Mike Tolkin, the youngest candidate in the Democratic primary for New York mayor, at a city cafe on Sept. 5. Photo by Josefin Dolsten

Meet Mike Tolkin, the Jewish millennial running for NYC mayor

Mike Tolkin apologizes for checking his phone as he sits down at a café in this city’s Flatiron district.

The 32-year-old Democratic New York mayoral hopeful was waiting to hear Tuesday whether he would be allowed to participate in the final primary debate the following day, which would boost his exposure amid an otherwise quiet campaign.

Tolkin, a technology entrepreneur and the youngest candidate on the party’s ballot to challenge incumbent Bill de Blasio, had not met the threshold necessary to qualify for matching funds from the city’s Campaign Finance Board, a requirement to participate in the debate. But he pointed out that other candidates in the past, such as former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, had been allowed to circumvent those rules.

Later that day Tolkin found out that he would not be included — a decision he called “deeply undemocratic and grossly unfair.”

Though polling on the race has been sparse, de Blasio is expected to win the primary and general elections handily.

Still Tolkin, who has founded a handful of startups, remains undeterred.

“It’s been a little bit difficult for us to break through, but I’m a big believer that if you put forth really great, big ideas, you can inspire people, and that’s the best way to mobilize our city,” Tolkin told JTA a week before the Sept. 12 primary.

The candidate, who is Jewish and grew up attending a Conservative synagogue on Long Island, is running on a wide-ranging platform that centers on economic improvement. But it also includes proposals to create a human rights center, legalize marijuana and provide free mental health care.

“The biggest issue, as an overarching theme, is the economy,” said Tolkin, who lives in Brooklyn’s Carroll Gardens neighborhood. “We have to fix the economy, we have to make it work for everyone and we have to grow our economy.”

There are four parts to his economic agenda: restructuring government to make it more efficient and transparent; investing in infrastructure, such as street cleaning services and public transportation; grow and diversify the economy by investing in new industries, such as artificial intelligence, biotech and robotics; and improve income distribution.

Tolkin believes his business acumen makes him the ideal choice for running the nation’s largest city. He founded his first startup while studying at the University of Pennsylvania’s prominent Wharton School, where in 2007 he led a team that created a make-your-own chocolate bar company that won an award for the best undergraduate business plan.

A few years after graduation, in 2011, he founded Merchant Exchange, an incentive-based marketing platform for millennials, and in 2013 he founded two IMAX initiatives, including IMAXShift, a high-tech indoor cycling studio in which scenes are projected onto an extra-large screen. In 2015, he founded his latest venture, Rooms.com, a home design website that offers virtual tours of designer rooms.

Tolkin, however, was compelled to do something different earlier this year.

“What can I do as an individual to be more civically engaged, to take action in light of the fact that there are so many massive challenges?” he wondered. “I can’t sit on the sidelines anymore.”

He launched his mayoral campaign in January, meeting with New Yorkers from all parts of the city. He left the startup world a few months later to pursue the political effort full-time.

Tolkin said his Jewish background inspires him to give back to the community.

“It provided a really strong moral foundation for me,” he said. “The notion of charity, tzedakah and giving back is something that’s important to me.”

He has been involved with the ROI community, an international network of Jewish leaders, and Eighteen:22, an organization for LGBTQ Jews.

Growing up, Tolkin had encountered homophobia.

“I’ve had my struggles,” he said. “I grew up as a gay boy in a world that didn’t really accept gay people.

“But I’ve been really fortunate, I’ve been really blessed. I haven’t had the same struggles as a lot of other people, so being able to take my good fortune and put myself in the shoes of who is on the other end of the spectrum is something that I don’t necessarily think is uniquely Jewish, but it’s tied to Jewish values of helping the other.”

Tolkin literally put himself in someone else’s shoes during the campaign when he slept on the streets for two nights this spring in order to understand the plight of homeless New Yorkers.

“It was awful and eye opening,” he said.

As part of his platform, Tolkin wants to create a human rights council based in New York, which he calls the League of Love. The council, which he imagines to be “sort of like the U.N.,” would unite diverse human rights groups, such as those dedicated to the rights of women, immigrants, LGBTQ people and minorities.

He also hopes to create business partnerships between the private and public sectors, such as by creating an Uber-style car ordering service owned by the city.

Tolkin has largely self-funded his campaign, contributing nearly $500,000, including $315,000 in loans, $175,000 of which he has “forgiven.” He valued an in-kind donation at $5 million for earnings from trademarked logos he created to sell on T-shirts and mugs, as well as strategy services he is providing to his own campaign. (That earned him some media coverage.)

Though his bid looks like a long shot, Tolkin remains optimistic about the campaign.

“We have a week left from today,” he said, “and I think you’re going to be pleasantly surprised by the traction we’re able to get in the final week.”

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti visits the Journal office for a wide-ranging interview. Photos by Lynn Pelkey

Mayor Garcetti on the future of Los Angeles, his faith and Trump

No one can escape the challenges of Los Angeles — not even the mayor.

As voters prepare to take a stand on ballot initiatives that aim to impact homelessness, development and, yes, L.A.’s infamous traffic, no one can say Mayor Eric Garcetti can’t relate. Just last week, he found himself ensnarled in gridlock, 20 minutes late for an interview at the Journal’s Koreatown office.

In the midst of a re-election campaign, Garcetti — the city’s first elected Jewish mayor — said he’s looking at the long-term. So while he’s confident that Los Angeles is moving in the right direction, he promised no quick fixes.

“I never approached my first term as, you know, I have four years to change this city,” he said in a freewheeling interview that covered topics as varied as city services to the city’s response to President Donald Trump’s executive orders to his own spiritual journey. “I think from the beginning, I’ve approached this job as an Angeleno, a lifelong Angeleno. And I kind of looked at the next decade to 50 years as the time horizon I wanted to influence. So I think my second term is very much similar to the first term, about being able to reach for great opportunities and address pressing challenges.”

Garcetti, who faces seven challengers in this election, talked about his role in raising the minimum wage, and putting the heft of City Hall behind last November’s successful ballot initiatives to fund transportation and homeless efforts to the tune of billions of dollars. Now he is campaigning for Los Angeles County Measure H on the March 7 ballot, which would raise the sales tax by 0.25 percent to provide drug and mental illness rehabilitation and prevention programs for the homeless. He’s also come out against Measure S, the initiative that aims to reform land use, saying it would negatively impact affordable housing in the city.

The mayor — son of a Jewish mother and a father of Mexican and Italian heritage, former District Attorney Gil Garcetti — had plenty to say about his increased spirituality, as well, and how it’s informed his response to recent events on a national level. (Garcetti has pledged to fight Trump’s effort to deport undocumented immigrants, who number about 11 million nationwide, with 850,000 of them in Los Angeles County.)

In a roundtable discussion, arranged by Journal columnist Bill Boyarsky, Garcetti discussed all this and more. An edited version of that conversation follows; for the full transcript, go to this story at jewishjournal.com.

JEWISH JOURNAL: Six years from now, what’s traffic going to be like in L.A. if you’re the mayor?

ERIC GARCETTI: We’ll be on the way to relieving traffic, no doubt. I don’t think it will be much better in six years. … It’s impossible to undo, you know, 40 to 50 years of urban planning in that short period of time. But I think the 10- to 20-year horizon is actually incredibly hopeful. We will build, you know, Measure M, $120 billion, about half of that to new capital [projects]. To boil that down, that’s 15 new lines or extensions of existing lines — the biggest, I think, physical change to this county since water came here. I don’t think it’s overstating.

JJ: What is homelessness going to be like at the end of the next term?

EG: I think we’ll be more than halfway home. … The biggest thing, I think, to end street homelessness is we need an army of social workers out there. I go out with these outreach teams all the time. I don’t know if a mayor’s done that before, but I go out as regularly as I can. I know people by their first names on the street now. I know their stories. And we had 15 people, trying to talk to 28,000 homeless Angelenos in the city of L.A. when I started. Just do the math. I’ve gotten that up to 80 through some city funds that I kind of have scraped along, but the reason I’m so passionate about Measure H is we probably need 500 or 600 — then we could really make an impact.

JJ: Talk about the deportations advocated by Trump. What are you prepared to do, and are you prepared to pay the price that you and the city might have to pay?

EG: Chief Justice [John] Roberts said [in a previous case that] the federal government cannot force you to do one thing in order to get money for another thing. … It’s very clear you can’t take port money because my cops won’t be turned into immigration officers. I’m not kidding myself that they won’t potentially try to take some dollars from us: Bring that fight on. I mean, what are you going to do? Take away radiological and biological weapons detectors at the port? You’re going to take away the vouchers that go to homeless vets that are now being housed and take away their rents?

I think this is a moment when [you should] stand up for your values, and we’re prepared to do that politically, legally and economically.

JJ: What obligations do you feel to Los Angeles’ very large Jewish community?

EG: I feel a deep one. I feel my values have been informed by both sides of my family. When I look at something like my responsibilities to the Jewish community, [they] are both direct in what I can do to serve them, but also in what we can do to activate each other. [Like] when a moment comes like people turned away from our airport because of their religion or the country of their origin. I re-read the [S.S.] St. Louis history, which, the one aspect I didn’t realize was, St. Louis wasn’t just turned away [in 1939] because it was refugees and Jews. They actually said they were worried there was a national security threat of Nazi spies on there, which is like so much a mirror of what the justification is right now for Syria and Somalia and other places.

JJ: Have you talked to law enforcement about the threats against Jewish facilities?

EG: Yes, I’ve talked to LAPD about it. Absolutely.

JJ: Is it a major concern of yours?

EG: It’s a concern. I’ve watched too many of us say the sky is falling before it actually falls, with this new administration and the change. I think we have to be really precise so that we don’t let anything go under-commented on but we don’t stoke the fears, as well. We’ve seen a doubling of hate incidents since the elections.

JJ: In Los Angeles? In the country?

EG: In Los Angeles. And that’s not just anti-Semitic.

JJ: According to the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD)?

EG: Yeah. LAPD statistics. So that’s what’s been reported. I get [reports] once a month, and I’ve asked them to add hate incidents since the election so I can track it more carefully.

JJ: Last question: What have you learned from your text studies with Rabbi Sharon Brous of IKAR that’s made you become a better mayor of Los Angeles?

EG: Well, you know, it’s funny, like most good talmudic studies, you just sit around and gossip a lot. … I’ve learned a lot. It’s funny, I love being, for instance, in a Black church in South L.A. and bringing up the lessons she taught me about, you know, for instance that it was a sin in the olden days to pray in a room that was windowless, because you had to reflect the divinity. … God isn’t about going inward; it’s about reflecting outward that divinity. And so I use that as a metaphor for what our responsibilities are — for us to not just close into our communities and close into our issues but actually reflect that divinity off of us. …

It’s not just with Sharon but with other folks as I’ve kind of come to more faith and spent a lot more time going to services. I actually love the High Holidays. I get to hear some really brilliant thinking that, you know, rabbis have tried to encapsulate an entire year. And there’s, I would say, a real split right now between those who see this moment as a moment to stand up and be urgent and to possibly offend some folks that are in their congregations, and others who are playing it safer and saying look, we have diverse views, I can’t get involved in that, but let me just talk about internal things. And, you know, I personally err toward the former. Whether you’re a religious or a political leader, we’re called on in these moments to stand up.

Los Angeles Mayor Garcetti at the Jewish Journal office on Feb 22. Photo by Lynn Pelkey

Listening to Mayor Garcetti — from the side

Public officials come to meetings armed with talking points. And who can blame them? They’re asked the same questions over and over. Their words are carefully dissected. One wrong phrase can destroy a career. It’s hard to improvise smart, knowledgeable answers. That’s why politicians must always be on top of their messaging: what they have accomplished, what they promised, what they plan to do in the future, and so on.

This is the world of public service, and it’s especially true for a high-profile position such as the mayor of a big city like Los Angeles.

So, when Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti visited the Jewish Journal offices last week for an interview with our reporting staff, I fully expected to hear some well-crafted talking points, and he didn’t disappoint. On every subject, from crime and homelessness to housing and transportation, the mayor seemed to know exactly what he wanted to say.

There were a few moments, however, where he veered off course with a brief, offhand remark. I pay special attention to those moments because I can often tell a lot about a person by what they choose to emphasize.

The funny thing is, when I heard these offhand remarks, my reaction was: Why is he not making a bigger deal of these things? They make him look human and real. They make him stand out from other politicians.

The first remark came in the middle of a long response on the problem of homelessness. The mayor dissected the problem, gave us a candid take on the scope of the challenge and outlined the steps his administration had taken as well as his future initiatives. So far, so good. All good talking points.

Then, as he spoke of the need for “an army of social workers” to help fight homelessness, he made an offhand remark that he “goes out with these outreach teams all the time” and that “I know people by their first names on the street now.” That personal aside lasted a few seconds before he went back to discussing statistics, programs, and so on.

I thought to myself: Wow, a mayor who goes out on the street to talk to the homeless. That’s big. That’s the kind of politician I would vote for. Why didn’t he play it up more?

His next offhand remark was also very brief. He was talking about the problem of crime, and was making the connection between crime, mental health and the ubiquitous use of drugs. He quoted a psychiatrist at a local hospital that he had met recently. How did he meet her? Here’s what he said:

“I talked to a woman. I do office hours where people come in and talk to me, just kind of random people who can sign up. And the one who, one of the people who got through this last week to talk to me was a psychiatrist.” He then went right back to his main subject.

Again, I thought: Wow. A mayor who allows anyone to sign up and make an appointment with him. That’s what President Lincoln did! Why doesn’t Garcetti make a bigger deal of this stuff, especially in front of journalists?

The only explanation I could come up with is that this man is not a show off. A policy wonk, maybe, but not a show off. Putting any cynicism aside, maybe he does these “extra” human things not to look good but because he really wants to do them.

There was one more offhand remark that caught my attention. It happened while the mayor was talking about his administration’s efforts to bring the Olympics to Los Angeles in 2024.

Out of the blue, he looked out at the late afternoon view from our conference room, and said, “Don’t miss the sunlight on the Hollywood sign right now.”

He could have given me twenty well-crafted talking points about his love for Los Angeles, and it wouldn’t be worth the spontaneity of interrupting himself in front of journalists to admire a view of his beloved city.

His appreciation for that golden view may have something to do with the fact that he’s an avid photographer. That’s another human trait he downplayed – in fact, he never brought it up.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Will a new generation step up to civic leadership?

At first glance, Jews might appear to be enjoying a renaissance of political influence in Los Angeles. Eric Garcetti is the first elected Jewish mayor and the two other citywide elected officials — City Attorney Mike Feuer and City Controller Ron Galperin — are Jewish, too. So are three City Councilmembers.

But the era is long past when an energized base of African American and Jewish voters could team up to help Mayor Tom Bradley make history. Power in Los Angeles is more diffused, and thanks in part to the Jewish commitment to expanding and leveling the democratic playing field, a wide variety of diverse constituencies are better organized. This is a welcome change that has helped lift the voices of all Angelenos.

“Jewish heritage is American heritage,” Vice President Joe Biden said last May, crediting Jews for America’s progress in women’s rights, civil rights, science, law, and LGBT rights. Yet as Los Angeles political expert Raphael J. Sonenshein noted in his column in the Journal in June, Jewish support is “no longer a necessity for minority access to political leadership at the local level.” In other words, Jewish voters are not the deciding factor they once were in Los Angeles politics. Meanwhile, many of L.A.'s most influential Jewish leaders have turned from political pursuits to philanthropic initiatives.

Now a new generation of Jews is growing up in a new Los Angeles. Our region is more diverse than ever, and while serious inequalities and social divisions persist, many areas are seeing new integration. Jewish Angelenos, having left downtown for the Valley and the Westside, are returning to an increasingly integrated urban core, from the East Side to Pico-Union to Koreatown.

As Biden rightly noted, that spirit of integration pervades contemporary American Jewish identity—and so does civic commitment. Jumpstart’s latest research on charitable giving, Connected to Give, confirms the generosity of American Jews across all causes. The stronger our community connections, it shows, the stronger our commitment to the common good.

Like that of so many others, my own story—a co-chair of the Clinton Foundation Millennium Network leadership council who is the child of a Holocaust survivor, a new County commissioner who is the cofounder of an innovative Jewish nonprofit startup—reflects this synergy. Like so many others, I am inspired by a Jewish tradition that spurs us, indeed demands of us, that we help lead the conversation about where our city and society are heading, and how we all can get there together.

For me, as for a number of other Jewish Angelenos active in civic service, appointed office has offered the opportunity to bring my personal commitments and professional skills to bear for the broader good.  There are myriad city and county commissions that advise government departments and agencies. The City of Los Angeles alone has more than 50 commissions with more than 300 commissioners. They develop policies governing the LAPD and pensions for city workers, ideas for modern city planning, solutions for increasing affordable housing. Commissions are a key mechanism for citizen participation in and oversight of government, and they play a central role shaping the local agenda.

But we are a handful among hundreds. How can we ensure that rising leaders from across the diverse spectrum of the Los Angeles Jewish community have the skills and understanding necessary to earn an appointment and make a sustained positive impact? By making sure we're training the next generation of Jewish civic leaders.

And that’s where the Jewish Federation’s New Leaders Project (NLP) comes in.

For more than 20 years (and currently recruiting for next year’s class), NLP has helped train hundreds of Jewish leaders, many of whom have gone on to serve as elected and appointed officials (including commissioners), nonprofit directors, business executives. NLP helps young Jewish leaders broaden their understanding of the complex issues and diverse communities across the region. Participants meet with innovators both inside the Jewish community and out. And they get to work hands on with elected, civic, community and business leaders, forming crucial relationships and learning the nuances of the city's power structures — all through a lens grounded in Jewish values. NLP has helped inspire similar civic efforts in other minority religious communities, such as the SikhLEAD Leadership Development Program and the American Muslim Civic Leadership Initiative.

The future of our community—both Angeleno and Jewish—depends on creating more opportunities for us to live out our values for the benefit of the broader world. My own training as an NLP fellow in 2012 helped broaden my civic horizons and prepare me to take on the obligation of building a better Los Angeles.

The echoes of the Bradley era still resonate today as Los Angeles’s diversity continues to be a source of our strength. Whether through training programs like NLP or service through commissions, each of us can make a powerful statement that we care deeply about our society and that we will keep fighting to repair the world. Jewish values—American values—call us to act.

NLP is currently recruiting for 2014. For more information, go to www.JewishLA.org/NLP.

We are Carlos Danger

By last Wednesday, thanks to the magic of the Internet, I had seen as much of Anthony Weiner’s private parts as if I had spent the afternoon with him in the shvitz.

The former congressman and New York mayoral hopeful had sexted the pictures to his 23-year-old crush, Sydney Leathers, and she, either disillusioned by his newly crafted family guy image, or just aching to get at least as much airtime as a congressman’s genitals, posted them for all to see.  

By Thursday, I got the whole story from Leathers herself, when she sat for an interview with Howard Stern. For me the telling moment came when Stern asked Leathers why Weiner used the screen name “Carlos Danger.”

Leathers said she never asked; she just assumed it played into his fantasy that he was living some exotic, adventurous double life.

“I think he thought we were in some sexy telenovela together,” she said.

This has been one Wet Hot American Jewish Summer, with an I-405-worthy pileup of Jewish sex scandals.

Weiner is the most late-night worthy, but right behind him is San Diego Mayor “Headlock” Bob Filner, whose female co-workers and colleagues, past and present, have accused him of very inappropriate touching.

Oh, and Eliot “Black Sox” Spitzer is back. After he was caught consorting with expensive prostitutes in 2008, he shamefacedly resigned as governor of New York. Now he’s running for New York City comptroller.

Spitzer claims he is a new man — which would be much more believable if Weiner hadn’t claimed the same thing after he was caught, the first time.

In a New York Times essay this week, Jodi Kantor wondered with great portent how the Jewish community was facing all the salacious news. When Jews go down to scandal, it’s usually of the financial sort — Madoff, Abramoff, the Spinka rabbis, etc. Weiner, Filner and Spitzer — which sounds like the name of the world’s creepiest law firm — have shown that Jews can also excel in an area once reserved for hypocritical televangelists and deeply closeted congressmen. 

Kantor’s thesis is that the hyper-sexual Jew depicted in Philip Roth’s 1967 novel “Portnoy’s Complaint” has, finally, dybbuk-like, inhabited the bodies and upended the careers of our erstwhile political heroes.

“Nearly half a century after the publication of ‘Portnoy’s Complaint,’ politics is finally catching up with fiction,” Kantor wrote, “as libidinous, self-sabotaging politicians are causing grimaces among fellow Jews and retiring outdated cultural assumptions — that Jewish men make solid husbands and that sex scandals belong to others.”

That’s her thesis, and I think before it enters the culture as some kind of fact — this is The New York Times, after all — it bears some unpacking.

Yes, some Jews are indeed feeling embarrassed by the improprieties of their landsmen. That we would utter a small, collective “oy” really isn’t that much of a mystery if you think of Jews not as a religion or a race, but as a family. We take undue credit when one of our own achieves fame — 187 Jewish Nobel Prize winners and Scarlett Johansson! — and we feel unwarranted embarrassment when a Jew, like any human, stumbles. 

But let’s be honest, it’s a pretty low-grade sense of shame — mixed with a shpritz of schadenfreude. Weiner was a cocky congressman — his own brother once called him the d-word (look it up, this is a family newspaper) — so his comeuppance isn’t exactly heartbreaking.

And as to Kantor’s assertion that somehow these scandals now dispel the idea that Jewish men make solid husbands or are above sexual scandal — those are two very different points, and the response is, yes, Jewish men make solid husbands, and no, we’re not above sexual scandal. 

Statistically, Jewish marriages last longer, according to demographer and jewishjournal.com blogger Pini Herman.

In a study of divorcing couples, each partner was asked to list their religion at the time of the divorce. Jews married to Jews had the longest median time married before divorce, according to the study.

“That is a [one-]third longer marriage among couples where both were Jewish, who eventually filed for divorce,” Herman wrote. 

Of course, that might just suggest that Jews suffer longer in bad marriages than others — but, hey, we try.

As for sex, Roth’s Portnoy merely gave free voice to the desires  that every American male, Jewish and not, secretly harbors.

“The perfect couple,” mused Portnoy about a lover, “she puts the id back in yid, I put the oy back in goy.”

That cri de crotch has been echoed by successive generations of Jewish entertainers, from Woody Allen to Howard Stern to Sarah Silverman to Lena Dunham, all of whom have unleashed their libidos through their art and, in the process, made what was dark, secret and forbidden the stuff of stand-up and sitcoms. The difference between the Jewish libido and the gentile one is we talk about ours.   

So, yes Ms. Kantor, like all men, every Jewish man fantasizes, at one time or another, about being a seductive man of mystery — Carlos Danger! — in a sexy tryst. But the vast majority of us know we do much better to take that fantasy and turn it into comedy — before our lives become the punch line.

History matters: 
Garcetti and the history of Jewish politics

With Eric Garcetti’s election on May 21, the mayors of the three largest cities in the United States — Michael Bloomberg in New York, Rahm Emanuel in Chicago and Garcetti in Los Angeles — are all Jews. This is a remarkable phenomenon, perhaps most of all because of how unremarked upon, and thus unremarkable, it is. There has not been a major manifestation of anti-Semitism protesting this development. Nor has there been wild celebration within the Jewish community. Why not? For the simple reason that Garcetti’s triumph culminates, rather than inaugurates, a long process of Jewish political empowerment in the United States. Simply put, Jews have arrived to the point that their appearance at the very center of the political mainstream merits no special attention. In our own city, three of the top four candidates for mayor in the recent primary — Garcetti, Wendy Greuel and Jan Perry — were Jewish or married to a Jew.

The question of how this came about in this city is an intriguing story. The current moment of Jewish political empowerment in Los Angeles is not altogether without precedent, but instead harks back to the formative era of the community’s history. In fact, we can speak of three phases in L.A. Jewish political history, each roughly a half-century in duration and marked by its own character. (Leading L.A. political analyst Raphael Sonenshein has traced these phases in his various studies. More recently, the three phases have been the subject of detailed analysis by Karen Wilson, Caroline Luce and Amy Shevitz in their fine essays in “Jews in the Los Angeles Mosaic,” the book that accompanies the superb exhibition on L.A. Jewry now on view at the Autry National Center.)

The opening phase, extending roughly from 1850 to 1900, featured the arrival of the first Jews to the modern city of Los Angeles. Primarily of Central European origin, the founding families, including the Newmarks, Hellmans, Kremers, Lazards and Meyers, were quickly integrated into the economic, social, cultural and political life of the city. Settled in downtown Los Angeles, they mixed easily among the diverse groups in town — the Mexicans, Chinese and Anglos, among others. They became prominent merchants, were extremely active in civic organizations (Jewish and non-), and served in a variety of political capacities. One of the Jews elected to City Council, Prussian-born Bernard Cohn, became acting mayor of the city on several occasions in 1878. Los Angeles was a commercial entrepôt, creating an ambience of tolerance and openness in which Jews were welcome.

If this first phase was marked by integration, the second phase, stretching broadly from 1900 to 1950, was marked by marginalization and disempowerment. It also was distinguished by spectacular growth in the city’s and Jewish community’s population. From the 136 Jews counted in 1881, the Jewish community numbered 2,500 in 1900 and then continued to grow exponentially, moving from 43,000 in 1923 to 315,000 in 1951. Large waves of Jewish newcomers came from Eastern Europe, and smaller numbers of Sephardic Jews from Turkey and Rhodes. There was also a noticeable influx of both Jews and gentiles from the Midwest, a migratory pattern that left a profound, and increasingly conservative, imprint on the city. To be sure, it was in this era that Boyle Heights became a major center of Jewish life, humming with cultural, religious and (often radical) political activity. It was also this era that witnessed the rise of the Jewish moguls in Hollywood, intent on creating, as Neal Gabler argued in his 1989 book of that name, “An Empire of Their Own.” And yet, Jews of all stripes, origins and classes were exposed to potent new forms of anti-Semitism, as well as to rising barriers to their integration into the social and political mainstream. 

The third phase in the story of L.A. Jewish politics commenced symbolically in 1953, the year in which the first Jewish woman, Rosalind Wiener Wyman, was elected, at the age of 23, to the Los Angeles City Council. This signal achievement reversed the previous decades of political neglect and paved the way for the defining force in L.A. politics of the past half-century: the renowned Bradley coalition that drew on the combined strengths of the African-American and Jewish communities to elect Tom Bradley as mayor in 1973. This coalition featured the new assertiveness of Westside Jews, who had left behind Boyle Heights and become leading representatives of a liberal politics that continues to characterize Jews in Los Angeles and elsewhere to this day. Among the alumni of this coalition are leading Jewish political figures of our time, such as Henry Waxman, Howard Berman, Zev Yaroslavsky and a former Bradley aide named Wendy Greuel. It was the Bradley coalition that opened the way for today’s stunning degree of Jewish political participation that reversed the neglect of the previous era and restored the political power held by Jews in the original phase.

Eric Garcetti thus should be seen not only as the first Jewish mayor of our city. Along with new City Attorney Mike Feuer and Controller Ron Galperin, he is heir to a 60-year process of Jewish political re-enfranchisement that curiously calls to mind the earliest years in the history of modern Los Angeles.

David N. Myers teaches Jewish history and chairs the UCLA History Department.

Garcetti, Feuer, Galperin: A new era of Jewish leadership in L.A.?

Los Angeles chose Eric Garcetti as its first elected Jewish mayor, one of a number of political contests on Tuesday that reflected the city’s diversity, as well as its numerous variations of Jewishness. (In a historical footnote, one Bernard Cohn served as the appointed mayor of Los Angeles for a few weeks in 1878.)

Garcetti, 42, and a veteran city councilman, defeated city controller Wendy Greuel by eight points according to final results announced Wednesday morning.

He is the son of a Jewish mother and was raised as a Jew. On his father’s side, he is of mixed Italian and Mexican heritage.

Greuel is not Jewish but is married to a Jewish attorney and their nine-year old son attends a Jewish religious school. Both candidates are liberal Democrats and their campaigns were based more on personalities than ideological differences.

Defeated in the earlier primaries was Councilwoman Jan Perry, an African-American and a convert to Judaism.

Jewish candidates for two other citywide offices won impressive victories. Mike Feuer, a longstanding Jewish community activist, beat incumbent Carmen Trutanich by 62 to 38 percent of the vote.

Newcomer Ron Galperin handily defeated veteran politician Dennis Zine by 12 points to become the new city controller. In his campaign literature, particularly when aimed at Jewish voters, Galperin stressed that his parents were Holocaust survivors who had fought for Israel in the 1948 War of Independence.

Los Angeles’ 600,000 Jews make up the second largest Jewish community in the United States, but are only six percent of the city’s roughly 4 million residents. However, they generally represent about 20 percent of those actually casting ballots in municipal elections, which are marked by low voter turnout.  In Tuesday’s election, only 19 percent of registered voters cast ballots by mail or at polling stations.

Does the election of Jews to three top offices in Tuesday’s citywide contests point to a return to the glory days of 20 years ago, when six of the 15 city council members were Jewish, as were four congressmen, half the members of the public school board and the county sheriff?

The Journal put this question to Harold Meyerson, who served as executive editor of the L.A. Weekly and host of the weekly show “Real Politics” on KCRW during the 1990s.

He now lives on the East Coast and is editor-at-large of “The American Prospect” and a weekly columnist for the Washington Post, but he follows LA politics closely and was in town for the elections.

Some 20 to 30 years ago, Meyerson said, the Jewish population concentrations in Los Angeles on the Westside and in the San Fernando Valley reflexively chose Jewish politicians, while non-Jewish districts generally did not.

Over time, Jews began to feel secure and integrated enough to back non-Jewish candidates, such as former state senators Tom Hayden and Sheila Kuehl, while in parallel anti-Semitism declined in the general population.

Applying this analysis to the 2013 elections, “the Jewish factor didn’t matter this much for either the Jewish or non-Jewish voters,” according to Meyerson.

He evaluated Mayor-elect Eric Garcetti as “a bright guy and pretty good labor progressive,” who might innovate some policies to boost public transportation.

Character reference: Wendy Greuel

I have known Wendy Greuel for almost 30 years, since she was a young UCLA graduate working for Mayor Tom Bradley. Wendy didn’t just get the tough assignments in the mayor’s office; she sought them out — especially if she could help those less fortunate or those without a voice in desperate need of one. 

In the mid-’80s, Wendy led the effort to address the burgeoning problem of homelessness in Los Angeles. I remember being very impressed when Wendy ventured into dangerous areas essentially consisting of tent encampments to meet the people living there and to determine what kind of services they needed. She also focused on homeless veterans, many from the Vietnam War, working closely with Judge Harry Pregerson to create housing options for them. 

In the late ’80s, to address the proliferation of gang violence, Wendy also used her amazing skill of bringing people together in helping to create LA’s BEST After-School Enrichment, now a model nationwide, serving 189 elementary schools in LAUSD and 28,000 kids every day who live in the most socio-economically challenged areas of our city. These were difficult assignments, which drew on Wendy’s greatest assets — determination to make a difference and empathy informing that determination.

[Related: Eric Garcetti’s caring for those who are struggling defines his political legacy]

Wendy’s successes from the outset of her career were not surprising to anyone who knew her. She was the first to show up at work each day and the last to leave. Everyone knew that Wendy never wasted time and never let anything stop her from accomplishing the task at hand. Wendy’s diligence, productivity and disciplined focus have always been her hallmarks; those traits, coupled with her passion for social justice, have enabled Wendy to make meaningful change. And, because she is blessed with modesty and humility, Wendy has always pitched in to do the “grunt” work or unpopular tasks in order to get the job done. As she moved up the career ladder and moved into elected office, nothing about Wendy or her character changed. She remains one of the hardest workers I have ever known. Her humility, sense of compassion and commitment to social justice remain steadfast; her decisions are guided by basic ethical standards; pursuing justice, treating every human being with dignity and respect, and treating others as you yourself would like to be treated.

While Wendy is not Jewish, she has a passionate affinity for Judaism and for Israel. Wendy has persistently stood with the Jewish community in support of Israel, even when many of her elected colleagues would not. 

When she was an L.A. city councilwoman, Wendy sat on the dais at the pro-Israel demonstration in front of The Jewish Federation building during the second Lebanon War. In fact, it was disturbing when Wendy was criticized in the L.A. Times for being there, the reporter quipping that she wasn’t even Jewish, suggesting that a non-Jew’s support for Israel could not be sincere. Nothing could be further from the truth. That Wendy is not Jewish hasn’t stopped her from standing and speaking out in support of Israel repeatedly; after the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara attempted to run through an Israeli blockade, Wendy once again stood in front of the Israeli Consulate and spoke out in solid support of Israel. As any friend of Wendy knows, she is a leader who maintains the courage of her convictions. 

Although already having a strong connection to the Jewish community in Los Angeles, Wendy’s connection was further strengthened when, 10 years ago, she married Dean Schramm, who is Jewish and actively engaged in Los Angeles’ Jewish communal life. Wendy and Dean have an adorable and wonderful 9-year-old son, Thomas, who they are raising Jewish and who loves to go to religious school at Temple Israel of Hollywood (TIOH), where they are members. Wendy shared with me recently how much she enjoyed family day at TIOH, watching Thomas absorb the values of Judaism and excel in learning Hebrew. That she has embraced a more intimate connection to Judaism is not surprising, for those Jewish values Thomas is learning are values Wendy already possesses.

I’ll close with one final thought about Wendy. Several years ago, the twin sister of a mutual friend of ours was murdered, a woman with two small children. In the midst of this crisis, this horrific situation and despite the demands of her job, Wendy was there for our friend and her sister’s children, unflinching, unwavering, ever helpful and terribly caring. I was watching. Wendy’s actions spoke volumes. Above all, Wendy is a fine human being … a mensch.

Inherent in Wendy’s being is her moral compass that guides all of her relationships and all of her actions. At the core of that compass are the values of fairness, compassion and justice. She will be an amazing mayor, and we, the residents of Los Angeles, will benefit and will watch her with pride.

Janice Kamenir-Reznik is the co-founder and president of Jewish World Watch, a leading organization in the fight against genocide and mass atrocities worldwide.

Character references: Eric Garcetti

In a few weeks, Eric Garcetti might become Los Angeles’ youngest mayor in more than a century. When Eric was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University from 1993 to 1996, we were close friends and he was a regular at my L’Chaim Society.

In this age of extreme political partisanship, it’s incumbent upon those in the know to highlight the character of candidates seeking public office in a manner that transcends party affiliation. Despite my own recent run for Congress on the Republican ticket, my endorsement of Eric, a Democrat, is based on 20 years of knowing him as one of the finest students I came across in my 11 years as rabbi at Oxford.

Eric was always a very pleasant, humble, wise, sincere and serious. We would often discuss his mixed heritage, coming from a Catholic father, who was famous as Los Angeles’ district attorney, and his Jewish mother. Eric would often come to our Friday night Shabbat dinners.

But there was one unforgettable incident that really defined his character for me in a moment of terrible tragedy.

[Related: Inherent in Wendy Greuel’s being is her moral compass]

One day in 1994, I received a phone call in the late afternoon from a student who was crying bitterly. She was almost incoherent with grief. The student, who was studying at Oxford, far away from home, had just received a phone call that her beloved father, with whom she was very close, had died in a terrible accident. She pleaded with me to help her in this moment of agony. I reached her family and we all decided the best thing would be for her to return home as soon as possible. I told them I would drive her to the airport in London.

There was one problem. I had already invited Eric over to our home for a private dinner with my wife and me. Given that this was before most students had cell phones, I could not tell Eric in time that the dinner was being canceled.

I drove to the student’s college dorm, where some of her friends were helping her pack her things. We drove straight to my home, where my wife could speak to her and where she could eat something before the long night ahead of her. As we walked into the house, there was Eric. He had no idea of the night’s events. I quickly introduced him to young woman. 

I said to Eric, “I’m so sorry that we have to cancel dinner tonight. You see, she has just learned that her father passed away just hours ago.” 

Moments like this show an individual’s true character. Here was Eric, a popular Rhodes scholar who had come to have dinner at his rabbi’s home. What followed was an interaction that has lingered in my mind and which I will never forget.

Confronted with a total stranger’s grief and tragedy, Eric looked right at the student and, in the gentlest words, said, “I am so sorry for your pain. I’m heartbroken to hear the news. Please tell me if there is anything I can do.” 

His face contorted in pain, Eric spent the next few minutes speaking with her. It was not what he said but the way he said it. He spoke with extreme empathy and understanding and the student felt that this total stranger was sharing her pain. 

It is quite remarkable that nearly 20 years later I can remember the scene so vividly. What I saw was genuine human compassion for the plight of a complete stranger. I remember thinking to myself that here was a young man with a soft and special heart, that he had the ability to connect genuinely and compassionately with those who were suffering.

Eric waited around and kept emphasizing that he wanted to help in any way that he could. He refused to leave the home until the student and I departed for the airport. 

For years to come, whenever I visited the student and her husband, she was so deeply touched by Eric’s caring that she would ask me how he was doing. Conversely, Eric regularly asks me about the welfare of the woman. I’m not sure if they ever met again, but for me, as a witness to a brief exchange between two people in a moment of tragedy, it was a demonstration of Eric’s desire to always be there for those who are suffering.

Indeed, Eric’s caring for those who are struggling would become his defining political legacy as a councilman and then as president of the Los Angeles City Council.

In Oxford, our organization specialized in hosting world personalities who lectured on values-based issues. About a year after this sad story, Eric was instrumental in helping me host his father, L.A. District Attorney Gil Garcetti, to lecture to our students. Gil was all over the news at the time, having been involved in the high-profile cases, such as O.J. Simpson and Michael Jackson. I remember witnessing just how close Eric was to his father and the special bond they shared. It was something that I was reminded of recently, when I was invited to the birthday party of Eric’s young child, seeing the deference and respect Eric accords his parents and the loving bond with his wife, Amy, whom I also knew at Oxford. Gil is now an accomplished photographer and the son he mentored has grown to become a special man.

It is my hope that his father will have the privilege of taking the very first photograph of Los Angeles’ newest mayor.

Shmuley Boteach, whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” has just published his newest best-seller, “The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.

Eric Garcetti: A new Jewish face for L.A.?

This is one in a series of profiles of the five leading Los Angeles mayoral candidates running in the March 5 election.  See below for a video analysis.

During a recent candidates’ forum at Sinai Temple, Los Angeles City Councilman and mayoral hopeful Eric Garcetti began his opening statement by thanking his hosts, the audience, and the moderator, Rabbi David Wolpe.

“It was wonderful to be here for High Holidays,” Garcetti said, “and it’s great to see this room, which I’ve come to for so many dinners and events, filled with folks … who care about politics.”

Garcetti may speak with the eloquence befitting a former Rhodes Scholar and demonstrate the manners of a naval reserve officer, but one longtime member of Sinai Temple didn’t like what she heard.

“He’s not Jewish,” said Eileen Hinkes, who said she was leaning towards the lone Republican in the race, Kevin James. “I think he [Garcetti] played the ‘Jewish card’ to try to appeal to this audience. ”

Garcetti is the son of a Jewish mother and a father whose parents were Italian- and Mexican-American, and he identifies as both Jewish and Latino. He has been to Israel on multiple occasions, and he’s a frequent attendee at IKAR, an independent congregation in Los Angeles. Still, the experience of having his identity questioned isn’t new.

“Growing up with an Italian last name, I think a lot of people thought I was neither Mexican nor Jewish,” Garcetti said in an interview a few days after the Jan. 29 debate. “This is who I am. If I left politics tomorrow, I’d still be eating what I eat, talking to my family the way I do, worshipping the way I do.”

Garcetti, 42, is one of three candidates claiming some type of Jewish identity in the race to be Los Angeles’s next mayor. The others are City Councilwoman Jan Perry,  who converted to Judaism as an adult and City Controller Wendy Greuel, who is married to a Jewish man and is a member of a synagogue. In campaign appearances, all three have emphasized their commitment to L.A.’s Jews, a small but disproportionately influential segment of the citizenry that could cast as much as 20 percent of the votes in the citywide primary election on March 5.

Running against two longtime City Hall colleagues, Garcetti’s argument is that he is best able to spur economic growth in the city. In his 12 years representing the 13th district in City Council, including six as Council president, Garcetti said he “has not shied away from tough decisions in tough times.”

“You could stand by the sidelines, which might have been politically easier, or you could jump in and actually do things, like pension reform and reducing the number of people who work on the city payrolls, and bring down our costs,” Garcetti said, referring to a September 2012 plan that reduced benefits and raised the retirement age for newly hired city workers. “And I did that.”

At a time when the city is facing an estimated $222 million budget deficit for the current fiscal year, Garcetti still believes things are less bad than they were before actions taken by city council improved the situation.

Garcetti takes credit for enacting some reforms to pensions for future city hires and reducing the number of employees paid by the city’s general fund, which have helped narrow the budget deficit.

For the city to close the gap, Garcetti said L.A. needs to focus on economic growth and not just cut costs or tax more. But similarly, Perry’s campaign slogan (“Tough enough to make Los Angeles work again”) hits the same theme, and Greuel has said that her number one priority is, “jobs, jobs jobs.”

To differentiate himself, Garcetti has touted his work in fostering development in Hollywood, one of 12 neighborhoods in the council district he represents. Hollywood has grown dramatically during Garcetti’s tenure in office, and though some have criticized aspects of the neighborhood’s transformation – the complaints include gentrification that pushed out some long-time residents and dramatically increased traffic — Garcetti claims the public favors the development that has taken root there, and he has overseen approval of plans for more building in the future. 

“I think you’d be hard-pressed to find many people who know the Hollywood of 15 years ago who say that its not better today,” Garcetti said, referring to the dramatic decrease in gang activity in the neighborhoods, as well as more and better restaurants and entertainment venues.

Until recently, Garcetti has refrained from attacking his opponents — perhaps because he was holding a narrow lead over Greuel according to some polls – but he dismissed Greuel’s claim to have identified $160 million in wasteful and fraudulent spending.

Garcetti presents himself as a native son, and not just of a single neighborhood, but of the city in all its diversity.

“My dad grew up in South L.A.,” Garcetti said of former Los Angeles County District Attorney Gil Garcetti. “My great-grandparents and grandparents grew up in Boyle Heights; my mom grew up in West L.A.; I grew up in the San Fernando Valley; now I live in the heart of the city. There’s not a part of this city I can go to without feeling a direct connection.”

In his district, Garcetti said he has tripled the number of parks for his constituents, from 16 when he took office to 48 today, and he says he’s running for mayor because he’s “dissatisfied” with the state of Los Angeles and wants to make Los Angeles great again – which is how it felt to him as a teenager in Encino in the 1980s.

“It was a place where you felt like anything was possible; nothing held you back,” he said, sitting on a bench in Historic Filipinotown, in one of the new parks he helped to create. And while L.A. in the ’80s had “big problems,” including segregated schools and a police department that wasn’t representative of the city, Garcetti said, “what we did have was real middle-class opportunities.”

To bring back some of those opportunities, Garcetti is hoping to improve the city’s infrastructure – in public appearances, he’s talked about the possibility of tunneling under the 405 Freeway to bring public transit through the Sepulveda Pass – while also improving its business climate. And if he becomes mayor (Garcetti tends to start his sentences like that with the word “when”), he said he’ll aim to emulate mayors of other great American cities, like New York’s Michael Bloomberg.

“I love his conscience and his storytelling ability, and I like Rahm’s fearlessness,” Garcetti said, referring to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Then he went on to mention Newark Mayor Cory Booker, whom he called “a very dear friend,” saying “I like the way he has connected government to people’s daily lives.”

In his essence, despite his long political career, Garcetti comes across still as a clean-cut former professor (he taught international relations at Occidental, and USC) with an impressive academic pedigree (with degrees from Columbia and Oxford). He has won over some business leaders even as he courts support from organized labor and emphasizes his environmentalist and progressive agenda. Garcetti also is running as an incumbent against the backdrop of high unemployment – barely below 10 percent in Los Angeles County. As is often required of a candidate, even as Garcetti stays on message, he does a lot of code switching, or shifting between languages, depending on his audience.

As a result, Garcetti’s multifaceted identity has tripped up some members of the communities whose heritage he shares. Assembly Speaker John Pérez, who has endorsed Greuel, told KPCC in December, “There isn’t a Latino candidate running for mayor that I know of.”

But to watch Garcetti on the trail is to see someone at ease with the boundaries he’s crossing. In October 2012, during a conversation on stage with an African-American radio host and marketer, Garcetti briefly showed off a few breakdance moves, which he said he had honed in middle school. (Garcetti didn’t mention the school’s name — he graduated from the tony boys’ prep school that later became Harvard-Westlake.) Garcetti has been known to speak fluently in Spanish during interviews on Spanish-language TV, and Mexican-American actress Salma Hayek endorsed him with videos both in English and her native tongue.

“To be an effective mayor you have to be able to cross borders every single day,” Garcetti said. “Demographic, income, geographic, ethnic boundaries and feel comfortable and fluent everywhere.”



Obama mourns Koch’s passing

President Obama mourned the passing of New York Mayor Ed Koch, noting among Koch's passions his love for Israel.

“In public office and beyond, his energy, force of personality, and commitment to causes ranging from civic issues to the security of the state of Israel always informed and enlivened the public discourse,” Obama said Friday. “Michelle and I send our thoughts and prayers to Ed’s loved ones, and to the city that survives him.”

Koch twice endorsed Obama, in 2008 and 2012, although each endorsement was followed by periods of lacerating criticism of Obama's Israel-related policy, and most recently of Obama's nomination of Chuck Hagel as defense secretary.

L.A. mayoral candidate Wendy Greuel’s coalition building

Mayoral candidate Wendy Greuel, born and raised Christian, is married to a Jew. The couple’s 10-year-old son studies Hebrew and is being raised in the Jewish tradition. The family attends synagogue.

“So with all this Jewishness around you, why haven’t you taken the next step and converted?” I asked.

“Well, we have definitely talked about that,” Greuel, currently the city controller, said. “It certainly is a part of my perspective of something I would like to do.”

There is an unusually strong Jewish affiliation among the candidates in this year’s mayoral election. City Councilman Eric Garcetti’s mother is Jewish; he is Latino on his father’s side. City Councilwoman Jan Perry, who is African-American, converted to Judaism while in college.  Also in the race are two non-Jews, Kevin James, an attorney and talk-radio host, and Emanuel Pleitez, who was born in South Los Angeles, raised in El Sereno, and graduated from Stanford. Pleitez ran and lost for Congress in 2009 after working on the Obama Treasury Department transition team.

This election is about candidates trying to build coalitions. It’s crucial for them in order to capture enough of the multiethnic, geographically sprawling Los Angeles electorate to finish in the top two in the March 5 primary and advance to the May 25 runoff.  Their appeal must cross ethnic and philosophical lines, uniting diverse supporters. But each of these candidates is starting from what they perceive as their base. 

The liberal Garcetti is taking advantage of his Latino roots and fluent Spanish, while also noting he considers himself part of the Jewish community. Pleitez speaks of his up-from-poverty background while battling Garcetti for Latino support. Perry, who has represented largely African-American and Latino South Los Angeles as well as the central city, is using those constituencies as a base while hoping to take advantage of her religious affiliation.  Republican James is aiming for conservative stretches of the San Fernando Valley, but also broadening his appeal by talking of his years as chairman of AIDS Project Los Angeles. Greuel, born and raised in the San Fernando Valley, is going after the Valley electorate, plus adding other elements of the city’s ethnic mix. She hopes to revive the coalition of African-Americans and Jews that elected her political hero and former boss, the late Mayor Tom Bradley, who was African-American. 

I asked Greuel about Judaism when we talked last week. 

Greuel told me that when she and her husband, Dean Schramm, a lawyer, were dating, “Late one night, he asked me the question, ‘How did I feel about the religion of my children and would I be opposed to raising our child Jewish?’ And it was an immediate response, ‘I’d be happy to, yes, of course, I would raise our child Jewish. He asked me last night,” she said, referring to the night before our interview, “ ‘You responded so quickly, I’ve never even asked you why you did that.’ ”

Greuel said she told him, “Because I believe in the Jewish tradition and religion, the values that the community have are important to me. About giving back, about the good moral values, about being part of a community.”

I asked her if she and her husband discussed her converting.

“My husband has always been at a point where he would love to have that happen,” Greuel said. “We’ve been a little busy, getting married, having a child and getting elected.  It is something we have talked about doing, particularly as my son started religious school, and it is something that is a very important issue in our lives, particularly for our son.”

Also influential was a trip she and her husband took to Israel. It was, she said, “very emotional and transformative, and it was one of the times I thought, ‘This is the next step in my understanding and embracing of the Jewish tradition and Israel.’ ” It’s important, she said, “to have the mayor of the second-largest city in America standing up for Israel.”

Greuel’s father was raised in the Congregational Church and “we would go there and to a Presbyterian church in the Valley. We didn’t necessarily go every Sunday, but it was part of that life.”

Greuel grew up near the Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills and had friends who belonged to it. Another Jewish connection was from her non-Jewish mother. “She was married once before to someone who was Jewish,” Greuel said. “So she swore there was some Jewish part of her. Her name was Golda Alice. She went by the name of Alice… My mom used to tell me that she always thought I would marry a nice Jewish boy, and I did.”

As a young aide in the office of Mayor Bradley, Greuel hung out with Jewish colleagues in an administration with many Jews and African-Americans. 

She said she learned from Bradley, “It’s about bringing everyone to the table. …  It is all about being a coalition builder, and that’s what I have learned at every level in my life.  And, again, I think [that’s] why I have had such a close relationship with the Jewish community; we have worked together on housing, homeless issues … child care and health services for the seniors. Those are all things I did in the mayor’s office that had a close relationship to the many Jewish organizations in L.A.”

Greuel also saw the Bradley coalition crumble — first in 1985, over the mayor’s  belated condemnation of Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam leader with a taste for anti-Semitic rhetoric, when Farrakhan was speaking in Los Angeles, and in 1992, when ethnic alliances broke apart during the riots after the Rodney King verdicts.

Although those events may now seem distant history, they show the challenges that leaders face in forging political and social coalitions in this city of many ethnicities. And sometimes the ethnic groups themselves are divided from within, as we have seen in the Jewish community at times over matters such as Israel and the last presidential election.

Forging coalitions will likely be a tough calling for a candidate who, as a young woman, started in Tom Bradley’s office and now wants to continue his legacy in even more challenging times.

Bill Boyarsky is a columnist for the Jewish Journal, Truthdig and L.A. Observed, and the author of “Inventing L.A.: The Chandlers and Their Times” (Angel City Press).

Yaroslavsky reflects on decision to leave politics

In an interview with The Journal on Thursday, Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said that he hasn’t spent much time yet thinking specifically about what he’s going to devote his time and energy to after he leaves public office at the end of his term in 2014, but he said he will continue to work in the areas that have been priorities for him—especially helping to address the needs of the homeless and providing healthcare to those who cannot afford insurance.

Yaroslavsky, 63, had announced on his Web site Thursday morning that he will not enter next year’s Los Angeles mayoral race, despite having entertained the possibility for many months. He wrote that he will leave politics altogether once his term with the L.A. County Board of Supervisors ends in 2014.

“I have no doubt that, with my expertise and experience, I could help transform L.A.’s fortunes. In the end, however, it is this very length of service that has tipped the scales for me,” Yaroslavsky wrote.

He described the decision as “one of the most difficult … of my political life.”

Yaroslavsky was first elected to the Los Angeles City Council in 1975, at age 26, after being a prominent advocate for the cause of Soviet Jewry. When his current term ends, he will have been in public office for almost 40 years. Yaroslavsky said his plans are to “move on to the other things I’ve longed to do outside the political arena.”

[Related: Video: Yaroslavsky goes out for the count ]

Yaroslavsky said he also planned to write and teach in a part-time capacity, and said he hoped to continue his work overseas monitoring elections and working to advance democratization.

The L.A. native also said he will not be leaving Los Angeles.

“I’m not moving away,” Yaroslavsky said, “I’m going to stay involved in issues that I care about in this city.”

This isn’t the first time that Yaroslavsky has declined to run for mayor after being suggested as a potential candidate, and he had been considering a run to succeed L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa over at least the past two years. He was considered by many to be a serious contender, though he never officially announced a mayoral bid.

A Center for the Study of Los Angeles poll released in April showed Yaroslavsky ranking alongside the two official frontrunner candidates, Los Angeles City Councilman Eric Garcetti and Controller Wendy Gruel. City Councilwoman Jan Perry, who also is running, was ranked fourth.

An outpouring of praise for Yaroslavsky Thursday, including from those candidates, prompted the County Supervisor to joke that “the praise has been so incredibly effusive that I was reconsidering my decision, and I was going to claim their endorsements.”

In making his announcement on his blog, however, Yaroslavsky was definitive and serious.

“Simply put, it’s time for a new generation of leaders to emerge and guide this region into the future,” he wrote.

Praise for Yaroslavsky came from an intergenerational group of elected officials and community leaders.

“As a councilman and supervisor of Los Angeles, he has a remarkable legacy,” Rep. Henry Waxman said in an interview Thursday, “and it’s a been an honor to work with him on issues such as public health, transportation and veteran’s issues.”

Waxman first met Yaroslavsky when the latter was leading California Students for Soviet Jewry as a student at UCLA.

“He was a voice of conscience for these people who wanted to live a life of freedom in the United States or go to Israel,” Waxman, who has represented West Los Angeles in Congress since 1975, said.

California Assemblyman Mike Feuer, who succeeded Yaroslavsky on the L.A. City Council, called him “an extraordinary public servant,” citing Yaroslavsky’s work on behalf of “seniors, kids, public health, the environment, transportation and more.”

“He’s made an indelible mark on L.A., and it continues to be a privilege to work closely with him,” Feuer said.

The current representative of the fifth council district, Councilman Paul Koretz, was a student when Yaroslavsky first ran for city council in 1975.

“He had a virtually unfunded campaign,” said Koretz, who worked on Yaroslavsky’s campaign over that summer. He was expected to finish “fourth or worse,” Koretz said, but Yaroslavsky managed a narrow second-place finish in the primary, thanks to community support and the willingness to walk door-to-door to meet voters.

“Then it just took on a life of his own,” Koretz said of the 1975 campaign.

Koretz said he was “very disappointed” Yaroslavsky won’t be running for mayor.

“I think he’s probably the best budgeter in L.A. County in any elected office,” Koretz said, “and I think he would’ve been exactly what the City of Los Angeles needs from the next mayor right now.”

“He’s among the most honest, smart and dedicated public servants I’ve ever come across,” Rabbi John Rosove, senior rabbi of Temple Isarel of Hollywood, said of Yaroslavsky, “and hopefully something big will be named in his honor to recall to the minds and hearts of Angelenos that this was a politician of integrity and a public servant of great import.”

“I will miss him in public office,” added Rosove, who called Yaroslavsky a friend., “But I’m sure that he will continue to do great works, because that’s the nature of his heart and mind and soul.”

Yaroslavsky wouldn’t say whether he will endorse any of the other mayoral candidates, making the point that whoever wins will have to deal with what he called the “mess” of the city’s budget.

“Part of having to deal with it is going to be saying ‘no’ to the people who supported them in the election,” Yaroslavsky said, adding that a “bold candidate” might demonstrate during the campaign the capacity to disappoint both business interests and union interests.

Yaroslavsky called all the candidates “good people,” but said he wasn’t hopeful about any of them taking such a potentially unpopular step.

“People aren’t going to want to alienate constituencies,” he said.

Yaroslavsky was born in Boyle Heights and has lived in the Fairfax district since he was a boy. He has long been a strong advocate for Jewish causes, and for Israel, and said he would continue to stay involved in the Jewish community.

“It’s my home,” he said. “It’s who I am.”

Yaroslavsky acknowledged that, as he prepares to step out of politics, there are far fewer Jews holding public office today than in years past, and it’s less clear who in the coming generation of Jewish leaders might take his place.

Compared to the seven Jews serving on the City Council when Yaroslavsky left in 1994, today only three council members are Jewish – Perry, Koretz, and Mitchell Englander.

Yaroslavsky said he hasn’t really analyzed the reasons for the “diminution of Jewish communal interest in the political arena,” but expressed confidence that Jews working in the business, entertainment and nonprofit sectors will step up to take his mantel as future public officials.

Though he confessed that there are some things he will not miss about being in public office, Yaroslavsky called those things “trivial.”

“I’m blessed that I get to get up every morning and do what I love to do,” he said. “I’m just smart enough to know that I don’t think I’d love it as much for 50 years as I’ve loved it for 40 years.”

It’s mayor meets mayor at Temple of the Arts; Women of vision see Jews’ future in Iran

It’s mayor meets mayor at Temple of the Arts
Mayor Yona Yahov of Haifa received a standing ovation after his Kol Nidre address at Temple of the Arts in Beverly Hills Sunday night. A few minutes earlier, by way of introducing Yahov, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa spoke candidly about the feeling of disorientation his famously frenetic schedule tends to induce.
“It’s almost like not knowing where I am at any given moment,” Villaraigosa confessed.
Luckily, the sound of Hebrew prayers and his recollection of a Yom Kippur appointment at a temple in Northridge earlier in the evening helped Villaraigosa get his bearings. During his brief remarks he praised his counterpart from Haifa as a man of peace.
In his sermon on the seed of resiliency, Rabbi David Barron spoke more pointedly about Yahov’s aptness as a speaker at Sunday’s service. Citing Yahov’s ongoing efforts to create understanding between Arabs and Jews, Barron called Yahov “a man who is practicing forgiveness, which we are here to reflect on.”
“This has been an awkward, unprecedented war,” Yahov said at the beginning of his speech. “It has not been soldiers against soldiers or ships against ships.”Yahov said that when a rocket struck the Carmelite monastery above Haifa at the onset of the conflict, a local investigator at the scene was puzzled to find tiny ball-bearings scattered about the area.
“We learned these are often packed into the belts of suicide bombers,” Yahov said, “to widen the effect of the blast.”
When it become clear that civilians were to be the targets of Hezbollah’s missile campaign, Yahov said one of his first concerns was to keep life as normal as possible for Haifa’s children, even under the city’s constant curfew.Soft laughter rippled through the audience when Yahov, a big silver-haired bear of a man, asked, “Can you imagine what to do with your kids if they were stuck in your house for a month?”
Yahov’s solution was to place his city’s youngest citizens in a very familiar environment. Each day of the conflict, from early morning until late afternoon, thousands of Haifa’s children were sheltered on the lower levels of underground parking garages at the city’s shopping malls.
“No enemy can destroy our life,” Yahov said.
After he thanked the congregation for its support, he concluded his remarks by saying, “We showed the whole world that the Jewish people are one people.”
— Nick Street, Contributing Writer

Women of vision see Jews’ future in Iran
Amidst growing tensions between Iran and the United States in recent months, the Iranian Jewish Women’s Organization (IJWO) in Los Angeles is planning a seminar at the Museum of Tolerance focusing on the future security of Jews living in Iran today.
The event, scheduled for Oct. 10 and organized by the Women of Vision chapter of IJWO, will include prominent Persian Jewish activists, leaders and intellectuals from Europe and Israel, as well as Los Angeles, and aims to shed light on the political, social, and psychological challenges faced by the approximately 20,000 Jews in Iran.
“We didn’t really select this seminar or its topic because we wanted to make a statement about ourselves as women, rather because it is an important topic that has not been addressed by the Iranian Jewish community nor the larger American Jewish community,” said Sharon Baradaran, one of the volunteer organizers of the IJWO seminar.
Baradaran said the seminar is particularly significant for opening new dialogue between the various factions within the Persian Jewish community that for years have often been at odds with one another on how to best address the anti-Semitic and anti-Israel rhetoric of Iran’s fundamentalist regime without jeopardizing the lives of Jews still living in Iran.
“While every panel member has been very sensitive to safeguarding the best interest of the Jewish community, to address difficult questions about the future of the community in Iran is critical and if that means certain disagreements, then they should be discussed,” Baradaran said.
Local Persian Jews have expressed concern for the security of Iran’s Jews in recent months, following false media reports in May that the Iranian government had approved legislation requiring Jews to wear yellow bands on their clothing.In July, Iranian state-run television aired a pro-Hezbollah rally held by Jews living in the southern Iranian city of Shiraz, in what many local Persian Jewish activists believe was a propaganda stunt organized by the regime to show national solidarity for Hezbollah.
Maurice Motamed, the Jewish representative to the Iranian parliament, had been slated as a panelist for the seminar but withdrew, saying he will not be arriving in Los Angeles until after the seminar, Baradaran said. Some local Persian Jewish activists have expressed concern over public comments from Motamed during the past year, including his praise for Iran’s uranium enrichment program and his opposition to Israeli military actions against Palestinian terrorists in Gaza and Hezbollah terrorists in Southern Lebanon.
In January, Parviz Yeshaya, the former national chairman of the Jewish Council in Iran, issued a rare public statement questioning the logic of Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who had called the Holocaust a “myth”.
The Iranian Jewish Women’s organization was originally set up in 1947 in Iran and later re-established in 1976 in Los Angeles with the objective of recognizing the impact of Iranian Jewish women in the community. In 2002, the Women of Vision chapter and other chapters were added to the organization in an effort to reach out to younger generations of Iranian Jewish women.
The IWJO seminar will be held at the Museum of Tolerance on Oct. 10 at 6 p.m. For ticket information contact the IWJO at (818) 929-5936 or visit www.ijwo.org.
— Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer
Captured soldier’s brother addresses students
Gadi Goldwasser — brother of Ehud Goldwasser, one of two Israeli soldiers captured on July 12 and still held by Hezbollah — spoke recently to students at UCLA and USC during a brief visit to Los Angeles. He addressed the business and law schools at USC, as well as Hillel and Chabad student groups during their Shabbat dinners.

The Right Choice

“It’s terrible,” a friend of mine said this week. We ran into each other outside Peets, hot beverages in hand.

“What is?” I asked.

“What Israel is doing,” she said.

When you want to avoid a confrontation over Israel sometimes it’s best to act like an Israeli. So I shrugged and made that annoying little clicking sound with my tongue and teeth. She waited for a longer answer, but I hadn’t had my coffee. In a world where people get their news 24 hours a day, there is the expectation that other people actually want to talk about it 24 hours a day. I don’t. Especially with someone whose mind is already made up.

But I felt I was disappointing her, so I offered a tidbit. The mayor’s office had called me to say that Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was about to place an early morning “solidarity call” to the mayor of Sderot, whose Negev development town has suffered an endless barrage of crude and often deadly rocket attacks since Israel left Gaza in Palestinian hands. Then they called back to say that in the midst of the call, the mayor’s expression of support was interrupted by three more Qassam rockets slamming into Sderot.

She looked at me. “He wants to be governor,” she said. “He’ll do whatever he has to.”

Her cynicism isn”t impossible to understand. The more chaotic the violence in Israel, the more predictable the reaction in Los Angeles.

Take the recent maelstrom in Gaza: the unceasing barrage of missiles from that godforsaken strip into Israel, the long-premeditated kidnapping of an Israeli soldier by Hamas, Israel’s harsh and bloody incursion into the region it unilaterally surrendered less than a year ago.

These developments served as curtain calls for a cast of surrogate actors here, 10,000 miles away.

First came the anti-Israel protests in front of the Federal Building in Westwood and the Israeli consulate on mid-Wilshire. The protesters are Arab Americans and Israel’s critics on the left. They boil their Chomsky down to placard-size slogans for the evening news: “Israel Out of Palestine,” “Stop Israeli Genocide.”

Across the street the hard-core pro-Israel counter-protesters gather. Clued in to the gathering via the ANSWER Web site, they use e-mail and phone trees to alert their own forces.

At some point the local news looks for man-on-the-street reactions. The camera trucks prowl Fairfax or set up in a synagogue for a rabbi’s remark. Someone from the Wiesenthal Center stands up for Israel. Someone from MPAC stands up for the Palestinians. Cut to weather.

If the violence builds, there will be vigils, letter-writing campaigns, op-eds in the Los Angeles Times, angry letters in response to the op-eds, debates on local public radio stations between political opponents and, of course, dialogues over tea and baklava between those Arabs and Jews still in a civil mood.

And so it goes, as well-meaning people try to mobilize their constituencies, or gain the sympathy of a largely apathetic public, or simply try to insert themselves in a life-and-death struggle that they care about but can scarcely affect.

The effect is to make it seem that nobody’s using their head, just their heart. The same actors make the same points with more current facts, and then disappear until the next wave of violence hits.

In the midst of the latest kabuki, what stood out — what made this fight different from all other fights — was the mayor’s call.

There is no way I could argue that politics had nothing to do with the call, because the mayor is a politician. But there are a lot less risky ways to please Jewish voters than taking sides in an awful fight. The images on the nightly news are of Palestinians — men, women and children — bloodied or killed by Israeli attacks. Occasionally, there’s a picture of a Palestinian Qassam rocket leaving a ditch behind in Israel. The controversy is raw and unsettling, yet the mayor made a call.

Another fact: the mayor already has the Jewish vote, and he shows up in shul more often than most Jews I know. All he stood to gain by making his call was angering the anti-Israel left, alienating a good many of his Arab American constituents, and leaving some Angelenos carping that an L.A. mayor’s time is better spent stopping drive-bys in South Central rather than missile launches in Gaza.

But there’s nothing wrong in pointing out, if only symbolically, that the TV images aren’t telling the whole story.

It is true that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has launched a military reaction to the kidnapping and rocket attacks that has been unnecessarily cruel and destructive. In doing so, he has squandered the vast sums of moral capital Israel has accrued in dealing with Hamas.

But Israel’s missteps don’t erase the fact that Hamas, with Gaza as its own, still chose to fire rockets into Israel. With the Israelis finally out, Hamas still attacked. Olmert no doubt looked north, to southern Lebanon, where Hezbollah terrorists have followed Israel’s withdrawal with more attacks and a continuous buildup of missiles, and sought a way to make it clear Israel wouldn’t stand for it.

But don’t take a Jewish journalist’s word for it. Many Arab commentators have also, correctly, known where the blame lies. Ziad Asali, president of the American Task Force on Palestine, writes in Lebanon’s The Daily Star, that Hamas is trying to turn the Palestinian quest for statehood into a pan-Islamist movement.

“Indeed, some Hamas leaders are acting as if they might even prefer to avoid resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, since the pan-Islamic movement and those states supporting its activities stand to benefit more from keeping the cause alive and the conflict going than by ending it,” he writes. “What is happening is an attempt to subordinate the Palestinian cause and national movement to a broader Islamist regional program and the states exploiting this. Palestinians need to recognize that if, having freed themselves from the grip of the interests of Arab states, they allow themselves to become pawns in a regional Islamist strategy, this could well signal the end of the Palestinian national movement.”

Take that into account, and tell me if you don’t think the mayor made the right call.

Sderot Attack Interrupts Villaraigosa’s Call

On Thursday, July 6, at 9 a.m., Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a longtime supporter of Israel, was interrupted twice in attempts to place a call to Eli Moyal, mayor of the Israeli city of Sderot.

Palestinian terrorists have been attacking the city almost daily with Kassam rockets in recent weeks. Moyal had to interrupt both calls because of rocket attacks.

Villaraigosa wanted to reach out to the people of the Jewish state, and he chose Sderot, just outside Gaza, which has a population of 20,000, after conferring with local Jewish leaders. On hand for the pre-planned call were City Councilman Jack Weiss, Los Angeles Jewish Federation President John Fishel, Simon Wiesenthal Center Associate Dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper and Israeli Consul General Ehud Danoch.

The conversation barely got beyond the introductions.

Just as Villaraigosa began to move to substantive matters, Moyal interrupted, saying: “I’m sorry. We’re going to have to have this conversation some other time. We’ve just been attacked by seven Kassam rockets,” he said over speaker phone.

Five to 10 minutes later, Consul General Danoch called Moyal a second time and reached him on his cell phone. Just as Danoch was about to push the speaker phone button, Moyal again cut the conversation short because of another barrage of rockets.

“This experience shook all of us to our core,” Villaraigosa said in a statement. “I have tremendous respect for Mayor Moyal and the people of Sderot, who live their lives in the shadow of terror. It makes you grateful for the peace and safety that we have here in Los Angeles.”

The attempt by the mayor of America’s second-largest city to reach out to the people of a nation he so admires became a lesson in the explosiveness and unpredictability of the Middle East.

Weiss said that the immediacy of the circumstances behind the termination of Villaraigosa’s call with Sderot’s mayor “really brought home the suddenness of terrorism.” Weiss represents Los Angeles’ Fifth Council District, which includes such heavily Jewish areas as West Los Angeles and parts of the San Fernando Valley.

The Kassam attacks also underscore the escalation of Palestinian attacks on Sderot and elsewhere in the region, and the dangers these attacks represent to Israeli citizens, Fishel said.

“Most folks here in Los Angeles don’t necessarily understand Israel’s geography and how close Sderot is to [Gaza] and the attacks’ impact on the normalcy of the lives of men, women and children,” Fishel said.

Sderot, which is located less than a mile from the Palestinian-controlled Gaza Strip, has seen an upsurge in attacks since Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza last year. The targets have recently included schools during school hours, Jewish Telegraphic Agency has reported, causing Sderot’s student population to drop by more than 15 percent over the past year.

In response to news of the call, Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Southern California Chapter said that Villaraigosa has every right to call city officials around the world to express his solidarity with them, especially when they face the consequences of war and natural disasters. But given that the mayor has called Israeli civic leaders, he has an obligation to call Palestinians, Ayloush said.

“When it comes to the Middle East, it is important to remember that there are two sides who are suffering due to this conflict,” Ayloush said. “But there is one side that’s suffering even more: that is the Palestinians, because of the occupation.”

To date, Villaraigosa has not yet called any Palestinian officials but hasn’t ruled out doing so in the future, spokesman Ben Golombek said.

Los Angeles’ mayor has twice visited Israel and hopes to make another trip there again soon.

The Circuit

Kudos for Kuh

Los Angeles culinary expert Patric Kuh was honored recently in New York by the James Beard Foundation for his humanitarian efforts during the the James Beard Foundation Journalism Awards.

Kuh won kudos in the Magazine Restaurant Review or Critique category for his work at Los Angeles Magazine.

A Clear Need

Bob Ralls and Linda Falcone accepted awards from Harold Davidson, chairman of the board for Junior Blind of America, at the nonprofit organization’s gala at the Beverly Hills Hotel. The event was held specifically to recognize the contributions of the couple to Junior Blind of America, where they have served as president and vice president of development for more than 20 years. For more than 50 years, Junior Blind of America has offered unique programs and services to help blind and visually impaired people become more independent.

Farewell to Anat Ben-Ishai

While many Jewish Angelenos gathered to do a mitzvah for Big Sunday or to celebrate Yom Ha’Atzmaut at the Israel Festival, a group of almost 300 Wilshire Boulevard Temple staff and families gathered at the Irmas campus for a cause equally personal. The morning’s event was dubbed a “Farewell to Anat Ben-Ishai,” who retired this year after 15 years as director of the Edgar F. Magnin and Gloria and Peter S. Gold Religious Schools.

“You’ve been an inspiration to our children. We can’t pay any person enough for that,” Rabbi Emeritus Harvey J. Fields told Ben-Ishai via a video message. Fields prerecorded a special goodbye message to Ben-Ishai, knowing he would be out of the country for the event. He said what would be missed most in Ben-Ishai’s absence would be her “poetic soul,” her storytelling, and her “care about each of us.” He also noted the excellence of the synagogue’s religious schools today “is your crowning achievement.”

Indeed, in the time Ben-Ishai served as Hebrew school director, the school grew from less than 400 students attending Hebrew school once a week at one campus, to close to 1,000 students attending three days a week at two different campuses.

The haimishe event, as one attendee described it, included many students, several of whom came with their parents. The day began with the tribute and was followed by Israeli dancing, children’s art projects and lunch, as well as a video station to record personal messages to Ben-Ishai and another station to “Write an Anat-o-gram.”

Students also participated in special art projects in their classes, as well as a video project, in which they bid Ben-Ishai farewell and told her they would miss her friendliness and her stories.

Gil Graff, executive director of the Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE), acknowledged Ben Ishai’s leadership contributions over the years, stating that out of the five outstanding teachers recognized by the BJE last year, two teachers were from Wilshire Boulevard Temple.

“Anat,” he told her, “you are truly a teacher of teachers.”

Ben-Ishai told those assembled that her greatest pride came from seeing her student’s independent participation in acts of tikkun olam and tzedakah.

The Anat Ben-Ishai Religious School Scholarship Fund was established May 3 in Ben-Ishai’s honor.

Those wishing to contribute may call the school at (213) 388-2401. — Keren Engelberg, Contributing Writer

Much About Maller

Hot dogs and happy memories were the recipe for the weekend as Temple Akiba, the Reform congregation of Culver City, honored Rabbi Allen Maller for 39 years of dedication and inspiration. The weekend was filled with events to bring the congregation together to celebrate and reflect on the Maller’s years as their leader.

Friday night a special service was held and representatives of California Assemblywoman Karen Bass and L.A. County Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke presented commendations. Former Culver City Mayor Albert Vera and Culver City Councilwoman Carol Gross praised Maller’s contributions to the community — the City Council even designated April as “Rabbi Maller Month.” There was a “Potpourri of International Tastes” dinner Saturday night and an original musical review written by Barbara Miller that featured five temple members — performing a “shtetl-flavored” tribute to Maller and Temple Akiba.

Maller will leave Temple Akiba at the end of June. Rabbi Zach Shapiro will become new spiritual leader of the congregation.


Nearly 800 donors, community leaders and public officials gathered May 7 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel for the 17th annual Magbit Foundation gala to raise funds for interest-free loans for Israeli college students and to celebrate Israel’s 58th year of independence. Master of ceremonies and Magbit leader David Nahai, chair of the L.A. Regional Water Quality Control Board, welcomed the guests and the contributions of the local Iranian Jewish community that started the Magbit Foundation.

Keynote speaker, L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, acknowledged Magbit’s nearly $3 million in loans given to almost 7,000 new immigrant Israeli university students during the last 17 years.

“The fact that you have provided a means for the talented students in Israel to get the education that will help better the world is truly remarkable,” Villaraigosa said.

Israeli Consul General Ehud Danoch spoke about the uniquely strong sense of Zionism of Iranian Jews living in Southern California.

“My friends I have known many Jewish communities around the world, but I have grown to admire the Iranian Jewish community for your sense of Israel and love of Israel which is heartfelt,” Danoch said.

Guests also enjoyed the Middle Eastern dancing of the Sunflower Dancers and the singing of acclaimed Israeli Noa Dori. Also in attendance were Israeli Justice Ministry official Shlomo Shachar, and Los Angeles Jewish Federation President John Fishel — Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer

Competing Moments of Truth on Schools

On Tuesday, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is expected to lay the groundwork for the most defining initiative of his term in office: his attempt to take control of Los Angeles’ schools. But the day before he does, opponents of his plan will beat him to the microphone. The L.A. teachers union has scheduled a Monday press conference, hoping, they said, to push Villaraigosa in a different direction.

Villaraigosa’s first state-of-the-city speech is likely to put bone and muscle on his school takeover pitch which, up till now, nearly a year into his term, has been theoretical and short on specifics. If Villaraigosa delivers what people all over town have been waiting for, a slew of interest groups will know where they stand and will begin to respond accordingly.

“Mayor Villaraigosa has made a major commitment to take on the reform of the school district, and the civil, political and media hierarchy of the city have taken up that commitment as a serious benchmark of his performance as mayor,” said David Abel, a publisher who founded New Schools, Better Neighborhoods, an organization that works to shape schools as centers of community revitalization.

Unless Villaraigosa holds off — and further delay might be seen as retreat or indecision — the mayor will set the city on a path toward mayoral control within about two years. That would put Villaraigosa on a timetable to win control in a first term as mayor and wield that power in a second term, if he is reelected.

“Getting this to happen,” said Abel, who supports mayoral control but is not directly involved in the effort, “will be a delicate balance between the doable, the clock and the mayor’s own strategic goals and political ambitions.”

United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), the L.A. teachers union, hasn’t been content to wait for the unveiling. Over the past several weeks, union leaders have met with community groups and other key players, trying to set up a parallel juggernaut. The effort is planned to culminate the day before Villaraigosa’s speech, at a news conference during which the union will unveil its own “Call to Action” on school reform.

Early this week, the union was putting its reform declaration in final form, trying to settle on wording that will attract as many allies as possible. The stated goals will have much in common with what anyone would like to see in Los Angeles’ schools: It will call for quality instruction by fully trained teachers, a rigorous, diverse and engaging curriculum and adequate (meaning increased) funding.

“I think Mayor Villaraigosa will agree with almost all of it,” said UTLA spokesperson Steve Weingarten. “This vision of ours does not stop and start with mayoral control. We will be proposing the most dramatic changes at the school site. If you have people at that ground level making decisions, then it’s secondary who’s controlling things at the top.”

Of course, until now, the teachers union has been the most consistently powerful political force in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). The mayor’s intervention could change that.

A recent version of the union’s draft declaration didn’t take on mayoral control directly, but spoke generally of more representation, which for the union has meant an elected school board at one end and a switch to community-governed schools at the other. Union officials also have talked about expanding the school board and “professionalizing” it. Which means making school board service a full-time job and increasing a board member’s salary and staff. That agenda is hardly compatible with putting Villaraigosa in charge.

Specific wording on who would call the shots is tricky for the union, because potential members of the union’s hoped-for coalition are not themselves settled on the issue.

“Some are a little more opposed to mayoral control than others,” said one teachers union stalwart, joking that “some are atheists and some are agnostics.”

Groups at the table with UTLA have included ACORN, a national social justice organization with deep Los Angeles roots; CARACEN, an L.A.-based organization that focuses on the needs of Central American immigrants and Latinos; and One L.A., the local affiliate of the national Industrial Areas Foundation. The union also would like to bring on board officials from smaller cities, such as Carson, South Gate and Cudahy, that are served by the LAUSD.

“The new leadership of UTLA prefers to work in concert with community organizations as part of a real alliance for change,” said Joel Jordan, the union’s director of special projects.

The union desperately wants to avoid being the bogeyman of school reform. A hint of that worst-case scenario played out during a late-March panel discussion at the Latino-Jewish Roundtable, held at the West Los Angeles headquarters of the Anti-Defamation League.

“Nobody ever gets fired,” said Marcus Castain, the mayor’s point man for developing a reform plan, while enumerating the district’s ills. “Fifty-three teachers were let got out of 37,000 in a school system where 75 percent of students are not making the grade.”

At the forum, Castain was supposed to have gone head to head with school board President Marlene Canter, who, like other board members, has evinced no desire to turn over authority to the mayor. But Canter couldn’t attend because a school board meeting ran late, and Canter’s pinch hitter avoided a verbal confrontation with Castain.

Instead, Lucy Okumu, an aide to Superintendent Roy Romer, suggested that Romer could find some common ground with the mayor if the goals included making it easier to get rid of bad teachers.

The union failed to burnish its own image recently when it backed a school board candidate, Christopher Arellano, who works for the union as an organizer. His candidacy collapsed after The Journal and other media outlets reported that he’d exaggerated his academic credentials and failed to disclose two theft convictions. UTLA spent more than $200,000 on his behalf and Arellano limped into a runoff, but he and the union have abandoned his candidacy.

The union would prefer to be one of many groups supporting its Call to Action. But each invited participant has interests that don’t perfectly coincide with the union’s. One such group is the Community Coalition, a black-brown social justice organization of South Los Angeles. Its focus has been getting the school district to make a full college-prep curriculum available to every student, said Sheilagh Polk, the coalition’s communications adviser. That goal appears in the Call to Action.

Nonetheless, the Community Coalition and other groups also are meeting with the mayor’s office. It’s clear that the mayor, too, would like to line up as many allies as possible.

The union leadership considered staging a competing event on the day of the mayor’s address, but that idea was dismissed as unnecessarily confrontational, said UTLA’s Jordan. Besides, on the charisma scale, “You’re not going upstage Antonio.”

Jordan spent most of his career in the teaching trenches, one of a legion of Jewish educators devoted to serving communities of poor black and brown students. It was another Jewish educator, Herman Katz, who helped turn around a teenage Villaraigosa when he was in danger of becoming a dropout.

Jordan remains on a first-name basis with the mayor after having worked with Villaraigosa during the future mayor’s days as a UTLA organizer: “He’s one of ours,” said Jordan.

Or so he seemed when UTLA broke with much of organized labor and backed Villaraigosa for mayor last year instead of incumbent James Hahn. Jordan and recently elected teachers’ union president A.J. Duffy met with Villaraigosa earlier this year.

“If we could show him there might be another way to have an effect on schools…” said Jordan wistfully, adding, “he left that door open.”

Jordan also conceded: “He appears to be set on his course. I wouldn’t bet against that.”


Competing Moments of Truth on Schools

On Tuesday April 18, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is expected to lay the groundwork for the most defining initiative of his term in office: his attempt to take control of Los Angeles’ schools. But the day before he does, opponents of his plan will beat him to the microphone. The L.A. teachers union has scheduled a Monday press conference, hoping, they said, to push Villaraigosa in a different direction.

Villaraigosa’s first state-of-the-city speech is likely to put bone and muscle on his school takeover pitch which, up till now, nearly a year into his term, has been theoretical and short on specifics. If Villaraigosa delivers what people all over town have been waiting for, a slew of interest groups will know where they stand and will begin to respond accordingly.

“Mayor Villaraigosa has made a major commitment to take on the reform of the school district, and the civil, political and media hierarchy of the city have taken up that commitment as a serious benchmark of his performance as mayor,” said David Abel, a publisher who founded New Schools, Better Neighborhoods, an organization that works to shape schools as centers of community revitalization.

Unless Villaraigosa holds off — and further delay might be seen as retreat or indecision — the mayor will set the city on a path toward mayoral control within about two years. That would put Villaraigosa on a timetable to win control in a first term as mayor and wield that power in a second term, if he is reelected.

“Getting this to happen,” said Abel, who supports mayoral control but is not directly involved in the effort, “will be a delicate balance between the doable, the clock and the mayor’s own strategic goals and political ambitions.”

United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), the L.A. teachers union, hasn’t been content to wait for the unveiling. Over the past several weeks, union leaders have met with community groups and other key players, trying to set up a parallel juggernaut. The effort is planned to culminate the day before Villaraigosa’s speech, at a news conference during which the union will unveil its own “Call to Action” on school reform.

Early this week, the union was putting its reform declaration in final form, trying to settle on wording that will attract as many allies as possible. The stated goals will have much in common with what anyone would like to see in Los Angeles’ schools: It will call for quality instruction by fully trained teachers, a rigorous, diverse and engaging curriculum and adequate (meaning increased) funding.

“I think Mayor Villaraigosa will agree with almost all of it,” said UTLA spokesperson Steve Weingarten. “This vision of ours does not stop and start with mayoral control. We will be proposing the most dramatic changes at the school site. If you have people at that ground level making decisions, then it’s secondary who’s controlling things at the top.”

Of course, until now, the teachers union has been the most consistently powerful political force in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). The mayor’s intervention could change that.

A recent version of the union’s draft declaration didn’t take on mayoral control directly, but spoke generally of more representation, which for the union has meant an elected school board at one end and a switch to community-governed schools at the other. Union officials also have talked about expanding the school board and “professionalizing” it. Which means making school board service a full-time job and increasing a board member’s salary and staff. That agenda is hardly compatible with putting Villaraigosa in charge.

Specific wording on who would call the shots is tricky for the union, because potential members of the union’s hoped-for coalition are not themselves settled on the issue.

“Some are a little more opposed to mayoral control than others,” said one teachers union stalwart, joking that “some are atheists and some are agnostics.”

Groups at the table with UTLA have included ACORN, a national social justice organization with deep Los Angeles roots; CARACEN, an L.A.-based organization that focuses on the needs of Central American immigrants and Latinos; and One L.A., the local affiliate of the national Industrial Areas Foundation. The union also would like to bring on board officials from smaller cities, such as Carson, South Gate and Cudahy, that are served by the LAUSD.

“The new leadership of UTLA prefers to work in concert with community organizations as part of a real alliance for change,” said Joel Jordan, the union’s director of special projects.

The union desperately wants to avoid being the bogeyman of school reform. A hint of that worst-case scenario played out during a late-March panel discussion at the Latino-Jewish Roundtable, held at the West Los Angeles headquarters of the Anti-Defamation League.

“Nobody ever gets fired,” said Marcus Castain, the mayor’s point man for developing a reform plan, while enumerating the district’s ills. “Fifty-three teachers were let got out of 37,000 in a school system where 75 percent of students are not making the grade.”

At the forum, Castain was supposed to have gone head to head with school board President Marlene Canter, who, like other board members, has evinced no desire to turn over authority to the mayor. But Canter couldn’t attend because a school board meeting ran late, and Canter’s pinch hitter avoided a verbal confrontation with Castain.

Instead, Lucy Okumu, an aide to Superintendent Roy Romer, suggested that Romer could find some common ground with the mayor if the goals included making it easier to get rid of bad teachers.

The union failed to burnish its own image recently when it backed a school board candidate, Christopher Arellano, who works for the union as an organizer. His candidacy collapsed after The Journal and other media outlets reported that he’d exaggerated his academic credentials and failed to disclose two theft convictions. UTLA spent more than $200,000 on his behalf and Arellano limped into a runoff, but he and the union have abandoned his candidacy.

The union would prefer to be one of many groups supporting its Call to Action. But each invited participant has interests that don’t perfectly coincide with the union’s. One such group is the Community Coalition, a black-brown social justice organization of South Los Angeles. Its focus has been getting the school district to make a full college-prep curriculum available to every student, said Sheilagh Polk, the coalition’s communications adviser. That goal appears in the Call to Action.

Nonetheless, the Community Coalition and other groups also are meeting with the mayor’s office. It’s clear that the mayor, too, would like to line up as many allies as possible.

The union leadership considered staging a competing event on the day of the mayor’s address, but that idea was dismissed as unnecessarily confrontational, said UTLA’s Jordan. Besides, on the charisma scale, “You’re not going upstage Antonio.”

Jordan spent most of his career in the teaching trenches, one of a legion of Jewish educators devoted to serving communities of poor black and brown students. It was another Jewish educator, Herman Katz, who helped turn around a teenage Villaraigosa when he was in danger of becoming a dropout.

Jordan remains on a first-name basis with the mayor after having worked with Villaraigosa during the future mayor’s days as a UTLA organizer: “He’s one of ours,” said Jordan.

Or so he seemed when UTLA broke with much of organized labor and backed Villaraigosa for mayor last year instead of incumbent James Hahn. Jordan and recently elected teachers’ union president A.J. Duffy met with Villaraigosa earlier this year.

“If we could show him there might be another way to have an effect on schools…” said Jordan wistfully, adding, “he left that door open.”

Jordan also conceded: “He appears to be set on his course. I wouldn’t bet against that.”


Jewish Groups Take Pro-Immigrant Stand

You didn’t see many Jews amid the sea of Mexican and American flags during the recent pro-immigrant rallies that filled city streets, but Jews and Jewish groups, in largely liberal Los Angeles, have been advocating on behalf of immigrants, mostly outside the view of television cameras.

Among local Jewish organizations, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has been leading the way: Its regional branch has been developing and disseminating a pro-immigrant resolution for roughly six months. The resulting declaration, recently approved by the Pacific Southwest Region of the ADL, calls for humane treatment of illegal immigrants, while also accepting the need for “security precautions … necessary to protect the integrity of the United States border and the well-being of the American people.”

Sixteen local civil rights organizations and the Catholic church have signed on to the declaration, said Amanda Susskind, regional director of ADL. The declaration has been forwarded to L.A. City Council President Eric Garcetti, with the hope that the City Council, too, will endorse the nonbinding resolution. Signatories hope the declaration will work its way to other cities and to the state Legislature as well.

The ADL declaration is intentionally short on specifics. It does not get into details about the number of years or days per year an undocumented immigrant should work to get resident status or whether or not illegal immigrants should be required to learn English or submit to a criminal background check. Instead, the declaration condemns in broad terms “xenophobia and anti-immigrant bias as having no place in United States’ immigration policy” and also proposes the monitoring of extremist groups.

Other local Jewish organizations also have taken a pro-immigration stance, including the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA). Two rabbis affiliated with the organization were part of a delegation of clergy who recently spoke to congressmen in Washington to “present a moral agenda,” PJA Executive Director Daniel Sokatch said.

A signatory to the ADL declaration, the alliance “takes the position further,” said Sokatch, urging community leaders “to take a stand substantially similar to Cardinal [Roger] Mahony’s.”

Mahony has spoken out adamantly against House and Senate bills that would define illegal immigration as a felony and would also criminalize the actions of those organizations and people who help these immigrants.

Sokatch says that the PJA would advocate civil disobedience against such provisions, which are part of legislation proposed by Wisconsin Representative James Sensenbrenner and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.).

“Any law that would cater to the worst, xenophobic elements,” Sokatch saus, “would require us to civilly disobey the law.”

Sokatch said that he did not attend the March 25 “Gran Marcha” because it was Shabbat, but he and his two daughters did attend another rally at UCLA, which included many non-Latinos, some Jews presumably among them.

The local branch of the American Jewish Congress also signed the ADL declaration. The national organization was expected to consider its own resolution on immigration at its national board meeting this week. Executive Director Neil Goldstein said that his organization is “strongly in favor of border controls,” but prefers the more pro-immigrant approach of legislation developed by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“The historic position of Jews is that we are an immigrant people,” Goldstein says. “We support the idea of immigrants coming to America balanced with respect for the law and our border.”

Another local signatory to the ADL declaration is the legal aid group Bet Tzedek, which represents Latino immigrants through its employment-rights project. The organization aims to prevent discrimination against immigrants “whether they’re documented or not,” Bet Tzedek Executive Director Mitchell Kamin said.

An individual on the frontlines of a walkout was teacher Steve Zimmer, who runs intervention programs at Marshall High School. Zimmer, who is Jewish, marched with students to act as a “buffer” between the police and students. At the beginning of the day, he had no idea that he would end up walking with the students all the way from Silver Lake to City Hall, adding that he wore “wing tips much to my chagrin.”

Once the Marshall marchers, the vast majority of them Latino, reached the crest on Spring Street, they saw thousands of other students — estimates put the total at 40,000 — some from as far away as the San Gabriel Valley. Zimmer characterized the moment when his students spotted their peers as “jubilant.” Zimmer, who knows City Council President Garcetti, prevailed upon Garcetti to talk to the teens. Later, as widely reported, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa spoke to them as well.

The leadership of United Teachers Los Angeles, the L.A. Unified teachers union, has passed a motion calling on teachers to have conversations with their students on immigration and to support students’ constitutional rights. The motion was proposed by Andy Griggs, who is Jewish, and it passed overwhelmingly, UTLA Treasurer David Goldberg said.

“We want to make sure students are safe and don’t get beat up,” Goldberg said.

Villaraigosa a Yemenite?

The energy and enthusiasm of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa got ahead of his staff when, at a Rosh Hashanah dinner with consular officials, he suddenly announced his intention to lead a local delegation to Israel.

The pledge had raced across newswires for several days and still the mayor’s staffers pleaded ignorance late last week, saying that they had no details, such as a date, an itinerary or participants.

But Westside City Councilman Jack Weiss, at least, was wise to what was up. He, too, had been at the Beverly Hills home of Ehud Danoch, the regional Israeli Consul General, and his wife, Miki. The Danochs hosted the gathering to celebrate their first Rosh Hashanah in Los Angeles, said Weiss, a close Villaraigosa ally.

“Mayor Villaraigosa said many times during his campaign that he would lead a trip to Israel,” Weiss said in a phone interview. “He feels a strong connection to Israel.”

Villaraigosa’s wife, Corina, and their two children were also among the guests, along with other consular officials. Also on hand was Benny Alagem, co-founder and one-time CEO of Packard Bell NEC. He’d helped arrange the visit to Israel by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Villaraigosa has long had strong ties with the Jewish community. He grew up in Boyle Heights, a former Jewish enclave that became Latino. A Jewish teacher and mentor paid for him to take his college boards. And leading Jewish progressives and funders supported his political rise early on. Weiss said that Villaraigosa already has been to Israel twice before.

But Consul General Danoch, a fluent Spanish speaker, spied another semblance of connection. Danoch’s parents are originally from Yemen and when they “saw a picture of Antonio on television, they told Ehud that he looked like a Yemenite,” Weiss said. “The mayor got a big kick out of that.”

‘Little Flower’ Could Help Antonio Bloom

Dear Antonio,

I imagine you are enjoying the hoopla surrounding your election. As the first Latino chief executive in more than 130 years, it may be tempting to bask in the warmth of a great ethnic triumph.

But don’t enjoy it too much. Los Angeles does not need a symbol or an icon; it needs a mayor, one who can be both decisive and effective. We need less rah-rah and more Fiorello La Guardia.

I point to the former mayor of New York, in part, because you have said he is a particular hero of yours. He was also an icon of my own family. After all, he was one person who could unite the politics of my grandmother, a socialist, with those of my grandfather, a Republican businessman.

You should be able to relate to La Guardia, who also came from groups — he was part Italian, part Jewish — previously underrepresented in New York’s long Irish-dominated political system. He was not a tall man, hence his nickname “The Little Flower,” but to be fair to you, he was not quite as handsome as you.

La Guardia made people forget their ethnic and political divisions, because he approached his job not as an ideologue, but as someone who wanted to get something done. La Guardia was seen by some as an old-fashioned Teddy Roosevelt progressive, by others as a left-leaning New Dealer and even as a closet socialist — but first and foremost he was a builder.

“There is no Republican or Democratic way to clean streets” was one of his favorite truisms.

Politics to La Guardia was basically a means to help people, and turn the city he loved into the most efficient, most livable and humane giant metropolis in the world. To him, that meant not scoring political points but building parks, freeways, air terminals, housing and port facilities. After serving as mayor from 1933 to 1945, he left New York, without question, the greatest, richest, most important city on the face of the planet.

The key lesson is how he achieved these things. For one thing, he had no patience for those forces who stood in the way of progress.

He hated and defeated the inefficient old Tammany Hall system, which extracted bribes and kickbacks in exchange for contracts. The machine La Guardia faced and defeated makes the petty shenanigans alleged to have occurred under Jim Hahn seem like a church bingo game.

In New York under La Guardia, Harper’s Magazine reported in 1936, “good government is measured by getting a good deal for the money.” The city was well-managed, and civil servants were expected to be exactly that — people who served the public.

La Guardia expanded the bureaucracy in New York, but also drove it in a relentless and driving way. He “set standards” for city employees, notes Fred Siegel, professor of urban history at Cooper Union, and would tolerate only the fullest effort. Time-servers, incompetents and sycophants — standard issue in many city bureaucracies — had a rough time under The Little Flower. Some of them called him Mussolini, but in New York, the trains really did run on time.

Herein may lie your biggest challenge. Most people agree with you that government needs to do important things that will mean jobs and better lives for all Angelenos. But as Siegel points out, today’s civil servants and their unions have achieved such power in many big cities, Los Angeles included, that they have become the de facto government.

Your opportunity then lies in finding a way to reinvigorate the city government — particularly after the torpor of the Hahn years — so that it might achieve things people in this city really need. The biggest problem may lie not in your opponents, but your closest friends, the public employee unions and the left.

Your old friends on the left and among union activists will be pressuring you to be the herald of a new “progressive” era. Get on the talk shows, lambaste the Bush administration, take stands on every issue from gay marriage to Iraq.

At City Hall, they will push you to adopt the kind of symbolic legislation — extensive living-wage legislation, inclusionary zoning, tougher regulations on industrial and other businesses — that will make the Westside leftists feel good, but could also accelerate the flight of jobs, particularly blue-collar ones, out of town. Many of your friends, particularly in the teachers union, will plead with you to block any really significant change in the schools that imposes standards on students or teachers.

Then there is the siren song of Chicanismo, something you have moved decisively away from. There will be those who may urge you to be a pinup poster for Latino power — suited for the Democratic Party’s purposes. This will alienate many of the other L.A. ethnicities, like Jews, Asians and African Americans, who showed they are not afraid of a Latino mayor, but may not be as enthusiastic about having someone running City Hall who thinks of being Latino as his primary vocation.

Particularly important will be to reach out to Los Angeles’ increasingly disengaged white middle class, particularly in the Valley. It may have been great to see high turnouts on the Eastside, but you need to worry about the near record low turnouts in places like the West Valley. You will need these people to stay in Los Angeles, consider sending their kids to public schools and keeping their businesses here.

Fortunately, there are some examples to emulate. Maybe you should chat with former mayors like San Antonio’s Henry Cisneros and Denver’s Frederico Pe?a, who became Latino power brokers well before you. Today, both are widely remembered in their home towns not as “Latino” mayors, but as effective ones who helped turn their cities into progressive, successful and economically healthy communities.

But finally, perhaps the greatest inspiration can be found in the example of The Little Flower, who combined compassion with competence and charisma with common sense. If eight years from now, they call you the La Guardia of Los Angeles, all of us will be very sorry to see you go.

Best wishes,

Joel Kotkin is an Irvine senior fellow at the New America Foundation. He is the author of “The City: A Global History” to be published by next month by Modern Library.

Rabbi Retracts Claim Against Hahn


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what did happen?

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

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

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

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

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

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

He considers the matter closed.

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

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

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


When Jews Lose


The narrow defeat of mayoral candidate Robert Hertzberg marked a signal defeat not only for Los Angeles but for the future of Jewish influence in Los Angeles. For the second time in four years, Los Angeles voters turned down a smart, moderate Jewish candidate — last time it was Steve Soboroff — for people whose primary affiliations lie with other interests and ethnic groups.

As occurred in Soboroff’s loss, the deathblow to Hertzberg’s spirited campaign came from his fellow landsmen, less than half of whom bothered to support him. In contrast, African Americans rallied in larger percentages for City Councilman Bernard Parks, as did Latinos, clearly the city’s ascendant group, in their backing for City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa.

The Jewish rejection of Hertzberg is all the more puzzling since, unlike the Republican Soboroff, he is a well-known Democrat with moderately liberal credentials. Hertzberg’s pro-business stance and positions on critical issues, such as traffic and the schools, should also have won him broader support.

To a large extent, the explanation for this defection lies in a continued, and growing, divide between two distinct groups of Jewish voters. On the one side are the more middle-class Jews, concentrated in the San Fernando Valley, who are more likely to run local businesses and would like to be able to send their kids to public schools. These largely secularly oriented Jews, although mostly registered Democrats, joined the more Orthodox, particularly in places like Pico-Robertson, in backing Hertzberg.

Where Hertzberg failed was with another large bloc of Jewish voters, the very liberal, generally more affluent constituencies that cluster largely on the Westside. These people split their vote evenly between Hertzberg and liberal heartthrob Villaraigosa.

Hertzberg adviser David Abel traces this to the Westside elite’s lack of interest in local affairs.

“The [Westside] Jews are losing any connection to local government and think only on the national level,” Abel said.

Whatever the reasons, Hertzberg’s campaign failed to mobilize the Westside. Perhaps Hertzberg’s pledge to address the underperforming Los Angles Unified School District (LAUSD) — with its horrific near 50 percent dropout rate — was less critical since so few Westsiders now send their kids to public schools, particularly past the primary grades. The fact that it is someone else’s kids, such as children of their nannies, who have to be subjected to LAUSD, no doubt makes a difference.

Political consultant Arnold Steinberg points out that many of these same voters, and politicians, also backed busing, which has probably expelled more Jewish families from Los Angeles — and particularly the Valley — than anything outside the 1992 riots. Wealthy liberals often enjoy a special immunity from the consequences of their politics.

So given these trends, what is the future of Jewish political power and place in Los Angeles? In the short term, the chances of electing a Jewish mayor are fairly remote, given the divisions in the community, and the growing dominance of Los Angeles by Latino politicians and public employee unions. At the same time, the Jewish vote as a percent of the city electorate is decreasing — down to 14 percent from highs of more than 20 a decade ago — and likely to keep doing so, as more families opt out of the city to settle in places with better schools and often more welcoming business climates.

“The demographic trends are limiting the options for Jewish politicians,” Steinberg said. A Jewish mayor could still be elected someday in the future, he suggested, but probably only if the city founders further under Hahn or a future Villaraigosa administration. Perhaps it will take a woman to do this, like clean-government maven Laura Chick.

In the immediate future, however, Jewish power in Los Angeles will likely be largely as a “swing” group, whose major power is as much measured by campaign contributions as votes. Whatever the fantasies of some left-leaning Jews, there is little reason to expect a Villaraigosa administration would revive something like the old Bradley multiracial coalition by substituting Latinos for African Americans.

This is improbable because things have changed so much over the past 30 years. In the early 1970s, Los Angeles still had a strong right wing that Jews could oppose without embracing far-left politics. Today, the right is all but dead in Los Angeles. At the same time, a Villaraigosa administration would rest on a bedrock of Latino power, including many talented professionals and savvy labor activists, whose numbers suggest little need for “coalition building” on an equal footing with a fractured, increasingly indifferent and shrinking, minority.

Instead, I expect that most Jews, particularly those in the Valley and places like Pico-Robertson, will do as Jews have done for centuries. They will retreat into their families and private businesses, scrap together the shekels to send their kids to private school or leave Dodge entirely. They will survive, and even thrive as individuals, but will likely never again be a central source of political power within the confines of a city that we have done so much to shape.

Joel Kotkin is an Irvine senior fellow at the New America Foundation. He is the author of “The City: A Global History” to be published by next month by Modern Library.


Mayoral Candidates Battle for Jewish Vote


“He’s a soul mate in terms of environmental sensitivity and good government,” said Dave Freeman, about mayoral candidate Antonio Villaraigosa. Freeman, former head of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP), paused for just a moment, then continued in his Southern accent, “I just think he has the ability to advance an agenda more focused on what I consider Jewish values.”

There you have it: A Tennessee environmentalist from an Orthodox family endorsing a Latino mayoral candidate for displaying Jewish values in Los Angeles. This city, with its rich history of strong political-ethnic alliances, may be in a state of reorientation — at least as far as the Jewish community is concerned.

With five candidates in the running, there is no consensus on who will garner the majority of Jewish votes, but all the candidates are making overtures and it’s easy to understand why. With roughly 30 percent of the electorate still undecided in recent polls, and with no candidate reaching 30 percent support so far, the politically active Jewish community could make a big difference.

In recent weeks, Villaraigosa has been leading most polls, and Freeman counts himself among the most ardent backers of Antonio. “When he was the speaker of the state Assembly, he planted trees with me without getting any fanfare or publicity out of it,” Freeman said of Villaraigosa. “As speaker, he brought the Republicans and Democrats together for bond measures, for parks, for schools — he can get people of different points of view to work together.”

Freeman, who was running the DWP when Mayor James Hahn was city attorney, had less flattering comments about the incumbent’s executive abilities.

“I remember clearly how [Hahn] would leave at 4:45 p.m. every day,” he said. “I mean, I respect the fact he wants to be with his family, but [being] mayor is not a 9-to-5 job.”

Hahn, however, can count on his own base of committed Jewish support.

“I’ve known Jim Hahn since he was city attorney, and I’ve basically supported him ever since,” said Hope Warschaw, former national commissioner for the Anti-Defamation League.

Warschaw emphasized Hahn’s two major achievements during his term: Defeating Valley secession and hiring Police Chief Bill Bratton.

“While other politicians were absolute cowards during the secession fight, he stepped up to the plate and had to raise millions of dollars to keep the city together,” Warschaw said. “And he took an incredibly unpopular position and hired Bill Bratton, which I think everyone agrees was a brilliant stroke.”

Warschaw credits Hahn for having no fear of being overshadowed by other competent professionals, an attitude some mistake for noninvolvement.

“Most politicians would not want to hire a Bill Bratton, because he would get a lot of publicity,” Warschaw said.

Hahn’s friend, Patty Glaser, agreed: “I’d rather have a mayor that’s doing a good job than one who is talking about doing a good job.”

But what about Hahn’s personality? He has often been accused of being absent or dull.

“He’s got a great sense of humor; he’s an extremely dedicated father,” Warschaw said. “People who have known him, love him.”

Then, of course, there is Bob Hertzberg, the Jewish candidate in the election who introduced himself to much of the city in a television ad as the 100-foot man recently seen gingerly sidestepping buildings around the city.

“I feel about the candidates that Bob Hertzberg is far and away the most talented [candidate],” said Marcia Volpert, former president of Jewish Family Service, former chair of the Jewish Political Action Committee and the first woman to chair the Jewish Community Relations Committee (JCRC).

Another former Assembly speaker, Hertzberg’s mayoral candidacy has been marked both by big ideas and big hugs. But while there’s no question about his friendliness, putting his policy theories into practice — from breaking up the Los Angeles Unified School District to enacting a commuter’s bill of rights — could prove more difficult.

Volpert, who has faith that Hertzberg can pull it off, said, “He has had the leadership experience, and when he was in the [state Assembly] he was able to pull differing points of view together and get legislation passed. I think that bodes well for the city.”

Hertzberg, like Villaraigosa, has been accused by Hahn of being a consummate Sacramento politician, removed from the needs of the city. Volpert sees a bright side to that equation.

“[Hertzberg] is being supported by [California Secretary of Education and former L.A. Mayor] Richard Riordan, and he has worked with Gov. Schwarzenegger,” she said. “We have to work with the people who have clout to get money to make a difference in this town.”

Volpert said Hertzberg’s natural charm and charisma can’t be discounted, qualities that enable him to build good relationships with colleagues, where other politicians face conflict.

“You can’t be mayor by yourself,” she said.

That’s especially true in a city like Los Angeles, where weak mayoral powers put a premium on coalition-building abilities, force of personality or both.

There’s also some Jewish support to be found behind two other challengers, state Sen. Richard Alarcon (D-Van Nuys) and former Police Chief and current City Councilman Bernard Parks.

“All of them have tried to be friendly,” said Scott Svonkin, chairman of the B’nai B’rith Southern California Public Policy Center. “But Richard Alarcon has created programs to work with the Jewish community.”

Svonkin specifically cited the Fiesta Shalom festival, one of the first joint Jewish-Latino cultural events in Los Angeles.

On policy issues, Alarcon’s ongoing tenure in the state Senate has allowed him to prove his dedication to helping the underprivileged.

“He’s helped create more opportunities for affordable housing than just about any other elected official,” Svonkin said. “Nobody else can say they’ve created as much housing as Richard has.”

“I knew him as a city councilman, and he has always come to Jewish community events. When I was chair of the JCRC or working with B’nai B’rith, Richard has always been a friend,” said Svonkin, who also praised on Villaraigosa for his involvement with the community.

The bulk of Parks’ support is among black voters in South Los Angeles, and he has not been able to recreate anything like the Tom Bradley coalition that made the combination of Jews and African Americans a potent political force. But Parks’ law-enforcement credentials and his pro-business stance have potentially strong appeal for some Jewish voters. Parks insisted that his reception has been encouragingly positive as he’s brought his message to Jewish venues. At least one prominent Los Angeles Jewish activist, Vidal Sassoon, has donated to his campaign.

“You can’t count on the Jewish vote going to ‘X,'” Hertzberg supporter Volpert said. “I think it will be all over the place this time.”

Observers may interpret that phenomenon as a cultural or political maturity, a sign of dissolving ethnic coalitions, or simply a five-way free-for-all.


An Endorsement on Rye for Antonio

If you were aching for a sandwich on Fairfax Avenue last Monday, you might remember pushing through a crowd of reporters. That day, three prominent Jewish politicians, often yelling over passing traffic noise, gathered in front of Canter’s Deli to publicly endorse City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa’s bid to become the mayor of Los Angeles.

Reps. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys) and Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) and Fifth District City Councilman Jack Weiss have decided to side with Villaraigosa early in this campaign. There are more than five months left until the mayoral election.

In the battle to secure the Jewish vote for mayor, Villaraigosa’s alliance with these three leaders could affect candidate Robert Hertzberg’s chances of success on the Westside and in the San Fernando Valley.

“He is a true coalition builder,” Berman said of Villaraigosa. “This is not a politician who looks first at ethnicity or religion or even party.”

The emphasis at Canter’s was Villaraigosa’s appeal to all constituencies in the city, and neither the endorsers nor Villaraigosa pointed to the Jewish community by name.

But the image of the coalition-builder has been central to this phase of Villaraigosa’s campaign, and his supporters are quick to reinforce it. A few days after the endorsements, Weiss recalled to The Journal a story about Villaraigosa. “Antonio came with me to Rosh Hashanah morning services this year, and as is often the case, they went much longer than anyone had anticipated,” he said. “As we entered the first overtime period I turned to him and said, ‘I’m sorry this is taking so long, I would understand if you need to go.’ And Antonio turned back to me and he said, ‘Look, I don’t do drive-by fellowship. I’m here for the long haul.'”

“That’s the kind of cross-ethnic partnership that we need to make Los Angeles the leading city of the 21st century,” Weiss said. “That’s the promise of his candidacy.”

All three endorsers emphasized Villaraigosa’s character, public policy acumen and vision. Villaraigosa called Berman and Waxman “giants of public service” and said he was honored to have their support.

“Ultimately, people are going to vote on the candidate himself,” Villaraigosa said about the endorsements, “But make no mistake about it, everybody in this race would love — salivate — to have the endorsement of these three individuals.”

Hertzberg’s campaign said it was neither worried nor surprised by the endorsements.

“We have very strong community support, especially at a grass-roots level,” said Adeena Bleich, representative for the Hertzberg campaign.

“We want people to free-think,” she said. “I don’t think that the Jewish community is going to march and say, ‘Oh, Berman, Waxman, Weiss [endorse Villaraigosa] — we’re there.’ I think that’s really insulting to the community.”

Hertzberg, should he win the election, would be the first Jewish mayor of Los Angeles.

In the meantime, the Hertzberg campaign also sent its supporters an e-mail explaining the endorsements in its own view. The e-mail has garnered attention on some Los Angeles political Web sites for its somewhat sharp tone.

“Given that Bob is the only private citizen running for mayor, he never expected to get the support of career politicians,” the e-mail reads. Though he currently holds no elected office, Hertzberg is in fact the former speaker of the California Assembly, a position he held until term limits forced his exit.

The e-mail continues: “This endorsement was about political payback for favors past (like Antonio helping Berman carve a safe seat for himself) and future (Weiss wanting Latino support when he runs for city attorney)….”

“Bob is out in the neighborhoods, working for change where it matters,” the e-mail asserts.

“I’m a little surprised at the Hertzberg campaign’s critique of [the endorsers] as career politicians,” said political consultant Donna Bojarsky, who is supporting Villaraigosa.

“Lord knows, Hertzberg has made public service a cornerstone of his life, for which I admire him. But to try to hide that is problematic,” Bojarsky told The Journal.

Bojarsky is confident that the endorsers wield enough grass-roots clout to actually affect their constituencies’ mayoral votes.

“These politicians [command] tremendous respect,” she said. “What Howard and Henry think is extremely influential in the Jewish community.”

But longtime Republican strategist Arnold Steinberg was more equivocal in his assessments.

“The endorsements represent a plus for Antonio and will help him in the Jewish community, but, in the end, more significant matters will decide the race,” Steinberg said.

Steinberg agreed that Villaraigosa’s securing these endorsements hurts Hertzberg more than Mayor James Hahn.

“But the reality is [Berman and Waxman’s] influence has been declining for years,” he said. “It would be nice for Bob to have them, but their effect is more on perception and momentum.”

Hertzberg can feel comfortable in at least one respect, though: he holds the lead in fundraising among the mayoral challengers. Based on the last report to the City Ethics Commission on Sept. 30, Hertzberg had raised more than $1.1 million while runner-up Villaraigosa weighed in at about $640,000. Hahn dwarfs both with more than $2.2 million in contributions.

Hertzberg’s donors include TV mogul Haim Saban; Nancy Riordan, wife former L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan, and homebuilding magnate Bruce Karatz.

Villaraigosa’s contributors include Warner Bros. executive and Democratic activist Howard Welinsky and Henry Cisneros, former secretary of housing and urban development under President Clinton).

As the election nears and more endorsers and contributors weigh in on the nine-candidate mayoral fray, loyalties across the city will undoubtedly become clearer.

Both supporters of Villaraigosa and Hertzberg have said they doubt the Jewish vote will automatically go to a Jewish candidate or simply follow in the footsteps of Jewish endorsers.

“I think it’s a sign of political maturity,” Bojarsky said. “We can afford to decide who we think should be the best mayor.”

Mayor’s Race Role

With Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa’s entry into the 2005 Los Angeles mayor’s race, the competition for Jewish votes will accelerate.

Jews are attentive, high-propensity voters. Nearly one in five Los Angeles voters are Jewish (with only 6 percent of the population). If past history is a guide, however, the Jewish vote will play a more important role in the expected runoff between the two top candidates than in the multicandidate primary.

During the Tom Bradley years (1973 to 1993), Jews voted consistently for him against conservative candidates. Since Bradley left office, however, Jewish voters have dispersed in city elections. Loyal Democrats in state and national politics, Jews are less predictable in city campaigns.

As the Republican electorate has shrunk, Los Angeles voters increasingly will be choosing among different types of Democrats, anyway. The three leading contenders: Mayor James K. Hahn, former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg and Villaraigosa have won lots of Jewish votes in the past.

How will they do next year? And what about Councilman Bernard C. Parks and Valley state Sen. Richard Alarcon? In a sense, all the candidates are heirs to the progressive, Democratic, interracial vision of Bradley.

We do know that in the post-Bradley era, Jewish voters have given considerable support to Jewish candidates in the mayoral primary. In 1993, Jews gave a combined 52 percent of their primary votes to Joel Wachs and Richard Katz. In 2001, Jews gave 49 percent of their primary votes to Wachs and Steve Soboroff.

These examples bode well for Hertzberg, as the only Jewish candidate in the primary. On the other hand, none of the previous Jewish candidates made it to the runoff.

We also know that Jewish voters are more than willing to vote for non-Jewish candidates. In 2001, Villaraigosa led all primary candidates with 26 percent of the Jewish vote, powering him to a first-place primary showing. Villaraigosa was particularly strong in 2001 among Westside, liberal Jews, although he did very well among Valley Jews, as well.

And Hahn has been no slouch with Jewish voters. In 1997, he was opposed for re-election as city attorney by Ted Stein and won 60 percent of the Jewish vote. He has done well with Jewish voters in all his citywide races.

Parks has been cultivating the Jewish community since his election, with frequent references to the Bradley coalition. He will be competing with Villaraigosa for Jewish voters who favor cross-racial politics and with Hahn on public safety. Alarcon will compete with Hertzberg for Valley votes.

If Jewish voters scatter in the primary, with the most liberal Jews backing Villaraigosa, and moderate and conservative Jews supporting Hahn; a majority, regardless of ideology, backing Hertzberg, and others for Parks and Alarcon, then the greatest impact of the Jewish vote will be in the runoff election between the top two primary finishers.

For Bradley, holding and increasing his Jewish support from the primary to the runoff was the difference between making it to the mayor’s chair and bitter defeat. In 1969, his Jewish support in the primary did not translate into the runoff, where Sam Yorty’s scare campaign drove many Jewish voters away from Bradley. In 1973, Bradley held and greatly expanded his Jewish primary base into the runoff, and the rest is history.

In 1993, Richard Riordan, running on public safety, went from a paltry 21 percent of the Jewish primary vote to nearly half in the runoff, helping him to defeat Michael Woo. In 2001, Hahn outdistanced Villaraigosa in the runoff, with a tough anti-crime message and harsh advertising.

Hahn’s Jewish backing more than tripled from the primary, from 16 percent to 54 percent, while Villaraigosa rose from 26 percent to only 46 percent. These final Jewish totals exactly mirrored the overall city result of the runoff election.

In both cases, the winning candidate led with law and order and made the opponent appear to be an untested too-liberal choice. Even though Jews are, among white voters, surprisingly liberal, local elections tend to bring out their concerns about crime and other issues that make them more of a center-left constituency.

The most likely candidates for the two runoff spots are Hahn, Villaraigosa and Hertzberg, although nothing can be said with certainty. Those who don’t make the runoff will also have an impact in whom, if anybody, they endorse in the runoff.

Hahn’s greatest re-election asset is likely to be public safety, and his popular police chief, William Bratton. He can make the case that he has turned the troubled LAPD around and held the city together against secession (which Jewish voters strongly opposed).

This will appeal to Jewish voters, as will his generally moderate style and his long experience in Los Angeles government. The scandals at city hall, on the other hand, will hurt him among reform-minded Jewish voters.

Villaraigosa has long cultivated the Jewish community, has a very strong base among progressive Jews and ran a strong race in 2001. His biggest challenge will be to erode Hahn’s edge on the public safety issue. However, his dynamic personality and the fact that as a councilman he has more experience at city hall than he did in 2001 make him a viable crossover candidate for Jewish voters.

Hertzberg is well-known and well liked among Jewish voters, especially in the Valley, where Hahn has been hurt by his campaign against secession. He has the least city hall experience of the three leading candidates, but has great experience in state government and in public policy. He can appeal to Jewish voters with his tremendous energy, his ideas and his reformist ideology, and if he makes the runoff, being Jewish won’t hurt.

It’s going to be a real horse race.

Raphael J. Sonenshein is a political scientist at California State University, Fullerton. His new book, “The City at Stake: Secession, Reform, and the Battle for Los Angeles,” was just released by Princeton University Press.

Winners and Losers

While the Jewish vote apparently split down the middle in James K. Hahn’s victory over Antonio Villaraigosa in the contest for mayor, there was bad news and good news for Jewish candidates in other races.

Former City Councilman Michael Feuer, who had led in the polls and early returns, was defeated in his race for city attorney. Feuer, the former director of the Bet Tzedek legal aid service, lost to Deputy Mayor Rocky Delgadillo by a margin of 52.5 percent to 47.5 percent.

In the contest for the third citywide office, Laura Chick had already clinched election as city controller in the April primaries. Chick, a former city council-member and one-time counselor with the Jewish Family Service, is the first woman — of any denomination — to win a citywide election in Los Angeles.

Two victories marked the possible emergence of a new generation of young Jewish politicians.

In the affluent and influential City Council 5th District, dubbed the “District of the Stars,” newcomer Jack Weiss won in an upset victory over veteran political activist and state Sen. Tom Hayden.

Weiss, a former federal prosecutor, won by a margin of 289 votes, or 0.5 percent of the total vote.

Another newcomer, Michael Waxman, son of veteran Congressman Henry Waxman, had won election to the L.A. Community College board of trustees — a frequent springboard to higher political office — in the primaries.

Two Jewish women contested the 4th District seat for the L.A. Unified School District’s board of education, with Marlene Canter beating incumbent Valerie Fields by a 54-to-46 margin.

In the City Council race in the 3rd District, the Jewish candidate, Judith Hirshberg, lost to Dennis Zine by barely 132 votes.

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.