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.”

Mitchell Schwartz (above) knows he faces an uphill battle to unseat incumbent Mayor Eric Garcetti. Photo courtesy of Schwartz for Mayor 2017

Mitchell Schwartz mounts attack on Garcetti: Can it get him elected mayor of Los Angeles?

Mitchell Schwartz doesn’t think so highly of his incumbent opponent in the upcoming March 7 city election, but on one score, he admits that Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has him beat.

“He’s much better looking than me,” Schwartz during a recent interview at a Silver Lake café.

Schwartz is tall and broad, with a nose that has been broken, the combined effect of which makes him look like a former boxer. He jokes that he broke his nose “fighting for the people.” (In fact, it was a series of sports injuries.) But if he is to defeat an electoral heavyweight like Garcetti, Schwartz will have to land some major political punches. By most accounts, he’s a serious underdog.

A former State Department official under President Bill Clinton, Schwartz has the best name recognition and fundraising operation among a group of seven otherwise obscure challengers, having raised nearly $450,000. The next best-funded candidate is Paul E. Amori, a homelessness activist who often appears in a red sequined suit and bow tie, who has raised $5,631. Meanwhile, Garcetti has collected more than $3.5 million for his campaign.

Badly outspent, Schwartz, who is Jewish, is mounting an unrelenting critique of the incumbent. Schwartz points out that in Los Angeles, housing prices are up. In 2016, the violent crime rate rose 10 percent, the third consecutive year-over-year increase. The number of people living on the street has been on the rise since 2009, including an 11 percent increase from 2015 to 2016 alone, and now stands above 28,000. The city faces a staggering pension liability of $8.2 billion and has a Department of Water and Power (DWP) many say is in dire need of reform. Amid all this, Schwartz alleges, Garcetti has been a nonentity, demonstrating “a complete lack of leadership.”

What’s more, Schwartz claims to know why.

“Garcetti, unfortunately, has what I call the politician’s disease,” Schwartz told the Journal. “He’s so desirous of going to higher office that instead of expending political capital on dealing with issues, he just tries to accumulate it and coast through and not deal with these tough situations.”

It’s the reason Garcetti hasn’t reformed the DWP or decentralized the city’s byzantine school district, and why he hasn’t pressured Veterans Affairs to house homeless veterans in its West L.A. campus, Schwartz said. He called Measure HHH, a $1.2 billion countywide homeless housing bond shepherded by the mayor and approved in November’s election, “obviously an election gimmick” to help Garcetti’s chances, though Schwartz said he voted for it anyway in the hope that it would help the homeless problem.

The mayor disputes the fundamental premise of Schwartz’s criticism.

“Anybody’s analysis that you can store up political capital and spend it later is a little bit naïve,” Garcetti said. “It’s not like you can keep it in a bank like money. It can change in an instant. So you better be spending it every day like I do, to do big and bold things.”

The mayor argues that just because he’s not picking fights doesn’t mean he’s standing still. “People mistake a bloody nose for accomplishments,” he said.

He cited his stewardship of a $120 billion transportation measure and a $1.2 billion homelessness bond passed on the November ballot as battles he has fought and won, along with his successful push for a $15 minimum wage.

On the veterans homelessness charge, Garcetti political strategist Bill Carrick said the mayor has “worked very hard at it. … We haven’t eradicated it but that’s the direction we’re headed.” The mayor alleges to have housed 8,000 homeless veterans and says he would solved the issue entirely if more veterans weren’t finding themselves on the streets of L.A. daily.

Schwartz’s critique extends not just to Garcetti’s actions but also the political culture he says the mayor inspired during his tenure as city council president and subsequently as mayor. He described the city’s attitude toward building and development as haphazard, painting a picture of city councilmen trading votes over code deviations. (Carrick called this accusation “just silly.”)

On Measure S, a package of slow-growth reforms on the March city ballot, Schwartz has declined to take a position, saying he’s wary of the measure’s mechanisms but understands the sentiment of communities feeling disenfranchised by the development process. The mayor, on the other hand, firmly opposes the measure.

With few vocal detractors, Garcetti could coast to an easy victory. That outcome would be unsurprising given the mayor’s celebrity persona and large network of connections — he recently received no less an endorsement than from former President Barack Obama (a somewhat awkward situation, given that Schwartz chaired Obama’s California campaign in 2008).

But it would be a mistake to treat the election as a foregone conclusion, according to Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC.

“Under most normal circumstances, it would be almost impossible for an insurgent like Mitchell Schwartz to mount a credible challenge against a well-liked incumbent mayor,” he said. “But these are not normal times.”

The past 18 months have sent political predictions haywire, Schnur said, foiled by widespread disgruntlement among voters. Schnur compared the mayoral race to the recent Democratic presidential primary, with Garcetti cast as Hillary Clinton and Schwartz as her firebrand challenger, Bernie Sanders.

“He wants to be the insurgent,” Schnur said of Schwartz. “He wants to be the voice of all the frustrated, angry progressives who don’t feel like they’re being heard by traditional politicians. The challenge he faces is twofold: Garcetti is not nearly as inviting a target as Clinton and Schwartz doesn’t have nearly the megaphone that Sanders had.”

In Los Angeles, disaffection among voters often is focused on the cost of housing. Measure S, for instance, finds its political base in activists who see luxury development threatening the character of L.A. neighborhoods. The city council’s willy-nilly zoning policy is “what spawned Measure S,” Schwartz said.

It may be unsurprising that Schwartz has put a critique of Garcetti front and center of his campaign.

“[As a challenger], you have to convince people that the first-term incumbent hasn’t done an especially good job to warrant a second term,” former L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky told the Journal. But, he added, “I don’t think he can make that case against Eric Garcetti.”

If there is a winning case to be made against Garcetti, Schwartz seems determined to find it. For instance, he’s challenged Garcetti to pledge he would serve out the entirety of an unusually long 5 1/2-year term afforded by a change in election laws; Garcetti has yet to respond to that challenge.

“He’s not going to make some pledge because Mitchell Schwartz thinks somehow he’s going to get some traction from it,” Carrick said. “The job he’s running for is mayor. That’s the job he’s trying to get re-elected to.”

Few observers doubt that Garcetti eventually will seek higher office.

“Let’s face it — is there anyone who believes that after this term that he will not attempt to see if there is any opportunity for higher office?” said Frank Zerunyan, a USC professor of governance and longtime friend of Garcetti. “And to be honest, he deserves it.”

Schwartz has argued that Garcetti’s political ambitions hamper his effectiveness as mayor. “This is a steppingstone for him,” Schwartz said. “It’s not OK.”

As befits an unusual political climate, Schwartz is an unusual candidate to lead L.A.

“I never expected to [run],” he said. “Never, never, never.”

At 56, Schwartz has never held elected office. Instead, his political experience is mainly as a campaign operative.

In 1992, he managed Clinton’s presidential primary campaign in New Hampshire and subsequently became communications director for the Clinton State Department. Since then, he’s held leadership roles in public relations and environmental firms, and helped campaign for political candidates, including former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Sen. Diane Feinstein.

Unlike Garcetti, whose religious orientation often flies under the radar despite his status as the city’s first elected Jewish mayor, Schwartz — from his name to his appearance — is unambiguously Jewish.

Growing up in an Orthodox family in Queens, N.Y., he attended the well-regarded Yeshiva of Flatbush. After moving to Los Angeles in 1996, he became involved in Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles and eventually became vice president of Temple Israel of Hollywood, though he stepped down to focus on his mayoral run. He and his wife sent their three children to the temple’s elementary school.

Schwartz recognizes that he’s up against tough odds. Nonetheless, he sees an avenue, if a narrow one, to City Hall.

“We do this polling,” Schwartz said. “He’s got decent numbers. He’s got pretty good numbers. But when you push people — like, ‘Well, what has he done?’ — they cannot answer.”

A recent statement from Schwartz campaign manager Josh Kilroy alleged, based on random-sampling polls, that Schwartz’s name recognition is up. The campaign estimates the mayor is polling at around 50 percent. Meanwhile, a poll conducted by an Orange County opinion research firm from Feb. 16-19 put Garcetti’s approval at 65 percent. He needs only 51 percent of the votes to avoid a runoff. 

“All I can do is just keep working night and day and get out there,” Schwartz said.

As the interview wound down, Schwartz turned to two young people hunched over laptops at the next table.

“Excuse me, are you guys from L.A.?” he asked. “I’m running for mayor of L.A.”

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.

Swiss Jewish leader denies leaking pro-Gaza mayor’s nude selfies

The president of a Swiss Jewish community denied accusations that he helped leak nude photos of a pro-Palestinian mayor who had sent them to a younger woman.

Josef Bollag, who heads the Baden-Baden Jewish community, issued the denial last week in an Op-Ed that he wrote amid the unfolding of a scandal that forced Mayor Geri Muller to temporarily step down as mayor, though he was reinstated this week. Bollag is a longtime critic of Muller over Muller’s harsh criticism of Israel and advocacy of Iran.

The woman, a 33-year-old teacher identified in the Swiss media only by her initials, N.W., “made contact with me and in no time did I press to hand over the incriminating material about Geri Muller to media,” Bollag wrote in the Neue Zurcher Zeitung daily on Aug. 26.

The affair, known locally as Mullergate, was first reported last month by the Schweiz am Sonntag weekly. According to the publication, Muller, 52, sent the woman nude photos of himself while posing at his office at Baden-Baden City Hall.

The weekly did not publish the photos but wrote about their existence after receiving copies.

Muller, of the Green Party, filed a police complaint alleging that the woman had violated his privacy and defamed him. In the complaint he said that correspondence from her cellphone, which police have confiscated as evidence, contains correspondence with a “Mr. Bollag.”

In his Op-Ed, Bollag said the woman contacted him “as a cry for help” and that he was shocked by the photos but did not pass them on.

Police investigating the case asked the woman about her relationship with Bollag and Sacha Wigdorovits, a Jewish public relations professional who, together with Bollag, runs the pro-Israel media watchdog Audiatur, the Neue Zurcher Zeitung reported.

Wigdorovits acknowledged being in contact with the woman but denied sending any photos.

Muller, who is also a lawmaker in Switzerland’s federal parliament, has hosted several Hamas officials. During a demonstration for Gaza in 2010, he said, “The Holocaust is terrible, but that does not entitle any party to do the same with a different population,” though he later denied this constituted equating Israel with Nazism.

He has also said that Iran was a democracy.

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.

Gay candidate blazes new trail in Israel mayoral race

As a candidate to become the Middle East's first openly gay mayor, Nitzan Horowitz is hoping his bid to run Israel's famously liberal city of Tel Aviv will help homosexuals across a region where they are widely frowned upon.

The left-wing legislator is not predicted to defeat the incumbent, the well-established ex-fighter pilot Ron Huldai, in an October 22 municipal vote.

But the 48-year-old remains upbeat, pointing to an opinion poll his dovish Meretz party commissioned last month that gave Huldai only a five-point lead.

A survey in the Maariv newspaper last week predicted a Huldai victory, but found 46 percent of voters were still undecided.

“I'm going to be not only the first gay mayor here in Israel, but the first gay mayor of the entire Middle East. This is very exciting,” Horowitz told Reuters.

Horowitz's prominence in Tel Aviv is not altogether surprising. In a region better known for its religious and social conservatism, it is dubbed the “city that never sleeps”.

With a population of 410,000, it was also ranked in a poll by Gaycities.com last year as a top gay destination.

By contrast, more than 800,000 ultra-Orthodox Jews wearing black coats and hats poured on to the streets of Jerusalem last week for the funeral of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, a divisive figure whom critics called “Israel's ayatollah.”

Huldai, Tel Aviv's mayor since 1998, already apportions city budgets for its annual beachfront gay pride parade, and there is a gay film festival and municipal center for the gay community offering cultural and athletic programs for teenagers and young adults.

“You can't take away the fact that gay life has blossomed in the city under Huldai,” said Itai Pinkas Pinkas, 39, a onetime city councilor who worked with the mayor.


As a measure of how far Tel Aviv has come, rabbis who held sway in the Mediterranean city in 1955 blocked a bid by a woman to win election as mayor. Golda Meir later went on to become Israel's first woman prime minister.

“That's why his (Horowitz's) candidacy is not raising a firestorm, because many already see Tel Aviv as the gay capital of the Middle East,” Israeli political blogger Tal Schneider said.

But Horowitz, a former television journalist who as a lawmaker has largely championed social issues and advocated for African migrants who have flocked to Tel Aviv, says discrimination against gays in the city lingers on.

Just last month, Horowitz said, a landlord cited a party colleague's gay lifestyle in refusing to rent him an apartment.

The task of improving policy toward gays in the Jewish state is “very challenging, because this is a country, a region with a lot of problems concerning the gay community, discrimination, even violence,” the candidate said.

Israel's military made inroads decades ago by conscripting gay men and women alongside other 18-year-olds for mandatory service.

And even the holy city of Jerusalem, with a large ultra-Orthodox Jewish population, holds an annual gay pride parade.

But the gay community hits a roadblock when it comes to the issue of marriage.

Gay marriage — and civil ceremonies in general — that take place in Israel are not recognized by the authorities. Horowitz, who has lived with his partner for more than a decade, wants that to change.

“I hope once I'm elected this will contribute to tolerance and understanding, not just in Israel, but in the entire region,” Horowitz said.

Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Mike Collett-White

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.

Anthony Weiner announces bid for mayor

To announce his official bid for mayor of New York City, Anthony Weiner created a video in which he portrays himself as middle class, down to earth, repentant, and ready to fight for the middle class in NYC.

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.

A voter’s eye view of the Los Angeles election

This year, for the first time, the nonpartisan Pat Brown Institute at CSU Los Angeles went into the polling field.  As poll director, I wanted our poll to illuminate broader trends in the local electorate, and to conduct it we retained Susan Pinkus, who for many years ran the Los Angeles Times’ polls. Under Pinkus’ direction, calls were made to 1,705 adults between April 29 and May 7; of those, 904 were registered voters and 674 were determined to be likely voters.

We released our poll results in two stages, on May 10 and May 13.  The first revealed that the mayor’s race between Wendy Greuel and Eric Garcetti has become a dead heat, with Greuel ahead by one point among likely voters but within the margin of error of 4 points. (A second poll by Survey USA for KABC TV showed an actual tie.) Perhaps the tight race will generate the kind of excitement that has been missing in the campaign thus far.  Our second set of results showed Dennis Zine and Mike Feuer hold clear leads for controller and city attorney, respectively.

In this, as in so many elections, we have focused so much on the candidates that we may have forgotten that elections are really about the voters — how various groups’ representation has changed over time and what they want to happen in their city.  

Of the likely voters in the PBI poll, 42 percent were white, 12 percent were African American, 29 percent were Latino, and nine percent were Asian American. Consider that when Richard Riordan defeated Mike Woo in 1993, whites cast 72 percent of all votes, and Latinos cast only eight percent.  Riordan’s election was the last time that a Republican had a real chance for the city’s top job, when Republican voters cast more than 30 percent of the votes.  In the PBI sample, only 13 percent of likely voters identified as Republican.  This is a Democratic town, with 56 percent of the likely voters calling themselves Democrats.  (An estimated 6 percent of the city, and a larger share of its voters, are Jewish, who are disproportionately Democratic, but their numbers were too small in the PBI poll for analysis.)

We often hear negative things about the city and about the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD).  We should also wonder how people feel in their own neighborhoods, because that’s their day-to-day experience.  Only 40 percent of voters polled like the direction of the city, and 22 percent approve of the LAUSD, but within this sprawling metropolis, residents are more pleased with their own neighborhoods and even their local schools, than with the “city” and the “school district.”  Voters said their own local schools are in good shape (37 percent favorable), just as they thought their neighborhoods are doing well (52 percent. This has probably been true in the past, but we have tended not to ask.

As Latinos’ numbers and influence continue to rise, they are feeling optimistic.  Nearly half (44 percent) think the city is going in the right direction, compared to only 29 percent of African-Americans, who have seen their hard-earned political gains jeopardized by a declining population share.  Latinos think that Antonio Villaraigosa has done a good job as mayor, giving him a 62 percent approval rating, compared to his overall 50 percent approval.  Latinos were much more likely to give the beleaguered LAUSD positive ratings than either whites or African-Americans.  Latinos favor giving the city’s mayor greater authority over the school district to a significantly greater degree than either whites or African-Americans.

  As a group on their way up, Latinos can see a better future in front of them, and their attitudes toward public institutions are starting to reflect that optimism.

Latinos prefer Eric Garcetti over Wendy Greuel (48-36 percent), Dennis Zine over Ron Galperin for controller (29-18 percent), and Mike Feuer over Carmen Trutanich for city attorney (31-23 percent). 

Whites are not as optimistic as Latinos about the direction of the city, but among all groups, whites are the most satisfied with how things are going in their neighborhoods (65 percent, compared to 31 percent for African-Americans and 42 percent for Latinos).  White voters support Greuel (53-42 percent), Zine (30-21 percent), and Feuer (39-23 percent).   African-Americans, whose numbers in the sample are too low for full analysis, favor Greuel by a 2-1 margin, and also Zine and Trutanich. 

The sleeper for Greuel is a growing gender gap, with women supporting her by 13 points and men backing Garcetti by the same margin.  A surge of women voters or a high black turnout might ensure victory for Greuel, just as a mobilization of Latino voters, who tend to be late deciders, would do it for Garcetti.

Among registered voters (numbering 904 in the PBI sample), crime, the city budget, and education emerged as what people worry about most.  Voters also expressed concern about traffic, the economy, streets, and jobs — essentially the bread-and-butter issues of everyday life in a big city. 

Yet not all groups have the same concerns.  Whites were more likely to list traffic than either African-Americans or Latinos, who were worried more about crime than whites.  And whites and African-Americans were more concerned than Latinos about the city budget.

What guidance does this poll hold for the next mayor? 

With all the talk about pensions and other budget issues at city hall, the next mayor will have to spend much time and political capital on quality-of-life issues that will require hard choices among budget priorities. 

The mayor can build on voter optimism about neighborhoods and local schools while trying to build confidence in the city government and in the school district.  Voters will want to see results in their daily lives, not just glossy programs that are advertised to have no costs or side-effects, only benefits.

Both candidates have been working hard to convince the electorate that no hard choices will have to be made, that it’s possible to have a fully staffed police force, nice parks, easy-to-navigate streets and lots of new jobs.  Naturally, this is not going to be true starting July 1, when the mayor takes office.  To govern is to choose.

With two Democrats in the runoff, the voters will not be able to give an ideological direction to the new mayor.  The voters will really be selecting the better leader, the person most likely to negotiate and bargain on the city’s behalf, to make the right choices among competing priorities.

Voters won’t tell the mayor whether more money should go to parks or to keep the police force at 10,000 officers, whether to support a jobs-producing development or stop it in order to reduce traffic congestion.  Nor will voters tell the mayor how to deal with the powerful forces that dominate city hall.  They may be ambivalent about giving the mayor greater authority over the school district, but they certainly will expect schools to improve under the next mayor. 

Once elected, the new mayor will hopefully trust the voters enough to make plain that choices must be made, that there is no free lunch when it comes to municipal services, that talking alone won’t make a powerful and effective mayor, and to engage the public in the process of setting priorities.  Our poll does not say whether voters will welcome that honesty.  But what our poll does show is that the voters will look to their own neighborhoods and their own local schools to see if what the mayor is doing works for them.

Raphael J. Sonenshein is Executive Director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs and Director of the PBI Poll at California State University, Los Angeles.  Full reports on the PBI Poll on the Los Angeles City Elections can be found at www.patbrowninstitute.org


Has Villaraigosa succeeded as L.A.’s mayor?

Years ago, I was complaining about one of our governors to a colleague, Jack Germond, an experienced and highly respected national political reporter. Germond, who had reported from many states, regarded my analysis with skepticism. He said he seldom met a statehouse reporter like me who thought well of the governor, even if the chief executive was doing a good job.

Germond was expressing one of the truths of political journalism: While absence may make the heart grow fonder, daily proximity breeds criticism and contempt. I thought of his comments as I was writing this column considering whether Antonio Villaraigosa has succeeded in his two terms as mayor of Los Angeles, which end in a few weeks.

Assessments from journalists who write about him frequently range from scorn to disappointment. Blogger Ron Kaye, former editor of the Los Angeles Daily News, wrote, “It turned out he was just a song and dance man, entertaining but weak, afraid of standing up for what he knew was right, content to live like a millionaire at public expense and enjoy fine wine, food and entertainment at the expense of the greed merchants.” Jim Newton commented in the Los Angeles Times, “He’s not what many had hoped he’d be. … He promised something great. He delivered something merely good.”

My take is more positive. I’m not offering up a detailed analysis of Los Angeles’ eight years with Villaraigosa, but I’ll cite two issues that have been somewhat lost amid the media concentration on the city’s fiscal crisis and the May 21 city election. One is ethnic relations, the other mass transportation.

On relations among ethnic groups, much of Villaraigosa’s job has been outreach; Jewish Journal reporter Jared Sichel gave a flavor of it in these pages last week when he wrote that the mayor “has been to Shabbat dinner, lit the menorah, and he broke matzah with friends at a Passover seder.” Such visits to homes, community centers and places of worship are good public relations, feel-good politics that have their place in binding the city together.

But his greatest accomplishment in race relations has come from his support for a drastic change in the way the Los Angeles Police Department handles poor ethnic communities and dissident groups, a process begun by his predecessor Mayor Jim Hahn. This has reduced the conflict between the LAPD and such communities and groups. Those conflicts were a leading cause of the riots in 1965 and 1992 and L.A.’s ongoing racial conflicts before, between and after these traumatic events. It has been the greatest step in improving Los Angeles relations in many years.

Villaraigosa doesn’t get all the credit. As KPCC reporter Frank Stoltze noted in the public radio station’s excellent assessment of the Villaraigosa years, the mayor got a break when Hahn, his predecessor, dumped old-school Police Chief Bernard Parks, who is African-American. The move cost Hahn African-American support and probably led to his loss to Villaraigosa in 2005. But it cleared the way for two reform police chiefs — William Bratton, appointed by Hahn, and Charlie Beck, picked by Villaraigosa. “I think he gets credit in that he stayed out of the way,” author Joe Domanick, a student of the LAPD, told Stoltze. “All he had to do was support the two best police chiefs the LAPD has ever had.”

Under the new style of LAPD leadership, crime dropped — violent crime is down 40.2 percent; property crime, 23.6 percent; gang crime, 37.5 percent. A daring and imaginative program of working with the heavily Latino and African-American gang members, advocated by civil rights activist and attorney Connie Rice, was embraced by the LAPD and brought under the supervision of the mayor’s office by Villaraigosa, increasing the ranks of women, African-Americans and Asian-Americans; the police department grew to Villaraigosa’s goal of 10,000 officers. Critics say Villaraigosa hit his 10,000 goal by moving 200 officers from the General Services Department to the police department, meaning the mayor only hired 800 additional cops. But that’s nitpicking.

Villaraigosa also deserves a top grade for his deep involvement in securing the federal dollars that will help finance a big expansion of mass transportation. As chairman of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, he lobbied hard last year for congressional approval of Sen. Barbara Boxer’s mass transportation bill that will create hundreds of thousands jobs around the country by accelerating the construction of transit and highway projects. 

The measure contains a provision, originated in the mayor’s office, permitting the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to borrow money for the stepped-up construction, which will be repaid through a voter-approved sales tax increase. An MTA official told me $1.75 billion would be made available through next year, speeding up construction and putting new transit on a 10-year completion schedule, rather than the 30 years it would have taken before the new law passed.

Villaraigosa complains the news media hasn’t given him enough credit for such accomplishments. And in that, he’s right. But the mayor also has to accept some of the blame for his reputation. His affection for the high life — his divorce, two-high profile romances, a visit with bad boy Charlie Sheen at the opening of a new bar in Mexico — doesn’t burnish an image of a serious person.

Drawn to the sensational, and viewing the mayor against the backdrop of daily City Hall turmoil, it’s easy for the media and the public to sell him short. That’s a mistake. Villaraigosa’s accomplishments — especially with transportation and the LAPD’s race relations — will be improving the city long after his term ends. 

What Jack Germond told me about governors can apply to mayors, too. 

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).

Mayoral candidates Greuel, Garcetti go head to head

In the first debate between the two remaining Los Angeles mayoral candidates, City Controller Wendy Greuel and City Councilman Eric Garcetti attempted to convince voters there are significant differences between them, even as the two veteran politicians took identical positions on one issue after another.

The candidates spent a good deal of time on the evening of April 11 addressing questions about the city’s quality of life. A three-person panel on the stage at American Jewish University (AJU) asked about neighborhood development and traffic, and the moderator, KABC anchor Marc Brown, relayed questions about the city’s sidewalks and its spay-and-neuter law from people who submitted via Facebook.

Greuel and Garcetti both said they favor bringing football back to Los Angeles. Each also promised to end chronic homelessness in the city and pledged to ask for givebacks from the unions if elected mayor.

That last pledge would place the new mayor in the awkward position of trying to take back some of the raises that he or she voted to award to municipal workers in 2007, when both Greuel and Garcetti were members of City Council. Should Greuel win and make good on her promise, she would also be negotiating against some of the very same unions that spent millions promoting her candidacy during the primary.

But at the debate at AJU, co-sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League and AJC Los Angeles (American Jewish Committee), Greuel said she is “independent enough to be your next mayor,” even as Garcetti labeled her the “chosen candidate of the downtown power brokers.”

With the election set for May 21, there weren’t too many fireworks at this event, but Greuel and Garcetti did throw some barbed attacks.

Garcetti questioned the math underlying Greuel’s claim to have identified $160 million in wasteful spending as controller; he also assailed Greuel’s proposal to increase the number of police officers by 2,000 over the coming eight years. Greuel stood by the $160 million number and called her suggestion to increase the city’s police force a “goal,” not a plan.

“I believe that if you don’t look forward to a goal, you’ll never get there,” Greuel said.

Greuel questioned Garcetti on whether he acted quickly enough in making known his opinion on two skyscrapers planned for Hollywood, the district he represents. Garcetti has opposed the plan, which was approved by the city’s planning commission late last month, but Greuel, who also said she opposed the plan, said her opponent had waited too long.

“Let’s resolve it before it comes to the planning commission,” Greuel said.

Garcetti defended his course of action, saying that he had always thought the project was too large but wanted to give the developers the opportunity to see if they could rally public support behind it.

When Jewish Journal Editor-in-Chief and Publisher Rob Eshman, one of three questioners at the event, asked each candidate for the “vote-defining difference” that could help Angelenos decide between these two polished, Democratic City Hall insiders, Greuel pointed to their “different experiences,” arguing that her work in the public and private sector has helped to prepare her to be the best mayor.

Garcetti noted he has endorsement from all three leading candidates for mayor knocked out during the March primary. 

Just a day earlier, lame-duck Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had fired off an attack at the two candidates during his final State of the City speech, critiquing both candidates for not speaking out enough on schools.

Taking the mayor’s criticism to heart, Adrienne Alpert of ABC7’s Eyewitness News kicked off the debate by asking the candidates if they would support Villaraigosa’s 22 “partnership schools,” which are under the supervision of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) but receive additional support from private funds. Both replied that they would maintain the mayor’s support and focus on those low-performing schools.

And even if it was Greuel who came out with a stronger-sounding defense of “choice” on Thursday night, loudly proclaiming her support for the “parent trigger” law, which allows parents to vote out a school’s administration and bring in a new operator, Garcetti, who has been endorsed by the city’s teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), said he is also in favor of the parent trigger.

Next mayor’s earth agenda

Delivering his inaugural address on the City Hall lawn in 2005, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa challenged Angelenos to turn Los Angeles into “… the greenest big city in America.”

Eight years later, it is only fitting that we ask ourselves how close Mayor Villaraigosa has come to realizing this lofty aspiration, and, just as importantly, what the next mayor must do to fulfill it.

I served in the first term of the Villaraigosa administration as general manager and commission president of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) and have firsthand knowledge of the environmental ambitions and accomplishments of the administration.

Although it is clear that there is work for the next administration to perform, it is also indisputable that the environmental progress we have made as a city over the last eight years has been nothing short of remarkable. 

However, these noteworthy achievements have gone largely unheralded. Perhaps this is because people do not immediately sense gains such as reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, air-quality improvements, green construction, public transportation projects or the development of local water resources, whereas potholes, traffic jams and the city’s fiscal deficits are more tangible, visible issues that overshadow the positive news on sustainability. Whatever the reason, the fact is that the city’s environmental victories have been relegated to the back pages. But this does not make them any less real or any less worthy of celebration.

This article focuses on five areas: energy and climate change, water, air, green buildings and transportation.

1. Energy and Climate Change

The Villaraigosa administration can justifiably claim to have made substantial headway in addressing climate change and energy issues.

In 2007, Villaraigosa issued the GreenLA Action Plan, calling for emissions to be reduced 35 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2030. Los Angeles is on track to meet this objective. Further, LADWP has already reduced its emissions 21 percent below 1990 levels — far ahead of AB 32 mandates.

Climate change can have serious impacts for Los Angeles. Rising sea levels could threaten coastal areas; hotter, smoggier days are predicted; droughts and fire events are likely to be more prolonged; and water supplies more constrained. The mayor’s recent AdaptLA climate change plan is intended to prepare for the changes that are coming our way. This is a crucial step in adapting to a new reality.

In charting a more environmentally sensitive direction for the city, LADWP is a central player. The Villaraigosa era has seen transformative changes at LADWP, especially during the first term. Examples include the unprecedented four-fold expansion of renewable energy resources leading to the attainment of the 20 percent level in 2010; the record-breaking 19-fold increase in savings from energy efficiency programs; the completion of Pine Tree Wind Farm, the nation’s then-largest municipally owned wind farm; the achievement of steep declines in water consumption levels; and the 2008 Solar Energy Plan, which was the progenitor of the recently adopted landmark Feed-in Tariff Program.

Some critics will complain that, at the start of his second term, the mayor planned that Los Angeles would be coal-free by 2020 and that its renewables portfolio would reach 40 percent by 2020. However, this criticism ignores the fact that LADWP’s renewables were at just 4 percent, and coal accounted for nearly 50 percent of our power consumption, when the mayor took office. Today, LADWP is on track to meet the 33 percent renewables level by 2020 and has announced that it will eliminate coal well in advance of legal deadlines. Given the historical context, the administration and LADWP merit some recognition, although, clearly, the next administration must continue the effort to accelerate the retirement of coal and to expand energy efficiency, renewable energy and distributed energy programs, while ensuring a prudent balance between renewable resources and natural gas.

2. Water

During the last eight years, Los Angeles has cut water consumption by 17 percent, and our per capita use is the lowest of any big city in the United States. This is a phenomenal accomplishment by any standard.

In 2008, the mayor promulgated the Los Angeles Water Supply Action Plan, formulated by LADWP. This much-lauded document constituted, in effect, Los Angeles’ declaration of independence from imported water. Recognizing that 90 percent of our water comes from hundreds of miles away and that its cost will rise inexorably, the Water Supply Plan called for the development of indigenous resources: conservation, wastewater recycling, rainfall capture, groundwater remediation, underground storage.

This plan has been reiterated both in LADWP’s Urban Water Management Plan and in a recent adoption of principles by the LADWP commission that calls for 37 percent of Los Angeles’ water to come from local sources by 2035. These pronouncements are welcome improvements over the “ignorance is bliss” attitudes of the past. Further, in addition to the wins in conservation, incremental progress has been made especially with respect to wastewater recycling and rainfall capture. The work of LADWP and the Bureau of Sanitation (BOS) in this regard should be commended.

However, some would argue that a target of 37 percent 23 years from now is not aggressive enough. UCLA’s recent Vision 2021 L.A. study (Vision 2021) calls for the more ambitious objective of 32 percent by 2021. Certainly, both LADWP and BOS have the talent to expedite matters and would agree that certain actions (e.g., the clean-up of the San Fernando Valley groundwater basin) are urgent. However, much will depend on the ability of the next administration to garner the political will and secure the funds necessary to move forward.

3. Air

Decades of untiring work by many people have yielded significant improvements in our air quality, although we still remain one of the most polluted U.S. cities for ozone smog and particulate pollution. Still the Villaraigosa administration can fairly claim credit for contributing to enhancements in our air quality. This effort is most clearly evident at the port, where air emissions have been cut by more than half. This is due, in large measure, to the mayor’s San Pedro Bay Ports Clean Air Action Plan and its various components, such as the Clean Trucks Program. The port has also made considerable progress in cleaning the water there, although soil contamination continues to bedevil port officials. Again, it will be left to the next administration to fully implement the Clean Air Action Plan and to pursue a zero-emission target for the port.

4. Green Buildings

Over the last eight years, Los Angeles has emerged as a national leader in this area. Vision 2021 reports that the square footage of municipal buildings certified to meet LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards jumped from 9,000 in 2004 to almost 1.8 million in 2010.

In 2008, Los Angeles established the Green Building Program, requiring that most structures larger than 50,000 square feet be built to LEED standards. In 2011, Los Angeles took the leap of introducing new requirements, which incorporated and surpassed the California Green Building Standards Code (CALGreen). In addition to the CALGreen mandates on water and energy efficiency measures for certain new buildings, the L.A. County Green Building Program covers not only new projects, but all alterations and additions over $200,000 in valuation, and requires “solar ready” roofs and “electric vehicle ready” features. The Department of Building and Safety (DBS) is to be complimented for its work in this regard.

In 2011, Los Angeles also enacted the Low Impact Development Ordinance, compelling new and redevelopment projects to incorporate rainfall capture designs, thus helping to abate Los Angeles’ urban run-off problem, while augmenting its water supply.

The water fixtures ordinance of 2009 (estimated to save a billion gallons of water over the next 20 years) is worthy of mention as the joint project of LADWP and DBS.

5. Transportation

The Brookings Institution recently acknowledged Villaraigosa and the team that produced Measure R and obtained the low-interest Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan from Congress to fund transportation projects, recognizing this endeavor as one of the Top 10 Most Innovative Economic Development Initiatives.

Today, more transit and highway projects are opening, under construction, or are in the planning stages, than at any time in the history of Los Angeles County.

In addition, 100 percent of MTA buses have been converted to alternative fuels, and Los Angeles now boasts the largest alternative-fuel trash and street sweeper fleet in the United States. Further, in 2013, Los Angeles is set to become the first large U.S. city to synchronize all signalized intersections. Bus and rail services have increased, and CicLAvia events, which temporarily close streets to car traffic, have proven popular. The next administration must continue to pursue policies to dissuade single-passenger vehicle trips.

The gains of the last eight years in the five areas covered above have been concrete and far reaching and merit recognition. Perhaps we cannot yet claim to be the “… greenest big city in America” in every sphere of endeavor, but we are entitled to that distinction in many ways.

Still, much will depend in the commitment of the next mayor to build on these advances. The next administration must push forward to catalyze the transformation of our energy profile, reduce our greenhouse gas footprint, develop local water resources, cut air pollution and bring public transportation projects to fruition.

As the runoff campaign for mayor enters its final stages, let’s pay close attention to how the two candidates address these specific issues. Despite the solid progress we’ve made over the last eight years, the future of Los Angeles’ fragile environment will depend on their answers and their actions.

David Nahai is an attorney and consultant specializing in real estate, energy and water matters. He is the former general manager and commission president of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and former chair of the Los Angeles Regional Water Board.

March 5: Election Day

I belong to a small, elite club that I would like to invite you to join.

It’s called, People Who Give a S— About Los Angeles.

If you detect a note of anger and impatience in that name, you got it.

Los Angeles, John D. MacDonald wrote in “A Deadly Shade of Gold,” is “the world’s biggest third-class city …”

And the fault, primarily, is yours. Not you, if you’re one of the relatively few Angelenos who vote in municipal elections, track city and county politics, get involved at the grass roots and in the corridors of power to  make the city better.

But if you’re like the majority of Angelenos, then, yes, you’re the problem. A city only moves forward when everyone in the galley is pulling on the oars, and for too long, L.A. has been dead in the water.

On March 5, you’ll have another chance to get involved, just by the simple act of voting. This election is for mayor, city attorney and controller, eight City Council districts, three seats each on the boards of the Los Angeles Unified School District and the Los Angeles Community College District, and Measure B, a controversial sales tax increase. 

If you do that, and get your friends and family to do so, too, you will be part of a small club. As of Feb. 21, 11 days before the election, only about 10 percent of voters who requested mail-in ballots had sent them back, according to Rick Orlov of the Los Angeles Daily News.

“The lack of public interest in the race — or perhaps it’s because there are so many candidates — has been evident in the early absentee ballots,” Orlov wrote.

We whine about traffic, about subpar schools, about the lack of public transportation, and neighborhood violence and the homeless and the airport, but only a minority of us gets involved.

Meanwhile, do a little traveling and you get city-envy: the well-tended open spaces of Berlin, the bike lanes and bike shares of New York, the water-wise programs in Boston, the street life of Tel Aviv, the job growth of Houston, the sustainable food economies of Portland and Oakland. Meanwhile, it was big news here last week when the mayor announced a timeline for filling the potholes on Wilshire Boulevard. Really? Potholes?   

It’s not hard to figure out why Los Angeles appeared nowhere on a recent list of the world’s most innovative cities. The three finalists: New York City; Medellin, Colombia; and Tel Aviv.

I was stuck in traffic — thick, tarlike, time-sucking traffic on the 10 West — thinking: Why is that?

In practice, it’s a tough city to run, tangled as it is with the region’s many municipalities. Our columnist Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute at California State University, Los Angeles, created a pictorial guide for the excellent CityThink section of the Los Angeles magazine Web site, and, if nothing else, it’s a sober reminder of how complex it is to pull the levers of change in L.A.

But most of us don’t bother to try in the first place. People come to Los Angeles to realize their individual dreams. In their mad drive to turn their fantasies into reality, they ignore the realities around them. L.A. is a backdrop in the life story of its residents. For New Yorkers, their city is a lead character.

Whatever the reasons, the cost is clear: This election is about whether the city can continue to function, much less thrive. Municipalities, unlike the federal government, can’t print money. L.A. is facing a structural deficit that, if left unaddressed, will mean worse city services, less safety, fewer after-school programs, just a general slide backward. 

L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa improved the city on many fronts, but the looming fiscal crisis is still unresolved. The next mayor must be a man or woman who has to be able to break tough news to entrenched interests about the city’s current mess but also be able to present a positive and inspiring vision for the future. 

In a Los Angeles Times op-ed, former City Council member and onetime mayoral candidate Mike Woo laid that part out well: “Do any of the candidates have a big idea that could inspire the city? Bringing a World’s Fair to L.A.? Creating a citywide network of urban farms? Engaging the city’s vast creative community to reshape the urban landscape and solve city problems? Launching a community service corps energized by mandatory participation of the city’s teenagers? The mayor leading daily two-mile exercise hikes through urban or pastoral landscapes in the city? The mayor commuting daily to City Hall on public transit?”

Woo’s question touches on the real challenge of our political leadership: how to use the unparalleled creative talent and wealth of L.A.’s residents for L.A. 

So, who can do that? Who’s the One?

The Jewish Journal, as a nonprofit, doesn’t endorse. But our reporter Jonah Lowenfeld has profiled the candidates for mayor and city attorney, and the other municipal issues, and you can get a crash course on them at jewishjournal.com/la_mayors_race.

Read up, vote and tell your friends: Join the club. 

Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can
follow him on Twitter @foodaism.

Five candidates for L.A. mayor vie for your vote

Los Angeles’ next mayor will oversee a city with thousands of miles of streets in need of repair. The mayor will inherit a budget with a $216 million shortfall and similar-sized gaps expected on into the future. The next mayor will almost certainly have to renegotiate public employees’ pay and pension packages with those employees’ powerful unions.

Somehow, amid all this, a surprising amount of attention in this election season is being devoted to the seemingly inconsequential fact that three of the five leading candidates for L.A. mayor claim Jewish identities of one sort or another.

The acknowledged fact is, Jews vote in disproportionately large numbers, which helps explain why the mayoral candidates will have debated in half a dozen synagogues across L.A. over the course of the campaign. By March 5, every Jewish voter in the city will likely know that City Councilman Eric Garcetti identifies as both Latino and Jewish, City Controller Wendy Greuel is married to a Jewish man and is a member of a synagogue, and City Councilwoman Jan Perry, who is African-American, converted to Judaism as an adult.

These three experienced insiders are joined in the running by two formerly unknown outsiders, both without claims to Jewishness — radio talk-show host Kevin James and former mayoral aide Emanuel Pleitez. Both are holding incumbents responsible for the current state of the city, and each presents a different kind of challenge to the frontrunners, who are trying to build a coalition that can draw voters to the polls.

With such a crowded and competitive field, no candidate is expected to win an outright majority in next month’s election, but Jewish voters will certainly help decide which of the candidates will finish in one of the top two spots and advance to a run-off election in May. Profiles of the top five candidates follow. (For more coverage, visit jewishjournal.com/la_mayors_race.)

Wendy Greuel: Aiming at ever-higher offices

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

Looking back on her three decades of work in and around Los Angeles’ public sector, it would be easy to conclude that Wendy Greuel has been preparing to run for mayor for a long time. 

In public appearances, L.A.’s City Controller traces her political awakening to when she met Mayor Tom Bradley while she was still in high school. Her jobs since then — working as Bradley’s liaison on public policy issues, serving as field operations officer for Southern California with the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), even her position as a government affairs executive at the film studio DreamWorks — all have focused on crafting and/or impacting public policy. 

But when, for the first time, Greuel officially announced her intent to run for City Council in a 2002 special election, some of her colleagues and friends were surprised. 

“She never wore that kind of ambition on her sleeve,” said Donna Bojarsky, a veteran political leader who worked for Bradley at the same time as Greuel.

Greuel’s ambition to take on ever-higher offices, and her potential electability, are in full view these days. Armed with $3.6 million in campaign contributions and a bevy of endorsements and organizational support — and buttressed by an independent, union-backed political-action committee — Greuel is today one of the two front runners in the L.A. mayoral race, with decent odds of being elected the first woman to hold the job in the city’s history.

“I don’t want to just be the mayor; I want to do the job of mayor,” Greuel said, sitting in the lobby of the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, nursing a half-finished cup of black coffee.

Greuel uses this same line at debates and campaign appearances, and it’s meant to remind voters of her work ethic.

As a city councilmember, Greuel was dubbed the “Pothole Queen” for her attention to repairing streets. Working for HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros, Greuel oversaw the agency’s operations to help find temporary housing for people left homeless by the 1994 Northridge Earthquake. And, together with Bradley, Greuel helped found the LA’s BEST after-school program. The program started in 1988 with 10 schools; the program now includes 189 schools in the city of Los Angeles. 

“There really isn’t a job that she’s done where she hasn’t performed well,” Bojarsky said. “Her competence is what will inspire confidence.”

Even as she has served in public office, Greuel has also become a wife and mother. She and her husband, filmmaker Dean Schramm, have a 9-year-old son; although Greuel is not Jewish, she and her family are members of Temple Israel of Hollywood.

In the run-up to Election Day on March 5, Greuel and all the candidates have been debating one another at venues throughout the city, virtually on a daily basis. And in recent weeks, she has faced increasingly intense questioning from her opponents. Kevin James, a Republican staking his bid on winning over the San Fernando Valley voters whom Greuel represented in the City Council, has been gunning for the controller from the start. Recently, City Councilwoman Jan Perry’s campaign sent out a mailer tying Greuel to L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. And on Jan. 31, City Councilman Eric Garcetti called into question the math behind Greuel’s claim that she has uncovered $160 million in wasteful and fraudulent spending through her audits of city government expenditures. 

“The $160 million is real, and it’s the tip of the iceberg,” Greuel told the Journal. “It’s a conservative estimate.”

Others, including Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, have reacted with skepticism to Greuel’s proposal to grow the police and firefighting forces by 2,000 by the year 2020. 

Hiring those additional workers could cost more than $200 million a year, the Los Angeles Daily News reported on Feb. 6, suggesting that in the absence of new revenue or cuts, such an expense would double the city’s projected annual deficit.

“This is a goal,” Greuel said. “If you don’t try and reach a goal, you will never get there. And for me, public safety is No. 1.”

Speaking on the campaign trail, Greuel has been cautious — her supporters call it savvy — in what policy positions she’s willing to stake out, often offering up generalities or declaring that more research is needed.

During a televised debate in late January, Greuel refused to give a yes or no answer to moderator Conan Nolan of KNBC when he asked whether Los Angeles International Airport should be allowed to move one of its runways, a plan opposed by some of the airport’s neighbors. At a debate at Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills a few weeks earlier, Greuel gave a similarly noncommittal answer when asked which route the Purple Line subway — planned to run through Century City and Beverly Hills — should take.

Greuel is not the only candidate hedging answers in this race, of course. According to the Los Angeles Times, Greuel and Garcetti have made strong commitments in closed-door meetings to the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which represents a large chunk of the civilian employees at City Hall. At the same time, both these candidates have publicly promised to reform the pensions of city workers as a centerpiece of their stump speeches, a move that likely would mean a reduction in benefits for the city’s unionized workers.

Greuel denied altering her message to fit the audience. 

“There are no closed-door endorsements [or] meetings when you’re running for mayor of Los Angeles,” she said.

“I said the same thing to the Chamber [of Commerce] that I said to the SEIU,” she said. 

Stuart Waldman, president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association (VICA), said that in the speeches reportedly given at SEIU, both candidates appeared to be “pandering,” but Waldman said he is supporting Greuel anyway, at least in part because he feels that she’ll ensure the Valley gets fair representation in the mayor’s office. 

VICA’s political action committee also endorsed Greuel, as has the editorial board of the Valley-centric Los Angeles Daily News.

“This is a feeling among Valley voters, that when it comes down to it, she [Greuel] will take care of the Valley,” Waldman said. 

The Valley could take care of Greuel, too: Voters there make up 38 percent of the city’s population and have cast as much as 43 percent of the ballots in previous citywide elections. Although no candidate is likely to win an outright majority of the vote on March 5, a strong showing in the Valley could be enough to advance Greuel into a runoff in May — and one step closer to being the first mayor from the Valley since Sam Yorty.

But it’s highly unlikely that Greuel would ever pledge to look out only for narrow Valley interests. One promise Greuel has repeatedly made over the course of her campaign is that she’ll be “a mayor for all of L.A.”

Emanuel Pleitez: From East L.A. to City Hall?

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.

Before delivering an extended policy speech on Feb. 5 at Los Angeles Trade Tech College, Emanuel Pleitez walked around a carpentry classroom meeting students. Pleitez (pronounced play-TEZ), 30, is the youngest and least-known of the leading candidates running for Los Angeles mayor; he is also a former management consultant and analyst at Goldman Sachs, but as he chatted with students about where they were from, he offered up anecdotes about his own childhood, growing up poor in South and East Los Angeles.

When Pleitez met Jamie Gaitan, the candidate towered over the soft-spoken, 20-something student but with just a few questions, he teased out her story — of abandonment at a young age and homelessness.

“My mom and my younger sister have a very similar story,” Pleitez told the audience gathered for the event minutes later. He paused, visibly affected. “We’re very lucky we were never homeless. But we had to move around 10 times before I was 10 years old.”

In campaign speeches, Pleitez emphasizes his upbringing in some of Los Angeles’s most underserved neighborhoods to make the case that he is best-suited among those hoping to lead the city.

“Put aside my resume and all of my experiences,” Pleitez said, during an interview in his campaign office in Boyle Heights later that afternoon. “It’s that feeling, where I know that there are kids right now that just decided today that they’re not going to school, or that someone just got shot and killed. I feel that urgency to really address it.”

The son of Mexican and Salvadoran immigrants, Pleitez contends that he’s competing for all voters, particularly those who aren’t affiliated with any party.

“They’re disaffected with the party establishment,” he said, “and that is where my base of voters are – people who are tired of what is going on.”

Pleitez’s resume is impressive. A Stanford graduate, he served for a year as special assistant to then-Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa, worked just under two years for Goldman Sachs, and for about 70 intense days starting in Nov. 2008, he was part of President Obama’s transition team. He also worked as a management consultant at McKinsey & Company for 19 months, and as the chief strategist for the online company Spokeo for about a year. Then, in December 2012, he put all of that aside to focus full-time on running for mayor.

Pleitez is considered by most pundits to be a long-shot candidate, nevertheless he has been able to raise enough money from donors across the country to qualify for public matching funds from the city. Pleitez has been invited to all but a few of the mayoral debates, where he focuses most of allotted time contrasting himself with the better-known and better-funded leading candidates – City Councilwoman Jan Perry, City Councilman Eric Garcetti, and City Controller Wendy Greuel.

“You’ve got three great options if you like the way we’re going,” Pleitez said. “If you don’t, I’m your option who actually understands the city, who actually understands the problems, and can deliver on solutions.”

Pleitez’s critiques and solutions often sound remarkably similar to those of another top candidate, former radio talk show host Kevin James, who like Pleitez has never held elected public office. Both support moving city workers to 401K-style pension plans and renegotiating those employees’s benefits. But while James, a Republican, has tied with Perry in some polls, Pleitez, a Democrat like Perry, Garcetti and Gruel, has never broken out of the single digits.

His challenge may be that Pleitez is hard to pin down: He can sound like a dyed-in-the wool progressive when talking about the need to invest in underserved neighborhoods, but he’s much more conservative when addressing fiscal policy.

While at Trade Tech Pleitez unveiled a proposal to offer city workers the choice of cashing out their pensions at current value. The city would need to borrow as much as $16 billion on the bond market to do so, he said, but the plan would make city budgets more predictable. However, pension buyouts, while used in the private sector, are virtually unheard of in the public sector.

“It’s a plan that would give city workers something today instead of nothing tomorrow, which is what could happen if we continue to slide towards bankruptcy,” Pleitez said on Feb. 5, standing in front of a model home outfitted with solar panels.

However, bond issues carry their own risks, as has been the case for some cities that have explored pension obligation bonds, among them Oakland and the now-bankrupt Stockton. Both borrowed money with the express purpose of making good on pension commitments and both lost millions of dollars as a result.

“If you can borrow the money at a low enough rate and invest it and generate a high enough return, then it works out,” Keith Brainard, research director for the National Association of State Retirement Administrators, explained when asked about the viability of Pleitez’s plan. “It’s not uncommon, especially in the last few years, with borrowing costs so low.”

Pleitez’s campaign is powered by young staffers, about 20 of whom are living together in a rented house in South Los Angeles. The campaign pays for their room and board (among the expenditures made by the campaign are purchases of “campaign house furniture” at Ikea, plumbing services, and at least one mattress), and it pays each worker a stipend of $200 per month.

Pleitez recruited a similar crew for a Congressional run in 2009.

“We had about 50 people living in a couple of homes,” said Eric Hacopian, who worked as Pleitez’s campaign consultant in that race, but this time is working for Perry in the mayoral race.

“We shocked the hell out of everyone,” Hacopian said of Pleitez’s Congressional bid. Then 26, Pleitez won 7,000 votes, about 13 percent of the vote, finishing third behind two more established candidates.

“Can you replicate that in a mayor’s race, which is five times larger? Not really,” Hacopian said. “But is he going to finish at two or three percent? No, people are wrong about that. He’ll do better than people think.”

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.”



Jan Perry, “tough” mayoral candidate, faces challenging route

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.

Following a recent televised debate featuring the five top candidates running for mayor of Los Angeles, some campaign watchers wondered why the candidates weren’t being grilled more intensely. “It was genteel, for the most part, but I don’t want genteel,” Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez wrote in a blog on Jan. 29. “I want hardball, not softball.”

City Councilwoman Jan Perry, who currently is running third in fundraising and in the polls,  didn’t escape his critical assessment — Lopez wondered whether she “had her eyes closed the whole time.” In fact, Perry herself registered objections to the tone of the campaign that were similar to Lopez’s in an interview with the Journal in early January.

“It’s been exceedingly polite,” Perry said, adding that she would prefer more back and forth between candidates during debates. “But some of that is due to the framework.”

This mayoral race, with a crowded field that includes two others city hall veterans who are running on their records of achievement in city government, as well as two untested outsider candidates running on similar anti-incumbent messages, presents a challenge to be heard for all the candidates, but perhaps particularly for Perry.

Perry has represented the ninth council district since 2001, but the other two city hall veterans in the race — City Councilman Eric Garcetti and City Controller Wendy Greuel –each have raised more than twice as much money as Perry has and have picked up more endorsements from the city’s most powerful unions.

Perry’s positions on a number of key issues – abolishing the city’s current business tax and pursuing reforms to the pensions of city workers — don’t differ dramatically from Garcetti or Greuel’s stances, which only helps the two other candidates in the race, attorney and talk-show host Kevin James and Emanuel Pleitez, a young former mayoral aide and businessman, to lump all three city hall veterans in their attacks.

Perry appears to be trying to thread the needle between the two pairs. In public appearances, she presents herself as a straight-talking, experienced politician who has helped bring jobs to Downtown and to advance social initiatives that protect her numerous vulnerable constituents. She also pledges to talk tough to the municipal workers unions and other entrenched interests that frequently hold sway in L.A. city government. The result is a message that sounds like a call for modest reform by an insider who knows all too well of what she speaks.

“This is not an easy place to govern,” Perry said, sitting in a coffee shop near her home Downtown, an area of the city she used to represent until last year, when the City Council-approved redistricting plan removed it from her district. “You have to be persistent, you have to be tenacious. You have to be very, very patient. You have to listen to people.”

Perry is proud of her toughness, and of a multifaceted identity that she says makes her well-suited to lead Los Angeles, which is arguably the most diverse city in the world.

“I’m an African American woman who is Jewish who has represented a Latino district for the last 11 years,” Perry said at a forum hosted by Sinai Temple on Jan. 29. “The mayor can be the bridge-builder; I’ve been the bridge-builder, and I’ve seen the results of that, and they have been good.”

Perry grew up going to an African American church with her parents in the suburbs of Cleveland — she fondly remembers the call-and-response during services. Perry said she had difficulty with the idea of original sin, though, and explained that part of what drew her to Judaism was the religion’s being “grounded in the belief that what we do here now is the only thing that will really matter.”

So Perry, who came to Los Angeles to study journalism at the University of Southern California, eventually found her way to the Hillel at UCLA, where she studied with Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller to prepare for conversion.

“What was attractive about Jan was her passion and her intelligence, and I think she carries that with her with dignity,” said Seidler-Feller said, thinking back on his sessions with Perry, about 30 years ago. “She knows the issues and she can argue the issues with the best of them.”

Perry says she appreciates when disagreements are played out in the open, and decries what she sees as the increasingly “transactional” character of city hall. Perry says she eschews exchanges of favors between representatives, and instead focuses on building citizen support for her agenda items.

“I work from the outside in,” Perry said. “I spend a lot of time on the outside talking to stakeholders, building support, building momentum, building consensus, hearing what people have to say.

“By the time I bring a project in for a vote,” she continued, “it’s been vetted, it’s been researched, it’s been documented.”

Perry has completed a number of projects during her tenure on the council, including getting 5,000 new units of affordable housing in her district. A former planning aide to former City Councilman Mike Woo and chief of staff to her predecessor in the 9th district, former Councilwoman Rita Walters, Perry said she enjoys digging into the details of a development, and she’s proud of having helped bring the Expo line to fruition. But on the campaign trail, Perry frequently talks about returning to “core services” – like street repair, public safety and zoning  — and getting the city out of other services, calling for the city to extricate itself from operating the convention center and the zoo.

Perry has a good deal of support from businesspeople in Downtown.

“Speaking for the business community we were all very happy with her,” said Selma Fisch, whose family has significant real estate holdings along Santee Alley in the Fashion District. “She works really hard, and she’s really smart.”

In January, Perry and her supporters managed to muster enough support from delegates to prevent either of the other two leading Democratic candidates from securing the Los Angeles County Democratic party nomination, and Eric Bauman, the county party chair, said it would be a mistake for Garcetti or Greuel to count her out.

“Nobody’s really paying attention to Jan,” Bauman said, “although with $2 million and [campaign consultant] Eric Hacopian and Jan’s fortitude, they ignore her at their own risk.”

Hacopian declined to speak about any specific strategies he’s using in running Perry’s campaign, but Perry – like Greuel and Garcetti – is certainly making a play for the Jewish vote, evidenced by the advertisements for Perry that have been displayed alongside articles on the Journal’s Web site, JewishJournal.com.

Jewish voters, who only make up about six percent of registered voters, may end up casting as much as 20 percent of ballots between now and March 5, the day of the citywide primary election. Whether Perry can assemble enough support from voters citywide to finish in one of the top two spots remains to be seen.

But Perry, for her part, is optimistic.

“As long as I know that I’m moving in an upward trajectory, I’m pleased,” she said.

Kevin James: The still-evolving outsider runs for mayor

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.

As the race for Los Angeles mayor heats up, many descriptors have been applied to Kevin James, one of the least-known of the leading candidates. A former radio talk show host who has worked as an attorney for 25 years, James is a fiscally conservative gay Republican. But in introducing himself to voters who will choose the city’s next mayor, James has emphasized one qualification above all: His status as an outsider.

“My opponents, they’ve been in office for over a decade; they’ve proven that their experience has failed the city,” James said in an interview with the Journal in January. “That opens the eyes of voters who are looking for new leadership.”

James, 49, has never before held public office, and he typically refers to the three leading candidates as if they were one block, holding them all – City Councilman Eric Garcetti, Controller Wendy Greuel, and Councilwoman Jan Perry – jointly responsible for a Los Angeles that is, in his view, mired in crisis.

“We have a jobs crisis, we have a budget crisis, we have an infrastructure crisis, an education crisis, a transportation crisis, a public safety crisis, a corruption crisis,” James said in his opening statement at a candidates’ debate held at Congregation Beth Jacob in early January. “In short, we have a leadership crisis.”

James, who grew up in Norman, Okla., is one of two candidates among the top five without a personal or familial connection to Judaism (“I have searched my family tree far and wide,” he said with a smile). He presents his resume as having prepared him well to become the leader of America’s second-largest city.

As a litigator and entertainment lawyer in the private sector, James said he developed negotiating skills that L.A.’s next mayor will need. James also pulled a stint in the public sector, as an assistant U.S. attorney in L.A., and he makes frequent mention of his work in the nonprofit sector, as a volunteer officer on the board of AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA) for six years in the 1990s.

“We had a $20-million-a-year budget,” James said of APLA, adding that that Hermosa Beach’s budget was roughly that size at the time.

James said he realized he wanted to run the city of Los Angeles not through an epiphany, but rather as a goal that developed over time.

“It’s easier to point out the problems,” James said of his years hosting a late-night show on KRLA. “Offering solutions is harder, and I always wanted to focus on offering solutions, too.”

Listeners encouraged him to run for office, James said, and now he’s working to win over enough of the electorate between now and March 5 to make him one of the top two finishers in the city’s non-partisan primary election.

An ABC News poll released on Jan. 16 showed James with support from 12 percent of likely voters, tied for third place with Perry and trailing Garcetti and Greuel, who had 26 and 18 percent, respectively.

“I’m tied in polling with the millionaires in the race, if you will,” James said on the day that poll was released. “That’s a good place to be for a first-time candidate, for an outsider in this race.”

Greuel’s campaign dismissed the ABC News poll as “bogus,” and released its own poll showing Greuel leading the pack, with 20 percent support. In that poll, James had 7 percent support from likely voters.

Neither outcome would propel James into one of the two top spots necessary to move to a final runoff, so to win he’ll have to convince a lot of voters in a short time with not a lot of money. As of mid-January, he had just $48,000 in cash on hand, far less than Garcetti’s $3.5 million, Gruel’s  $2.9million, and Perry’s $1.2 million. A fifth candidate, businessman and former mayoral aide Emanuel Pleitez, has $320,000.

James does have the backing of an independent Super PAC, which is funded in large part by a conservative billionaire from Texas. That group recently released a video advertisement that takes aim at the three incumbents, presenting them as beholden to public sector unions and positioning James as an outsider and potential reformer of City Hall.

As James’ candidacy has advanced – he’s well-funded enough to get invitations to every major debate, including the Jan. 26 televised debate on NBC 4 – journalists and others are paying closer attention to things he wrote and said during his years as a conservative pundit.

At a recent debate among the mayoral candidates hosted by the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association, James was asked why he hasn’t talked more about the “illegal alien crisis” on the campaign trail, a subject he addressed on multiple occasions as a radio host.

And during a debate between the candidates for Los Angeles City Attorney in January, former Assemblyman Mike Feuer posed a sharp question to Greg Smith, another candidate for the city’s top lawyer spot, asking why Smith gave the maximum allowed donation to James, whom Feuer described as “an extreme, right-wing, Tea Party candidate.”

James has addressed Tea Party rallies in the past, and in the interview said he agrees with Tea Party positions on “some fiscal issues,” but he suggested some in the Tea Party would disagree with his support for same-sex marriage.

“Given my position on those social issues, I don’t think that I’m accurately described as a Tea Partier,” he said. “But if you want to talk about their concern for waste of federal money, of state money, of city money, then, yes, we’re going to align on those issues.”

As for immigration, James told the Journal his position has evolved, particularly after he participated as a volunteer lawyer at a naturalization workshop in 2010 sponsored by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.

“I do think it’s fair to say that over time, I have certainly become much more familiar with a number of differing sides of the issue,” James said.

James presents his changing ideas as an asset, evidence of his desire to keep learning about the residents of the city he hopes to lead. As a radio host, James spent more than a year visiting approximately 60 different neighborhood council meetings across Los Angeles, hearing residents complain about public safety, zoning, education and sanitation, among other subjects. He came away from the experience with a deep appreciation for the work of the neighborhood representatives and disappointed not to have seen more council members come to those meetings.

“What’s been frustrating about the City of Los Angeles and our elected leadership,” James said, “is they seem to have stopped wanting to learn about the city.”

Ed Koch, former NYC mayor, dies at 88

Ed Koch, the pugnacious former New York City mayor whose political imprimatur was eagerly sought by Republicans and Democrats alike, has died.

Koch, 88, died early Friday morning of congestive heart failure, his spokesman told The New York Times. He had been hospitalized twice in recent weeks to drain fluid from his lungs.

Famous for greeting constituents with “How'm I doing?,” the Jewish mayor presided over some of the city's most difficult years, from 1978 to 1989, and helped spur the recovery that would flourish under one of his successors, Rudy Giuliani.

Koch's third term was mired by corruption scandals and burgeoning racial tensions, and after losing his bid for election to a fourth term in 1989, Koch retired into a happy existence as a Jewish yoda, blessing or cursing political penitents as he saw fit, and not always hewing to the prescripts of his Democratic Party.

In 1990, on a visit to Jerusalem during the first Palestinian intifada, Koch was struck by a rock in the head. He was barely nicked, mopping up his wound with a handkerchief, but the incident became one of Koch's proudest moments, he often said. “I shed a little blood for the people of Israel,” Koch would recall.

[Related: Obama mourns Koch’s passing]

Koch never met a solicitation for an opinion that he didn't like.

He endorsed Giuliani, a Republican, in his successful 1993 bid to defeat David Dinkins, who had defeated Koch four years earlier, and went on to share — and sometimes take over — the stage at endorsements for other Republicans, including New York Gov. George Pataki, Sen. Al D'Amato and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The measure of the warmth both parties felt for him was reflected Friday by statements from their Jewish affiliates.

“Mayor Koch was a passionate and principled leader and an outspoken defender of Israel and the Jewish community,” aid Matt Brooks, the Republican Jewish Coalition director, in a statement. “He chose principle over politics and didn’t engage in partisan bitterness.”

The National Jewish Democratic Council statement underscored that whatever his past peregrinations, Koch worked to elect and then reelect President Obama.

“Koch was a consummate and proud Jewish Democrat who advocated fiercely for the U.S.-Israel relationship and the progressive domestic policies in which he truly believed,” a statement said.

Koch stumped hard for George W. Bush's presidential reelection in 2004, and was not afraid to tell baffled Jewish Democrats why: Bush had Israel's back, according to Koch.

Four years later, Republicans hoped to win a  repeat endorsement for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), but Koch, alarmed at what he saw as Republican plans to degrade the social safety net he had championed as a congressman in the 1970s, instead threw in with Barack Obama. He proceeded to become one of Obama's biggest Jewish headaches, lacerating the president with criticism for his perceived coolness to Israel.

“I weep as I witness outrageous verbal attacks on Israel,” he wrote on the Huffington Post in April 2010. “What makes these verbal assaults and distortions all the more painful is that they are being orchestrated by President Obama.”

In 2011, Koch endorsed Republican Bob Turner for a special election to fill a vacant congressional seat in New York in what was seen as a safe Democratic district, even though the Democratic contender, David Weprin, was both Jewish and stridently pro-Israel. Turner won and, message sent, Koch watched Obama retreat from criticism of Israel's settlement policies — and did not hesitate to claim credit for the conversion.

“I believe the recent vote in the 9th Congressional District in New York affected in a positive way the policy of the U.S. on the Mideast,” Koch wrote supporters in an email after that election.

Koch turned away Republican pleas to re-up his attacks on Obama before the last election, and enjoyed telling friends that he had received a pleading from no less than Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate who made the president's unseating his mission.

Koch instead enthusiastically endorsed Obama in a long video just before the election — an appearance Jewish Democrats credit with upping Obama's Jewish numbers in Florida, a critical swing state.

Yet he was disappointed in Obama's choice of Chuck Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska with a record of Israel criticism and a fraught relationship with the pro-Israel community, for secretary of defense.

“It’s very disappointing, I believe he will ultimately regret it,” Koch told The Algemeiner in a Jan.7 interview, “and it undoubtedly will reduce support for [Obama] in the Jewish community, but I don’t think he  worries about that now that the election is over.”

Rabbi Joe Potasnik, the executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbi, said Koch told him his hero was Harry Truman, another Democratic Party leader unafraid of defying his base.

“He admired independence,” Potasnik recalled in interview Friday, “people who didn't just take the party line but were able to stand on the independent platform.”

Potasnik, who befriended Koch over the years as they attended multiple social events together, said Koch in person was “painfully shy” but reveled in the attention he got when passersby recognized him and would call out “Mr. Mayor!”

Koch held within his breast twin passions he guarded ferociously: for the Jewish people, and for New York.

His tombstone is engraved with his name, his years as mayor, the Shema prayer, and the final words of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter murdered in Pakistan by terrorists in 2002: “My father is Jewish. My mother is Jewish. I am Jewish.”

His chosen burial place is a non-denominational churchyard at the corner of 155th Street and Amsterdam — selected because he could not imagine eternity outside Manhattan.

That was the sole sore point between Koch and Potasnik, who, working with other rabbis, found available Jewish sacred ground on the island. But Koch would not be moved.

“When Ed Koch made up his miind, there wasn't anyone — there was no superhuman being who could change it,” Potasnik said.

Remembering Ed Koch: A pugnacious New Yorker and passionate Jew till his dying day

One of the proudest moments of Ed Koch’s life came during a trip to Israel in 1990, in the midst of the first Palestinian intifada.

Koch had recently left City Hall after 12 years as mayor of New York City and was touring Jerusalem when a Palestinian threw a rock at his group, striking Koch in the head. The ex-mayor was bleeding a bit but wasn’t really hurt, and he mopped up the wound with his handkerchief.

The incident would become one of Koch’s favorite stories, the moment, he would say, when “I shed a little blood for the people of Israel.”

It was reflective of the pugnacity of the man who served three terms as mayor of New York, spent nine years in Congress, earned two battle stars as an infantryman in Europe during World War II, wrote 17 books, and spent the last two decades of his life as a lawyer, talk show host, professor and even restaurant critic — working almost to his last day.

Koch, 88, died of congestive heart failure early Friday morning at New York-Presbyterian Columbia Hospital. He had been hospitalized twice in recent weeks to drain fluid from his lungs. His death came on the same day as “Koch,” a documentary about his life, opens in theaters nationwide.

Tributes to Koch immediately poured in from all corners of the Jewish world, including the Israeli ambassador to the United States, and both sides of the political aisle.

“Mayor Koch was a passionate and principled leader and an outspoken defender of Israel and the Jewish community,” said Matt Brooks, the director of the Republican Jewish Coalition. “He chose principle over politics and didn’t engage in partisan bitterness.”

The National Jewish Democratic Council hailed Koch as a “consummate and proud Jewish Democrat who advocated fiercely for the U.S.-Israel relationship and the progressive domestic policies in which he truly believed.”

Famous for greeting constituents with “How'm I doin?,” the Jewish mayor presided over some of the city's most difficult years, from 1978 to 1989, and helped spur the recovery that would flourish under one of his successors, Rudy Giuliani.

Edward Irving Koch was born in the Bronx on Dec. 12, 1924 to Jewish immigrants from Poland. The family moved to Newark, N.J., when Koch was 9, after his father’s fur shop closed during the Depression, but returned to New York in 1941 when business picked up again. After high school, Koch enrolled at City College and worked as a shoe salesman, but his studies were interrupted when he was drafted into the army in 1943.

He served in the infantry and after the war spent time in Bavaria helping replace Nazis who occupied public posts with non-Nazis, according to The New York Times. He was discharged in 1946 and went to law school at New York University.

Koch got his start in politics as a Democratic district leader in Greenwich Village, then worked his way up to City Council, and in 1968 beat incumbent Whitney North Seymour Jr., a Republican, in a race for Congress. Though he served for nine years in Washington, Koch remained a creature of New York, saying he got the “bends” whenever he stayed away from the city for too long, according to the Times.

In 1977, Koch ran for mayor, upsetting Abraham Beame, another Jewish mayor who oversaw a fiscal crisis that brought New York to the edge of bankruptcy. Upon taking office, Koch immediately set to cutting the municipal budget, trimming the city’s workforce, reaching a settlement with unions and securing federal aid that had been denied to Beame. In his second term, he turned the $400 million deficit he had inherited into a $500 million surplus.

He won a third term with 78 percent of the vote, but then things went sour. His administration was beset by a series of corruption scandals, rising drug-related violence and burgeoning racial tensions. Koch became the target of black ire for closing a hospital in Harlem — a move he later conceded had been a mistake — and for saying that Jews would be “crazy” to vote for the Rev. Jesse Jackson in the 1988 presidential primary, given Jackson’s support for Palestinians and his 1984 reference to New York as “Hymietown.”

After losing his bid for election to a fourth term in 1989 when David Dinkins bested him in the Democratic primary, Koch retired into a happy existence as a Jewish Yoda, blessing or cursing political figures as he saw fit and not always hewing to the prescripts of the Democratic Party.

In his later years, Koch seemed to swing like a pendulum between Democrats and Republicans, and his political imprimatur was eagerly sought by both sides.

He endorsed Giuliani, a Republican, in his successful mayoral bid in 1993 against Dinkins. He often shared — and sometimes took over — the stage at endorsements for other Republicans, including New York Gov. George Pataki, Sen. Al D'Amato and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Koch stumped hard for George W. Bush's presidential reelection in 2004, and was not afraid to tell baffled Jewish Democrats why: Bush had Israel's back, Koch said.

Four years later, Republicans hoped to win a repeat endorsement for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), but Koch, alarmed at what he saw as Republican plans to degrade the social safety net he had championed as a congressman in the 1970s, instead threw in with Barack Obama.

Almost as soon as Obama became president, however, Koch became one of his biggest Jewish detractors, lacerating the president with criticism for his perceived coolness to Israel.

“I believe we are seeing a dramatic change in the relationship between the United States and the State of Israel that adversely affects the State of Israel and it is being orchestrated by President Barack Obama,” Koch said in early 2010, after a cool meeting between the president and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “The president, when he invited the prime minister of Israel, Netanyahu, to the White House, was extremely rude to him, treated him as though he were a Third World tyrant.”

In 2011, Koch endorsed Republican Bob Turner for a special election to fill a vacant congressional seat in New York in what was seen as a safe Democratic district, even though the Democratic contender, David Weprin, was both Jewish and stridently pro-Israel. Turner won and many credited Koch’s endorsement with tipping the scales during the campaign. When Obama subsequently retreated from criticism of Israel's settlement policies, Koch claimed credit.

“I believe the recent vote in the 9th Congressional District in New York affected in a positive way the policy of the U.S. on the Mideast,” Koch wrote supporters in an email.

Last year, Koch enthusiastically endorsed Obama in a long video released just before the election — an appearance Jewish Democrats credit with helping boost Obama's Jewish numbers in Florida, a critical swing state.

Yet in recent weeks Koch turned on Obama again, making no secret of his disappointment in Obama's choice of Chuck Hagel, a former Republican senator with a fraught relationship with the pro-Israel community, for secretary of defense.

“Frankly, I thought that there would come a time when he would renege on what he conveyed on his support of Israel,” Koch said of Obama in a Jan. 7 interview with the Algemeiner, a Jewish publication. “It comes a little earlier than I thought it would.”

Rabbi Joe Potasnik, the executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis, said Koch told him his hero was Harry Truman, another Democratic Party leader unafraid of defying his base. “He admired independence,” Potasnik recalled in an interview Friday.

Koch, who never married, held twin passions he guarded ferociously: the Jewish people and New York.

After the stone-throwing incident in 1990, Koch took the stone and blood-stained handkerchief to a frame shop, but the shop lost the stone and substituted a fake — which Koch immediately spotted. He was placated only by a letter from Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who praised him as “the first eminent American to be stoned in the Old City.” Instead of the stone, Koch framed Shamir’s letter along with a photo of his wound.

Koch’s tombstone is engraved with his name, his years as mayor, the Shema prayer, and the final words of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter murdered in Pakistan on Feb. 1, 2002, the same date Koch died: “My father is Jewish. My mother is Jewish. I am Jewish.”

His chosen burial place is a non-denominational churchyard at the corner of 155th Street and Amsterdam — selected because he could not imagine spending eternity outside Manhattan.

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).

Mayoral debate at Beth Jacob

On Jan. 3, in the first mayoral debate of 2013, Congregation Beth Jacob hosted five candidates seeking to become the next mayor of Los Angeles. 

Speaking to a crowd of about 350, the candidates answered questions about how they would manage the city’s public safety services, improve its public education system and unclog traffic — even as the city faces a $222 million budget deficit in the coming year. 

The three candidates who currently hold elected offices — Los Angeles City Councilman Eric Garcetti, Controller Wendy Greuel and Councilwoman Jan Perry —have pledged to take a tough stance when negotiating with the city’s public employee unions, whose salaries and pensions are among the biggest drivers of the city’s budget deficit. In 2007, Garcetti, Greuel and Perry all voted to give city workers raises. 

At Beth Jacob, Garcetti told the audience he would negotiate “respectfully but tenaciously” with public-sector union leaders over the terms of their contracts. 

Greuel, who served on the City Council before being elected controller, emphasized economic development as a way of closing the deficit, but also said some pension reform would be required, promising to crack down on the practice of “double-dipping,” when workers collect pensions while remaining on the city payroll. 

Perry, who has said that she regrets her 2007 vote, spoke about refocusing the city’s attention on providing core services — like public safety — and suggested Los Angeles might benefit from outsourcing management of its convention center and zoo, or privatizing those facilities completely. 

Neither of the two other candidates on the stage, Kevin James and Emanuel Pleitez, has held elected office, and both pointed to past actions taken by the city as evidence that their better-known opponents will be unfit to lead the city. 

Pleitez, 30, a self-described “progressive” candidate whose campaign reached the fundraising threshold to receive matching funds from the city two days before the debate, proposed raising the retirement age for public-sector workers. Pleitez also advocated converting city worker pensions to 401(k)-style plans and generally adjusting the benefits so that workers pay more and the city pays less. 

James, a gay Republican lawyer and former radio talk-show personality whose campaign has been getting more attention in recent weeks, has also promoted converting city worker pensions to 401(k) plans in the past. At Beth Jacob, he pledged to use the threat of bankruptcy as a bargaining tool with city workers and accused his opponents of “municipal malpractice.” 

CivicCare, a grass-roots group dedicated to engaging and educating Jewish voters in Los Angeles on matters of importance to local governance, organized the event. Jewish Journal President David Suissa moderated.

Maury Weiner, Bradley Chief of Staff, dies at 82

Maury Weiner, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley’s first chief of staff and deputy mayor, who played key roles in several Bradley campaigns, died on Sept. 30. He was 82.

A progressive Jewish activist from New York, Weiner was an advocate for racial justice, gender equality and workers’ rights. Weiner and Bradley, the latter then a young police officer, met while working on Ed Roybal’s unsuccessful 1958 campaign for L.A. County supervisor. By 1963, Weiner had become Bradley’s chief strategist, continuing in that role until Bradley’s first term as mayor, beginning in 1973. 

Bradley described Weiner, a key figure in the black-Jewish coalition that aided his mayoral victory in 1973, as “a man who had great political skill and a keen sense of strategy.”

Chairman of the Tom Bradley Legacy Foundation at UCLA, Weiner held leadership positions in many highly respected nonprofit organizations.  

“There are tens of thousands of people whose rights were protected by Maury’s efforts as a top city official, a nonprofit leader and as an active citizen,” L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said.

Weiner is survived by his brother, Herbert Weiner, sister Elaine Reynoso and nephew Dean. 

A memorial service was held at Mount Sinai Memorial Park-Hollywood Hills. 

In lieu of flowers, Weiner’s family is requesting donations be sent to causes close to his heart: the Tom Bradley Legacy Foundation and/or Amnesty International.