherman Oaks.

During a March 22 candidates forum sponsored by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles at Temple Beth Am, the contenders, most of whom are Jewish, deviated infrequently from agreement with one another but eagerly promoted platform differences when they arose.

Moderator Pete Demetriou, a KFWB reporter, opened by portraying the event as "a job interview, and you’re hiring."

Some of the job’s perks include a role in the allocation of the city’s $4.3 billion budget, the ability to draft policies for 4.1 million people and a vote to determine whether Bernard Parks will continue to serve as police chief after 2002.

Joe "Graffiti Guerrilla" Connolly, who referred to himself as that "crazy goy," started off by dropping Yiddishisms in hope of connecting with the audience. Studio City resident Constantina Milonopoulos, meanwhile, stuck to her issues: gun control, greening neighborhoods and strong opposition to billboards.

To combat financial waste at the city level, each of the candidates wholeheartedly supported a top-to-bottom audit. Hayden, who repeatedly focused on the need to increase funding for paramedics, senior services and filling pot holes, endorsed such a plan to end the MTA and Belmont "gravy train."

Stephen Saltzman, who had been a deputy to Mayor Tom Bradley and a deputy director for AIPAC’s Southwest region, mentioned cost overruns on City Hall’s post-earthquake renovation, which went from $75 million to $300 million, as a prime example of a "need for better management and better priorities."

Pico-Robertson attorney Nathan Bernstein and Victor Viereck, a North Hollywood accountant, went out on a limb and said that the Community Redevelopment Agency needs to be scrapped to save money.

Gridlock, one of Los Angeles’ more perplexing problems, elicited almost as many solutions as there were candidates, but public transportation, company incentives to stagger work hours and ending construction during rush hour all enjoyed support from Saltzman, Milonopoulos, Hayden, Bernstein and business-woman Robyn Ritter Simon.

Sherman Oaks businessman Ken Gerston called for "more left-hand turn signals and reverse-flow lanes" to relieve congestion.

Viereck preferred a DASH or light-rail solution and felt that the ability of MTA Rapid buses to change traffic lights was "too dangerous."

Laura Lake, a Jewish Federation board member and former UCLA environmental science and engineering professor, came out swinging on the topic of the new City Council charter amendment that provides for neighborhood councils in an advisory capacity.

"If neighborhood councils had statutory authority, I would be would be a big booster," Lake said. "I wanted a charter that would have given them a shared governance, a real voice. I support charter reform that would give real power to the grass roots of Los Angeles."

Former U.S. Attorney Jack Weiss said the councils "have tremendous promise, [but ] I’m disappointed by the way the City Council implemented the process."

Saltzman responded that the councils are a "work in progress. The problem is not decentralizing power, but electing somebody who is willing to stand up to fight for the community, who will fight against Breitburn oil drilling on Doheny and Pico. We need to elect people who aren’t going to give away power."

The candidates sympathized with the frustration of Valley constituents, but all opposed the call for Valley secession. Sherman Oaks political consultant Jill Barad said that "if people got the services they want and need, they wouldn’t feel the need to secede."

Saltzman seized the opportunity to play devil’s advocate. "Every candidate has said that they support the breakup of LAUSD because it’s too big," he said. "Why is it that these same people don’t say that about the City of Los Angeles?"

When it came to the L.A. Police Department, Weiss and Milonopoulos were the only candidates who would seek to renew Chief Parks’ contract. "I think we have to stay the course with him," Milonopoulos said.

With the LAPD receiving only 20 percent of the city’s budget, compared to 50 percent in the 1960s, each candidate supported increasing the number of officers from 9,032 to a minimum of 10,000. Bernstein said he would like to add an additional 7,000.

"We’re losing 28 officers every two weeks," said Lake, who would like to boost morale by offering competitive pensions. "We’re training officers for other cities."

Hayden, who opened the evening by citing his Holocaust survivor legislation, closed simply with mention of his work to control guns and chromium-6 in drinking water and his Sierra Club endorsement, exuding a quiet confidence that, barring a landslide, the real work for him will begin April 11.

The other candidates closed by attacking or defending records or highlighting their lack of attachment to special interests or enthusiasm for the position. In short, they were trying to push themselves into the spotlight Hayden clearly enjoys.

One on One With Antonio Villaraigosa


This is the third in Sheldon Teitelbaum’s series of interviews with the leading mayoral candidates.

Trust current mayoral candidate and State Assembly Speaker Emeritus Antonio Villaraigosa to come up with a uniquely strategic location for his storefront headquarters. True, as the ostensible heart of his Valley constituency, the corner of Van Nuys and Sherman Way is pretty much a no-brainer. But there is something elegantly opportune about the fact that it also sits astride the Valley’s first and, so far, only Krispy Kreme.

Like the parent company, Villaraigosa has been around for quite some time, a “big tent” pol and crusader for consensus whose alliances span a broad gamut of communities and interests, including the Westside libs and the city’s billionaire boys’ club. The one thing he has that Krispy Kreme lacks is the imprimatur of kashrut that he has earned during six years of public service. By virtue of his long-standing support for various Jewish causes and institutions in this city, some regard him as perhaps the race’s most authentic landsman. Not surprisingly, our discussion focused mainly on Jewish themes and issues.

Sheldon Teitelbaum: Been a busy Sunday?

Antonio Villaraigosa: I was at West Angeles Church this morning for a fellowship. I don’t do drive-by fellowships. Most electives, when they go to synagogues or churches, they drop in for a half-hour, get introduced, eat and leave…

ST: What do you do, take out a membership and contribute to the building fund?

AV: No, I just stay the whole time. Beginning to end.

ST: Where do you get your gregariousness?

AV: My mother. Growing up the 1950s and ’60s, my mother had whites, primarily Jews in City Terrace, blacks, Asians, gays over for dinner all the time. She knew everybody. She had a very broad network of friends. She really educated her kids about issues of tolerance and inhumanity. She was a breed apart.

ST: The Journal just ran a piece by our own Marlene Adler Marks in which she appears to have anointed you the “Jewish” candidate of this race. How does it feel to have been co-opted into the tribe?

AV: I think there’s an acknowledgment that in my six years of public life, I’ve worked hard to represent and reach out to the Jewish community. I’m proud of the fact that I put together almost $15 million spearheading state funding for the Museum of Tolerance, $2 million for the Skirball Museum, $2 million for the Jewish Federation building and the Zimmer Museum. I was the author of a hate crimes reporting bill that I worked with many Jewish leaders and other civil rights leaders to require hate crime reporting in our schools. I was the author of a bill to exempt from state taxes Californians who were part of the slave camp legacy during the Nazi Germany years. I have a long history of working in the community.

ST: Apart from bridge-building for political gain, what pulls you to these causes?

AV: I believe that if government is going to work, it’s got to represent all communities. A leader in an L.A. as diverse as this one has to work around the clock to reach out to as many different communities as possible.

ST: Are you trying to appeal to that liberal/progressive bent still reflected in the Jewish urban demographic?

AV: Oh yes. There’s no question that who I’ve been politically has resonated among the more progressive elements in the Jewish community, and not because of my outreach, but my role in the crafting of legislation in the last six years.

ST: Have folks in the Latino community looked askance at this love affair?

AV: No question. I sided and supported [school board candidate] David Tokofsky and was criticized and vilified by some. I said then that we have to get beyond the idea that the only ones who can represent the community are the people who come from the community. We have to support the best candidates, whoever they may be and from whatever community. The same when I supported Bob Hertzberg for [State Senate] speaker. Many people know Bob was my roommate. I said he should be the next speaker because he was the most qualified… after me. There were legislators who were very angry and critical. They thought Latinos had some kind of monopoly on the speakership. I said no, that’s not the way it works.

ST: Speaking of Boyle Heights, I found myself wondering recently if it wasn’t in danger of becoming our answer to Poland — a place with anti-Semitism and no Jews. What is it in the 21st century that would impel a couple of Latino kids to paint a virulently anti-Semitic mural on a wall facing some main thoroughfares?

AV: I think what’s wrong is that there’s an incredible lack of understanding. Only when you remember and educate people of the horrors committed by man against man are we able to learn from those experiences and create a better world for us. It’s important for there to be curricula that focus on human relations and that really work to create the context for the important discussions that need to occur at a very young age emphasizing our humanity and commonality.

ST: I’d remind you that there are communities in this country in which anti-Jewish sentiment became more a problem of the educated than of the working classes and poor…

AV: That’s amazing. It’s hard for me to relate because I grew up in a home diametrically opposed to anything like that. When I did my hate crime reporting bill last year right after the shootings at the North Valley Jewish Community Center, I brought together rabbis, human relations experts and civil rights [leaders]. And I said I’m not interested in doing a big press conference but in something you all think makes sense. They said we needed a statewide human relations commission that works as a clearinghouse and as an infrastructure of human-relations support from the state. And we needed a hate-crimes reporting mechanism that requires our schools to track hate crimes. L.A. Unified and other districts are really not doing a good job of tracking hate crimes. I put both bills together. One wasn’t signed, the other was.

ST: Do you have a sense of the Jewish community as a one-issue demographic?

AV: This community has always been more tolerant than others, but I believe that every community has to continually work to address the bias and intolerance among us. This is something all of us have to work on continually — the stereotypes. I can’t tell you how many times I walk into a place and people say, “‘How come you people don’t speak English?” All of us in the great experiment that I think L.A. is have to continually work to build the bridges. I was part of a Latino-Jewish round table and a black-Latino round table 20 years ago. We need to engage in these conversations about how we build shared communities and focus on the common struggles we have.

ST:I understand that Haim Saban is one of your contributors and supporters. Haim is a stand-up guy. But as someone who has put education as their first priority, what do you tell parents and educators who may regard companies like Saban Entertainment as the anti-Christ?

AV: I don’t accept that thinking. My children have watched his shows, and they’re good kids. If there was a show I didn’t like as a parent, I have the opportunity to turn it off. Haim is a wonderful, generous human being. He is committed to creating a better community for more people here. He sees me as someone who is committed to expanding the definition of public safety to creating a better safety net and improving the quality of life for more people. We have a lot in common, not to mention our shared “Sephardic” background.

Mayors R Us


Does it matter to you what ethnicity the next L.A. mayor will represent? In the upcoming April primary, there are two Jewish candidates, long-time city councilmember Joel Wachs and real estate broker Steve Soboroff. And there are two Latino candidates, Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa and U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra.

Yet the front-runner in the field of six is James Hahn, whose father, Supervisor Kenny Hahn, was himself a beloved liberal institution, a one-man ethnic bridge builder. Hahn fils’ virtual lock on the black vote is a family inheritance, left over from the days before Martin Luther King, Jr. (The other contender is state Controller Kathleen Connell, whose moribund political prospect attests that this is certainly not the Year of the Woman.)

Jews, a traditional swing vote, are key to the primary. In voting, we always reflect an image of ourselves, but what image will that be?

Eight years ago, in the first mayoral election following the Tom Bradley era, Jewish voters were high with entitlement. Major Jewish communal institutions had played a crucial role in police reform. There was a general perception that the black-Jewish coalition was still strong enough to bring a Jew to the top municipal office.

The perception was wrong. When the King riots crossed Olympic Boulevard, the black-Jewish coalition was left in shards. In that ’93 primary, former Assemblyman Richard Katz duked it out with Wachs. Wachs ran strong, splitting the Jewish vote along both Valley/city and Republican/Democratic lines and single-handedly assuring Richard Riordan’s victory. That primary demonstrated that the "Jewish vote" could be split like any other.

That split continues today with Soboroff vs. Wachs.

Soboroff, a Republican and an energetic civic booster active in the Pacific Palisades Jewish community, is appealing to voters as Riordan II, portraying himself as a nonpolitical businessman above the ethnic urban fray. From a Jewish perspective, his campaign is hardly the "Jolson Story," but remember, Riordan himself won 50 percent of the Jewish vote against Mike Woo.

Wachs is another matter. With his reputation as a scrappy streetfighter, taking on Police Chief Bernard Parks in the Rampart scandal and trying to limit taxpayer commitment to mega-events like the Democratic National Convention, Wachs is the eternal unknown.

Will he make the cut? Though Mark Mellman’s mayoral poll of 800 likely primary voters shows Wachs in a dead heat with Hahn at 15 percent, the Los Angeles Times poll published last week showed Wachs slipping to 11 percent and Hahn way ahead at 24 percent. Yet among every important group, including Democrats and women, Wachs remains a contender. In a city fighting Valley secession, a Republican with the reputation of fighting for the underdog can never be counted out.

On the other hand, there’s the past, represented by Jimmy Hahn. Though civil rights seems like ancient history, there are some who will be swayed by a familiar name and TV ads that artfully evoke a local urban dynasty.

Finally, there’s the future, symbolized by Villaraigosa. A good case could be made, and many in the Jewish community are making it, that Villaraigosa is the "Jewish candidate." The Times poll shows that Villaraigosa has nearly as much support among Westsiders as does Soboroff, who lives in the Palisades, and Hahn. Villaraigosa, the strongest liberal in the field, enjoys the support of kingmaker Eli Broad, as well as Jewish activists like Howard Welinsky. Support for Villaraigosa asserts that he is not merely a "Latino" candidate, the favorite son of Los Angeles’ fastest rising political minority. He is also a knowledgeable politician who could shape a new multiethnic coalition to which Jews must belong.

There are so many ethnic wildcards in this race that the real bettor’s conflict is between diverging scenarios. If Soboroff digs deep into his own fulsome pockets, the race could become a referendum of Riordan’s performance; a Hahn-Soboroff runoff could be the result.

I guess someone could argue that Villaraigosa and Hahn will kill each other off, leaving Los Angeles to struggle between the centrist visions of Soboroff and Wachs.

Or, more likely, we are seeing a reconfiguration of the ’93 primary; this time, Soboroff and Wachs canceling each other in the vote-heavy Valley. In that case it would be Hahn and Villaraigosa left standing for a left-of-center runoff.

That would be something.

The Mayoral Debates, Take 40


We’ve elected an “Education President.” Now, get ready to choose the “Education Mayor.”

That seemed to be the prospect facing a packed chapel of some 300 souls braving one of the winter’s worst storms this week to attend Debate No. 40-something by five of the city’s six leading mayoral candidates. Here at the Westside campus of the Wilshire Boulevard Temple, voters found themselves treated to an amusing spectacle as each mayoral wannabe declared improved education as his single highest priority.

Never mind, as moderator Val Zavala of KCET’s “Life & Times Tonight” correctly observed, that this was not a run for the school board and that the mayor of Los Angeles has about as much direct jurisdiction over the school system as the current governor of Texas.

I am, admittedly, a newcomer to the ongoing debates between the hopefuls. Up front, what immediately struck me as odd among the strong Jewish and Latino candidates was the apparent absence of any overt ethnic or religious divisions that exist within the city. In fact, there was more chemistry between some of the Latino and Jewish candidates than among the Jewsih candidates themselves. (State Controller Kathleen Connell, also a candidate, was unable to attend due to the weather).

That’s not to say there were no subtle protestations of Jewish identity, fealty or affiliation. Former State Assembly speaker Antonio Villaraigosa, who isn’t Jewish, indicated that he enjoyed a certain facility with Yiddish — or enough, anyway, to know when his fellow candidates were having him on. Nor was he loath, on repeated occasions, to laud the efforts of a former Jewish public school teacher, or to extol those halcyon days of his childhood, when Jews, blacks and Latinos broke bread while working on Boyle Heights coops.

Businessman Steve Soboroff may have trumped him on this count, although opinion was divided on whether he managed this by impugning the light rail nexus running through the Orthodox community along Chandler Boulevard in North Hollywood or by letting folks know that he was married in Wilshire Boulevard Temple.

Once the matter of bona fides had been settled, it once more became apparent, as Rabbi Harvey Fields declared in his introduction, that this year’s run of candidates was probably of the finest fettle in city history. Whoever wins, he said, “this city will have a superb mayor.”

Rep. Xavier Becerra presented well as a soft-spoken young husband and father who, when not walking two of his three children to their neighborhood school — how he does this from Washington I’m still not clear — displayed a propensity for scoring bucks in the nation’s capital. For Becerra, whose parents immigrated from Mexico, it’s payback time — payback for a city he says gave him and his parents the chance to work hard, educate their children and take their places as productive members of their community. I found his quiet self-effacement quite the antidote to Villaraigosa, who though slick, charming and eager, proved a tad too quick on the “I” word — as in “I did this and I did that” — for my own comfort.

Looking a tad tired and perhaps even distracted, L.A. City Attorney James K. Hahn nevertheless mustered sufficient energy to recall his early days as a surfer which, he indicated, afforded him with the requisite concern for imperiled wetlands and other at-risk segments of the environment. Still a favorite in this race, Hahn professed his continued predilection for extreme sports, though now it manifests as boxing bouts with the purveyors of guns and tobacco. Hahn declared that if elected, he will put sufficient after-school programs in place to keep enough kids off the streets. He will do this to make room, presumably, for the thousand new cops he said he intends to hire.

Soboroff offered up an “I love this city and I want this job” as if it were ample, indeed, self-evident reason for running? — I could occasionally close my eyes and picture Soboroff in denim overalls, a Mr. Fix-it eager to show the unwashed pols of City Hall how to run the city efficiently without running up the budget.

A self-proclaimed pragmatist, Soboroff projects a certain bulldozer-in-button-down quality. He was certainly the only candidate to offer quick answers to pressing problems. The city, he said, is like the newspaper dispenser that grabbed his son’s quarters at LAX the other day. When something doesn’t work, he says, “you kick it.”

On the other end of the spectrum — or at least two seats down — sat L.A. City Councilman Joel Wachs, who did not seem like the kind of guy who goes around kicking newspaper boxes. This is not to say he lacks passion — if anything, he may be the most deeply impassioned of the candidates. His speeches start slowly, but even with 90 seconds at his disposal he can work himself into an impressive froth, railing over the misguided values and priorities that result in misspent money and misused public goodwill.

Having read about some of the personal animus in the relations of some of the candidates, I was heartened, for the most part, by the civil, even warm tenor of their interactions. It was neat, for instance, to see Villaraigosa and Wachs confer and fuss in one corner, while Soboroff and Wachs kept the long knives sheathed even as they dared each other to a public swap of respective real estate contributors.

Of course, a total of 80 planned appearances is quite a stretch for any dog-and-pony show, never mind a round-robin debate. Halfway through their debate schedule, the candidates still find much to bicker about, even as they all seem to agree on such big-ticket priorities as opposing secessionist tendencies (however justified) and preserving the police department while the chief struggles to implement consent decree reforms.

Heady stuff, and none of it likely to get tired in the time remaining before the April election and June runoff. Whoever wins, moreover, we’ll be left with some primo candidates for the next LAUSD elections.