In Tennessee, Steve Cohen trounces primary challenger


Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) easily survived a primary election challenge, making it likely he will continue to represent Tennessee’s 9th Congressional District.

Cohen defeated challenger Ricky Wilkins by a more than 2-to-1 margin in Thursday’s primary, winning 66 percent of the vote to Wilkins’ 33 percent, according to vote totals compiled by The Associated Press. That makes Cohen the overwhelming favorite to win a sixth consecutive term in the general election; the 9th district is overwhelmingly Democratic.

Cohen will face Republican Charlotte Bergmann in the November general election. Bergmann challenged Cohen in the 2010 general election and lost by a 74-25 margin.

The 9th district encompasses much of the city of Memphis and is majority African American. Cohen, who is Jewish, first won the seat in 2006 when he took 31 percent of the vote in a crowded primary. Since then, he has faced an African-American primary challenger each year and has won overwhelmingly each time. Wilkins, an African-American attorney, earned the highest vote percentage of any primary challenger since Cohen was first elected to office.

Romney takes Florida in a romp


Mitt Romney won the Florida Republican primary by a wide margin.

Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, finished with 47 percent of the vote on Tuesday to easily outdistance ex-U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich, who had 32 percent. Romney is a relative moderate who has struggled to appeal to the GOP’s conservative base.

The race was bitter, and the candidates competed hard for the Jewish vote in Florida.

Gingrich in the final days ran a robocall reviving a 2003 story in which Romney as governor vetoed funding for kosher kitchens in homes for the elderly. Romney had not made the original cuts targeting the kitchens and the legislature overrode his veto.

Candidates and their surrogates made appearances at Jewish events, and the Obama campaign chose the week prior to the GOP primary to open its Florida operation, with an emphasis on targeting Jewish voters.

Jewish turnout was low in a primary that was closed to all but registered Republicans, but the state GOP believes it can attract disgruntled Jewish independents and Democrats in the general election.

Much of the race focused on the troubled economy in a state where home foreclosures run high.

In his victory speech, Romney said he would repeal the health care reform passed under President Obama, cut spending and balance the budget without raising taxes.

He only alluded to Israel, saying, “I will stand shoulder to shoulder with our friends around the world.”

The two other candidates, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), received 13 and 7 percent of the vote, respectively.

The next state to vote is Nevada, which hosts a caucus on Saturday.

It was the second primary victory for Romney, who had won in New Hampshire. Gingrich took South Carolina in the run-up to Florida, while Santorum edged Romney in the Iowa caucus at the start of the primary season.

Romney wins in New Hampshire; strong showings for Paul, Huntsman


Mitt Romney won New Hampshire’s primary race, with Ron Paul second and Jon Huntsman third.

A number of news organizations were projecting a win for the former Massachusetts governor in the GOP presidential primary based on early returns Tuesday evening.

With 18 percent of the vote counted just after the final polls closed after 8 p.m., Romney had 36 percent of the vote.

Paul, a U.S. congressman from Texas, had 25 percent of the vote and Huntsman was scoring 17 percent—a narrow enough gap that the ex-Utah governor could still close it before the evening was through. Romney last week squeaked out a win in Iowa, the first caucus state.

A New Hampshire win may contribute to the aura of inevitability that Romney has long sought but has so far failed to secure.

Huntsman, who like Romney is a relative moderate, had bet much of his campaign on a strong showing in New Hampshire. He told CNN Tuesday night that a third-place showing was strong enough to continue.

Paul’s relatively strong showing will do little to quell concerns among Jewish Republicans that his views, which include cutting foreign assistance, including to Israel, have gained traction in the party.

Tying for fourth and fifth place with about 10 percent each were Rick Santorum, the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, and Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Coming in last was Texas Gov. Rick Perry, with 1 percent. Perry is focusing his attention on the next primary state, South Carolina, which goes to the polls on Jan. 21.

Netanyahu moves up party primary


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed that he is moving up the date of Likud Party primaries.

With his announcement Monday, Netanyahu apparently is showing that he believes he is in a strong position in the party and would more easily be able to win re-election as party leader.

The date for the Likud poll is set for Jan. 31, which is the same day as the party’s vote for a new Central Committee. Combining the elections will save the party more than $1 million, according to reports.

Netanyahu’s main rival for the position, Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom, said he would take legal action against the initiative, Ynet reported.

The party’s internal elections must be held at least six months ahead of national Knesset elections, which are scheduled for 2013.

Republicans’ ‘Starting from zero’ aid proposal startles pro-Israel community


“Starting from zero,” the foreign assistance plan touted by leading Republican candidates at a debate, is getting low marks, and not just from Democrats and the foreign policy community. Pro-Israel activists and fellow Republicans also have concerns.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry introduced the plan during the first foreign policy debate Saturday night, held by CBS and the National Journal at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C. South Carolina is a key early primary state.

“The foreign aid budget in my administration for every country is going to start at zero dollars,” he said. “Zero dollars. And then we’ll have a conversation. Then we’ll have a conversation in this country about whether or not a penny of our taxpayer dollar needs to go into those countries.”

Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, and Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, signed on immediately. Gingrich said the plan made “absolutely perfect sense.” Romney, who has made clear that he disagrees with Perry on much else, in this case said he welcomed the idea, saying “You start everything at zero.”

The proposal of such a radical change raised concerns in the pro-Israel community.

“Hacking away at the international affairs budget of the U.S. government is inefficient and counterproductive, and will not advance U.S. fiscal interests,” said Jason Isaacson, the American Jewish Committee’s director of international affairs. “There’s too little money and it’s too vital to put on the chopping block.”

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee did not have comment, but its former spokesman, Josh Block, weighed in with an e-mail blast to reporters of comments he had provided to Politico.

“When Rick Perry speaks, all I can think is oops,” wrote Block, who is now a consultant for centrist Democrats, but who has been critical of President Obama. Block was referring to Perry’s “oops” in an earlier debate, when he had a memory lapse about the agencies that he had proposed to eliminate.

“Even appearing to question our commitment to Israel certainly falls in that category,” Block said. “Foreign aid is one of the best investments we can make, and it represents 1 percent of our budget. Israel is special, and our aid to them is a direct investment in our own economy.”

At least three-quarters of the $3 billion in military assistance that Israel receives from the United States each year must be spent stateside. Overall, the U.S. spends about $50 billion annually in foreign assistance, less than 1 percent of the overall budget.

Pressed by a viewer, through Twitter, to specify whether “start from zero” included Israel, Perry replied, “Absolutely.”

“Every country would start at zero,” he said. “Obviously, Israel is a special ally. And my bet is that we would be funding them at some substantial level. But it makes sense for everyone to come in at zero and make your case.”

That drew a withering response from the Republican Jewish Coalition, which tweeted, “Hoping @perrytruthteam will brief their man on 10-year Memorandum of Understanding that governs US- #Israel funding levels.”

Israel and the United States signed the 10-year memorandum of understanding in 2007; its long-term assurances are aimed at providing Israel with both financial assurances and political support. The message, said Robert Wexler, a former Democratic congressman from Florida speaking to Jewish reporters on a Democratic National Committee conference call, is that the United States has Israel’s back in the long run.

“Contrast that with the message that the Republican presidential candidates sent on Saturday night, which is that the security relationship between the United States and Israel, like all other relationships, is zeroed out every year,” Wexler said. “And let Israel make the argument why it’s justified, and maybe it will and maybe it won’t be honored. The 2007 memorandum of understanding for President Obama is sacrosanct. For the Republicans, they apparently don’t even reference it.”

In fact, immediately following the debate, Romney’s spokesmen said he would exempt Israel from the policy—but that didn’t do much to assuage pro-Israel concerns. Pro-Israel figures for years have emphasized that they prefer to see Israel wrapped into an overall foreign policy package and not tweaked apart, as some Republicans have proposed.

Gingrich raised pro-Israel eyebrows when he proposed starting Egypt at zero, in part because of rising Muslim-Christian tensions in that country in the wake of the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak. Israel has made clear that it wants U.S. assistance to continue as long as the Egyptian government maintains the peace treaty with Israel.

Richard Parker, the spokesman for the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, a foreign aid advocacy group co-founded by AIPAC and top-heavy with former U.S. generals, said U.S. assistance leverages U.S. influence and tamps down unrest.

“When we go into a country and help them with education and health efforts, you can stabilize those countries,” said Parker, whose group on Monday released a letter from five former secretaries of state—including four Republicans—urging Congress not to cut the foreign aid budget.

That was also a key point for Isaacson, who spoke with JTA from Morocco, where he is on an AJC trip through the region to encourage democracy reforms.

“I’m meeting with government and civil society figures that see us a beacon of democracy, but an uncertain partner,” Isaacson said, referring to the rancorous political debate in the United States over the proper U.S. role overseas. “Signals that the U.S. would retreat are troubling and not in the interests of the United States.”

A Romney adviser who spoke on condition of anonymity said that influence comes only if the United States ensures accountability from recipients. The source referred to the issue that had sparked Perry’s response in the first place: Pakistan’s unreliable role as an ally.

“We have seen a ton of money in places, and zero comes out of it,” the source said, explaining that starting from zero would “force a culture of accountability. The Pakistanis think they have us over a barrel. It’s one thing to have influence, and it’s another to have someone think they’re so indispensable to you they can do what they want.”

That is not a unanimous view among Republicans. The top foreign operations appropriator in the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), has repeatedly made the case for using assistance as a means of influence. Significantly, two of the candidates with deep congressional roots made the same case in the debate Saturday night, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.).

“We can’t be indecisive about whether Pakistan is our friend,” Santorum said. “They must be our friend. And we must engage them as friends, get over the difficulties we have, as we did with Saudi Arabia, with respect to the events of 9/11.”

The most recent debate was not the first time that Republican front-runners called for a change in American foreign aid policies. In a debate last month, Romney suggested that he favored eliminating American foreign aid that goes for humanitarian purposes.

“I happen to think it doesn’t make a lot of sense for us to borrow money from the Chinese to go give to another country for humanitarian aid,” Romney said at the Oct. 18 debate. “We ought to get the Chinese to take care of the people that are taking that borrowed money today.”

Obama-Romney 2012


Forget the fantasy of Hillary Clinton taking Joe Biden’s place on the 2012 ballot.  Not only because it is not going to happen.  The theory that having Hillary on the ticket would galvanize the base and that coveted independent voters, especially women, would break toward Democrats, has no deeper roots in empirical reality than creationism or climate change denial.  It’s just not the game-changer that Obama needs to hang on to the presidency, let alone give him a Congress that would be any less obstructionist than the one we have now.

Some Obama supporters don’t think he’ll need a Hail Mary pass.  This view, which a developmental psychologist might call magical thinking, depends on widespread revulsion at the prospect of total GOP control of the government, an unappetizing nominee at the top of the Republican ticket and leveraging Occupy Wall Street-type discontent to benefit the Administration that enabled Tim Geithner and Larry Summers and shafted Elizabeth Warren.

I suppose there’s also the possibility that unemployment and the economy will be moving in the right direction by November of next year, but if that’s what it’ll take for Obama to win the swing states, it’s basically “Say goodnight, Gracie.”

Obama’s best hope is to change the dynamic of the race – to shake things up so that it’s not a referendum on him (that is, on the lousy economy).  To accomplish that, I have an admittedly bizarre but weirdly conceivable proposal: Obama could try to persuade Mitt Romney to be his running mate.

Start with the polling data saying that Americans want an end to the bickering and bitterness in Washington.  Never mind the cockeyed injustice of holding Democrats and Republicans equally responsible for the nation’s toxic gridlock; voters have no legal obligation to be informed about what’s actually been going on.  You want can’t-we-all-get-along?  Here ya go.  An Obama-Romney ticket would have irresistible appeal to the kumbaya constituency. 

It also would appeal to the president’s inner conciliator.  His recent spate of truth-telling about Republicans, while faintly encouraging to his disheartened base, runs counter to his nature.  He really does believe that there’s common ground to be found with the people who pledged to destroy him the moment he was elected, so why not make the most of it?  Let Obama be Obama.  With Mitt on the ticket, and eventually just down the West Wing hall, every day could be bipartisan day.

Romney, of course, would need to be convinced to join Team Obama.  It actually might be a good career move for him.  After all, Republicans already think his professions of right-wing orthodoxy are inauthentic, and surely he’d be more comfortable in his skin if he could revert to the more moderate views he once held, before the Tea Party primary required him to go all un-mavericky.  There’s also the possibility that Romney, rather than being a closet socialist, is just a garden-variety opportunist, which would make it ideologically effortless for him to join a fusion ticket. 

Obama-Romney could even sell itself as the third party that the punditocracy is pining for.  If you liked Simpson-Bowles, you’ll love Obama-Romney.  Third parties have inadvertent consequences; they divide the opposition.  With Obama-Romney, though, you get the bragging rights of upending the political chessboard, but without running the risk of throwing the race to a side you can’t stand. 

Why would Romney do it?  My guess is that in Mitt Land, the current calculation is that he can withstand the $20 million or more of negative media that Rick Perry is about to unleash on him.  But by the time he gets the Republican nomination, he’ll be damaged goods, and the base will like him even less than they do now.  Better to be part of an exciting new experiment in American democracy than to drag his butt across the finish line with no mandate.

For Obama, convincing Romney to transcend petty partisanship would demonstrate strength.  It might also increase his chances to get a Democratic Congress, though it’s true that those odds could hardly get any worse.  And for people who think there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the parties, well, it would suggest that they might be right after all.

No, I don’t think Obama-Romney will happen.  It’s a goofy solution to a dead serious problem that afflicts Democrats and Republicans alike.  Our political system is not about to change.  The plutocrats are more powerful than ever, and nothing on the horizon looks likely to change that.  The 2012 election will be awash with special interest money, much of it secret and corporate.  The ads that money will pay for will be as devious as ever.  The Romney campaign, even with a break-the-mold running mate, will be passionless, except for the passion to defeat Obama.  Whatever passion the Obama campaign manages to inspire this time around will be ignited not by dreams of change, but by nightmares of a Republican wrecking crew.  It does make a difference which party wins.  But it would make an even bigger difference if both parties lost. 

Marty Kaplan is the Norman Lear professor of entertainment, media and society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism.  Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

Exit polls say Tzipi Livni wins big in Kadima primary


Exit polls show Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni winning the Kadima Party primary by a double-digit margin.

Livni received between 47 and 49 percent of the vote, while her closest challenger, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, won 37 percent, according to exit polls conducted by three Israeli TV stations.

By winning more than 40 percent of Wednesday’s vote, Livni will avoid a runoff and immediately can begin trying to assemble a governing coalition. Once that process is complete, Livni will formally replace Ehud Olmert as prime minister.

If Livni fails to assemble a coalition, Israel will hold new general elections for Knesset and prime minister.

The voting was not without controversy. Livni asked that the polls stay open an extra hour due to “congestion” at polling stations, but Mofaz opposed the request. In the end, Kadima officials extended the voting by 30 minutes.

More than 74,000 registered party members were eligible to vote at 114 polling stations throughout the country.

Tzipi Livni wins Kadima contest — now the real work begins


JERUSALEM (JTA) – With her decisive win in the Kadima party primary on Wednesday, Tzipi Livni’s next major task will be assembling a coalition government so she can become prime minister.

Then all she’ll have on her plate is figuring out how to arrest the threat to Israel from Iran, resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a historic peace deal, neutralize the threat on Israel’s northern border from Hezbollah and run the country.

If she ever gets to it.

The immediate challenge faced by Livni, until now the foreign minister, is piecing together a coalition that will hold without pulling her government in too many different directions. If she fails, Israel will be headed for new general elections.

In Wednesday’s vote at 114 polling stations around the country, about 50 percent of Kadima’s 74,000 members voted for party leader – relatively low turnout by Israeli standards. Even so, Livni complained of “congestion” at polling stations and argued for an extension of voting time by an hour. In a compromise, Kadima decided to extend voting by 30 minutes.

Exit polls showed Livni won about 48 percent of the vote, beating out her primary rival, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, by at least 10 points and avoiding a runoff by surpassing the 40 percent threshold. The two other contenders in the primary, Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit and Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter, garnered an estimated 7 percent each.

Livni’s victory is historic in several respects. She won the first-ever primary held by Kadima, the three-year old political party founded by Ariel Sharon. Her election also brings an end to the Olmert era, though Ehud Olmert will stay on as caretaker prime minister until a coalition is assembled.

And once she puts together a coalition, Livni will become Israel’s second female prime minister, following Golda Meir.

Livni will have 42 days to form a government. She has made it clear that she wants to base her new government on the existing coalition – Kadima, Labor, Shas and the Pensioners party — with the possible addition of other parties like Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu on the right, Meretz from the left and the fervently Orthodox Torah Judaism party.

Livni wants to limit the current transition period, which she sees as a potentially unhealthy period of two-headed government. Olmert will continue as acting prime minister until Livni forms a new government.

Kadima leaders argue that there already is a functioning government and there is no reason it shouldn’t continue its work. They maintain that all the Labor party asked Kadima to do was change its leader, and, now that Kadima has done that, continuing with the present coalition shouldn’t be a problem.

But Livni’s main coalition partners have no intention of giving her an easy ride. Labor argues that a prime minister effectively elected by only 18,000-20,000 Israelis has no legitimacy and that the Israeli people as a whole should be allowed to have their say in new elections.

Shas is also threatening new elections unless Livni meets its demands for more generous child allowances and a pledge to keep Jerusalem off the negotiating agenda with the Palestinians.

If Livni fails to form a coalition, there could be an election as early as next spring. If she succeeds, she could govern for a year or two before going into a new election with the incumbency advantage.

During the campaign, Livni gave a slew of interviews in which she spelled out her priorities:

  • Moving ahead on the Palestinian track: Over the past few months, she and former Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qureia have been drafting a full-fledged Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. Both sides say that although they have made progress, closing the wide gaps that still exist will take time.

    Once Livni is installed as prime minister, one key issue will become more difficult to resolve: refugees. Livni has repeatedly said that she will not agree to any resettlement in Israel proper of Palestinian refugees, because allowing just one Palestinian refugee in would chip away at Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state.

    Livni might ease conditions on the ground by dismantling illegal settler outposts in the West Bank, which successive Israeli prime ministers have failed to do. She argues that any government she heads will assert the rule of law.

    As for Gaza, Livni warns that she will consider a large-scale ground offensive if Hamas uses the current truce to smuggle in huge quantities of arms.

  • Ascertaining the seriousness of the Syrian track: Ever since Israel and Syria started conducting new peace feelers through Turkish auspices in January 2007, Livni has not been in the loop. She has argued that by going public with the talks, Israel has given Syria a degree of international legitimacy without getting very much in return.

    Livni will want to see for herself whether Syrian President Bashar Asad is ready for a peace with Israel that entails a significant downgrading of his relations with Iran.

  • Dealing quietly with the Iranian nuclear threat: Livni says as far as Israel is concerned “all options are on the table” and that to say any more would be irresponsible. But she has intimated in the past that Israel could live with a nuclear Iran by establishing a very clear deterrent balance.
  • Introducing a new style of cleaner government: Livni, who won the leadership race at least partly because of her squeaky clean image, will want to signal early on that she intends to introduce a new style of governing. Livni will want to clean up party politics by breaking the power of the Kadima vote contractors who drafted people en masse to vote for a particular candidate. One idea is to set a minimum membership period — say, 18 months — before party members get voting rights.

By electing Livni, Kadima voters seemed to be saying enough of the generals at the top, and enough of wheeler-dealer politics. Livni, dubbed Mrs. Clean, is seen as a straight-thinking, scandal-free civilian clearly out to promote Israel’s best interests.

She has a full agenda, a chance to change the tenor of Israel politics and to make historic moves vis-a-vis the Palestinians and Syria.

But first she will have to put together a viable coalition.

ANALYSIS: Livni leads in polls, but Israel’s political map is unclear


JERUSALEM (JTA)—With the Kadima leadership primary just days away, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni looks like a sure winner.

The latest opinion poll shows her 20 percentage points ahead of her closest rival in the contest that could produce Israel’s next prime minister.

The Sept. 17 Kadima Party vote comes after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced he would resign following a string of corruption scandals. Assuming the primary winner can put together a coalition government, she—or he—will automatically assume the premiership.

Livni’s closest competition, according to the polls, is Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, with the two other candidates, Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter and Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit, stuck in the single digits.

For Mofaz to have even an outside chance at winning the primary, the pollsters would have to be significantly off.

That is not beyond the bounds of possibility.

In the run-up to the 2005 Labor leadership primary, polls showed Shimon Peres beating his main rival, Amir Peretz, by 20 points. But Peretz pulled off a major upset, edging out his octogenarian rival by 2 percent. What pollsters hadn’t considered was Peretz’s brilliant election-day machine for getting supporters to the polls.

Mofaz, a former IDF chief of staff who has a strong body of activist Kadima supporters, will be hoping for something similar.

Kadima’s party leader is to be elected by the party’s membership – about 72,000 people.

Recruitment of new members with full voting rights was allowed until registration closed on July 31.

That opened up a recruitment race among the candidates, with each trying to bring in as many potential supporters as possible. That, in turn, spawned a system of so-called mega-recruiters and vote contractors: people with grassroots connections and influence who undertook wholesale recruitment for the various candidates, promising to deliver blocs of support.

Support for Mofaz is high among these party strongmen as well as with party mayors, who could influence voters.

But it doesn’t look like enough to turn the tide.

The key factor in the Kadima primary – the party’s first since its founding by Ariel Sharon as a centrist alternative to Likud—has been the widespread perception that Livni is the only candidate capable of winning a national election for Kadima.

The latest poll, conducted by the respected Dialog organization, shows Livni winning with 40 percent of the Kadima vote, followed by Mofaz with 20 percent, Dichter with 6 percent and Sheetrit with 5 percent; 28 percent are undecided.

If no candidate wins at least 40 percent in the Sept. 17 vote, there will be a runoff between the top two a week later. In such a scenario with Mofaz and Livni the winners, the poll shows Livni defeating Mofaz by 51 percent to 31 percent.

The first task for the Kadima victor will be to try to form a governing coalition.

Success will depend first and foremost on whether he or she can count on all 29 Kadima Knesset votes. If Mofaz wins, Livni has made it plain that she might well leave Kadima and form a breakaway faction; he might do the same if she wins.

On the assumption that she wins and Kadima does not split, Livni has been receiving two contradictory sets of advice.

Some of her confidants are urging her to do all she can to form a government and then run in new elections in a year or two from the position of prime minister. They argue that if Livni establishes herself as a bona fide national leader, she will have a much better chance of winning.

Others say that instead of trying to form a government, Livni should exploit her current wave of popularity and go for immediate general elections.

The Labor Party, which is currently down in the polls, also faces an acute dilemma:

If Livni wins, should Labor join the coalition and try to rebuild its electoral strength from inside the government, or clip Livni’s wings by bolting the coalition and thereby preventing her having enough seats to form a government?

If Labor goes in with Livni, it will help boost her standing as prime minister; if it stays out, it risks early elections in which polls show Labor would take an unprecedented beating.

The new political situation in Israel highlights the Labor-Kadima paradox. On the one hand, the two parties share a similar centrist ideology and are natural allies against the Israeli right. On the other hand, precisely because they are ideologically close, they must fight for the same political space.

Likud, which still leads in most polls, will want to press for early elections before Livni gains stature as a recognized national leader.

There is talk of a possible Labor-Likud coalition without Kadima, leaving Livni to wither in the opposition.

But, as appealing as this may appear at first glance to Labor’s Ehud Barak and Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, it is highly unlikely. Netanyahu would not want to help Barak, who is currently trailing in the polls, by crowning him prime minister. And the Labor left would not countenance a coalition with Likud and the far right at the expense of a would-be peacemaking partnership with Kadima.

The key to whether Livni is able to form a coalition could lie with the fervently Orthodox Sephardic Shas Party.

Shas will make heavy demands—for example, restoration of hefty allowances for families with many children. Livni so far has not made any promises to Shas or anyone else. That has been one of the reasons for her popularity.

How she deals with the pressures of coalition-building could be a first real test of her leadership potential.

As for the outgoing Olmert, even though he will formally resign after the Kadima primaries next week, he will stay on as acting prime minister until a new government is formed.

Even the threat of a potential indictment against the prime minister – Israeli police this week recommended to Israel’s attorney general, Menachem Mazuz, that Olmert be indicted on two corruption-related charges – is not expected to change the political picture. If Mazuz ultimately decides to indict Olmert, he is unlikely to do so imminently.

Once the Kadima primary is over, the new Kadima leader will have six weeks to form a government.

If she or he succeeds, the winner could choose to govern or use the majority to call for early general elections. If she or he fails, President Shimon Peres could give another Knesset member a chance to form a government or call early elections if there is no likely candidate.

One way or another, the scandal-ridden Olmert era is fast coming to a close.

Candidate Profile: Shaul Mofaz, the hawkish centrist


JERUSALEM (JTA) — If Shaul Mofaz succeeds Ehud Olmert as the head of the Kadima Party and, eventually, as Israeli prime minister, he may have Iran to thank.

Fifty years after Mofaz left his native Tehran for the fledgling Jewish state, the retired general-turned-politician has made the Iranian threat — be it nuclear bombs or support for terrorism — the centerpiece of his run for top office.

“The Iranians are the root of all evil,” the gravelly voiced Mofaz said shortly after officially launching his campaign following Olmert’s announcement that he would not run for re-election.

The strategy is clear. With polls showing Mofaz trailing Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni ahead of the Sept. 17 leadership election in Kadima, the former army chief of staff and ex-defense minister is playing up his military pedigree.

“In Israeli politics there is a basic truism that the strong leader with a background in national security has an advantage,” U.S. political consultant Arthur Finkelstein wrote in a July 31 letter to Mofaz that was leaked to Israel’s Channel 2 TV. “I am convinced that you will win the Kadima primaries because, in this case, you are the strong leader.”

Mofaz, 59, currently Israel’s transportation minister, is a relative newcomer to politics but has been on the national stage for a decade. In 1998, then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed the celebrated paratrooper officer, who took part in the 1976 Entebbe rescue, to be the Israel Defense Forces’ chief of staff. Mofaz served in the post under three prime ministers, including Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon.

Mofaz’s handling of the second intifada, his greatest challenge as chief of staff, was somewhat controversial. He backed tough tactics to put down the campaign of Palestinian terrorism, including targeted assassinations of Palestinian leaders. His positions won him plaudits among many in Israel, but his tactics were criticized overseas and were seen by some Israelis as exceedingly harsh.

After he left the IDF to become defense minister under Sharon, Mofaz unwittingly was recorded urging Sharon to assassinate Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Even after leaving the right-wing Likud Party for Sharon’s newly founded centrist alternative, Kadima — a move taken only after initially rejecting the idea and declaring himself a candidate for the Likud’s leadership — Mofaz has not shied away from embracing hawkish stances.

In June, he told an interviewer that Israel would attack Iran if the Islamic Republic continued its program to develop nuclear weapons.

“The sanctions are ineffective,” Mofaz said. “Attacking Iran, in order to stop its nuclear plans, will be unavoidable.”

Oil prices surged in response, but Mofaz held firm, repeating his assertion several days later and saying during a visit to Washington, “The existence of the State of Israel is more important than gas prices.”

Such indelicate talk has stirred concern among some in Israel that Mofaz is not ready to be a statesman.

“Had Shaul Mofaz been contending for the leadership of a rightist militant party, we would not expect anything else of him,” veteran political analyst Emmanuel Rosen said. “Yet when it comes to someone who wishes to become the chairman of a centrist party and a prime minister, we would like to hear something that is a little deeper, creative and mostly realistic in respect to dealing with tough regional problems.”

If elected the prime minister, Mofaz would be the first non-Ashkenazi Jew to hold the post. He lived in Iran until he was about 10 and spent his first years as an Israeli at a transit camp for Iranian immigrants.

Mofaz has made no secret of capitalizing on his ethnic roots when necessary — his main financial support reportedly comes from wealthy former Iranians in Israel, and he has received the blessings of Sephardic leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of the Sephardic-Orthodox Shas Party. But he has not played the “race card” in his campaign.

Mofaz also has taken care to balance out his more hawkish statements on Iran with calls for Israel to continue pursuing peace talks with the Palestinians, then Syria and other Arab foes — albeit without rushing things.

“I think it isn’t right to allocate a time limit to complicated processes. First they have to be given a different economic reality and we have to renew trust,” he said of the Palestinians in a recent interview with Israel’s daily Yediot Achronot. “I will conduct negotiations with them myself.”

“There will be no situation, like now, in which Israel talks in three voices — that of Olmert, that of Livni and that of the Americans. The process with the Palestinians should be results based. It’s for good reason I was called Mr. Realist. The Palestinians know me. I will find a common language with them. They know that with me, my word is my word.”

For the past two years, Mofaz has represented Israel in regular strategic talks with the Bush administration. Those talks have centered on dealing with the problem of Iran.

Despite his harsh talk on attacking Iran, Mofaz takes care to distinguish between the radical regime of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the ayatollahs, and ordinary Iranian people, of whom Mofaz speaks fondly.

Addressing a Washington audience last month, Mofaz recalled holding a telephone discussion with a Tehran taxi driver during a Persian-language radio address that was relayed to Iran.

“You were at Entebbe,” the cabbie said, according to Mofaz. “Can’t you come here too and rescue us from the mullahs?”

Candidate Profile: Tzipi Livni — a clean record but some say untested


JERUSALEM (JTA) – Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni smoothes her tailored black jacket, tosses back her head and takes in the King David Hotel hall packed cheek to jowl with foreign journalists.

Every chair is taken, photographers line the walls and the lights of dozens of TV cameras bathe the room in a yellow glow

The woman who would be prime minister can draw quite a crowd.

Polls show that Livni, 50, is the leading contender to win Kadima Party primaries Sept. 17 to succeed Ehud Olmert.

Like her main party rival, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, Livni has been on Israel’s national stage for about a decade. Since her election to the Knesset on the Likud list in 1999, Livni, under the tutelage of mentor Ariel Sharon, enjoyed what often is referred to here as a “meteoric” rise.

With her reputation for straight talk, intelligence and political moderation, Livni has managed to capture something of the popular imagination in an Israel weary of corruption and grandstanding among its politicians.

But Mrs. Clean, as she is sometimes called, lacks the military credentials of her main rivals — among them Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, should Kadima’s new leader fail to assemble a coalition government and general elections soon follow.

Livni’s rivals have pointed to her relative dearth of leadership experience to cast her as insufficiently prepared for the job of prime minister. Barak even borrowed from a theme in a Hillary Clinton campaign ad, asking who Israelis would want to answer the phone at 3 a.m.

The foreign minister has been firing back.

“Security is not only a question of whether or not there is specific kind of military operation,” Livni said last month at the King David Hotel news conference. “The prime minister needs to put on the table what is the goal of Israel as a state and means to achieve this goal, and whether the means are through military force or diplomatic options.”

Livni, a former lawyer who started her professional career as a Mossad agent, also spoke of her experience in Israel’s three-person security Cabinet with Barak and Olmert.

Her tenure in that group has not been free of criticism, however. Early on during the 2006 Lebanon war, Livni lobbied for a diplomatic solution and openly criticized Olmert’s management of the crisis.

While her criticism reflected widespread public sentiment especially after the war, Livni was skewered in the media for staying in the government despite calling on the prime minister to resign in May 2007. The call followed a state inquiry investigating the war that found fault with Olmert’s management of the conflict.

Some commentators said she wasn’t “man” enough to resign.
One of them, Israeli commentator Ben Caspit, wrote in Israel’s daily Ma’ariv that Livni was better suited to be the leader of a women’s organization like Na’amat, the women’s arm of the Labor Party, than the country.

“Tzipi Livni removed the last doubts as to her compatibility for the post of Na’amat secretary general. Or at the most, president of the Women’s International Zionist Organization. She could have established herself yesterday. Instead, she sold out. Big time,” Caspit wrote in May 2007.

But among those who have worked alongside Livni in the various political offices she has held — she has served as the minister of regional cooperation, of immigrant absorption, of justice and of housing and infrastructure — there is abiding respect for her capabilities and intellect.

“Being steady is about knowing how to make difficult decisions not just on impulse and emotion,” said Mirla Gal, who grew up with Livni in Tel Aviv and worked alongside her at the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption as director general.

“She is not all about politics and games,” said Ari Shavit, a columnist for Ha’aretz.

Perhaps one of Livni’s best-known admirers is the U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice, with whom Livni has forged a close relationship. Rice even wrote a tribute to Livni for Time magazine’s list of the world’s top 100 influential personalities.

But Livni is also criticized by some of those who have worked most closely with her as cold and aloof.

One former Livni staffer who spoke to JTA on condition of anonymity described Livni as a lonely figure who lacked a human touch in her relations with others. This made teamwork difficult with Livni, he said. Often, she prefers to confer more with her husband, an advertising executive, than with her own staff, he said.

Eran Cohen, who worked under Livni from 1999 until 2005, first as an assistant and eventually as a political adviser, said Livni is a demanding but fair manager.

“She is very focused as a boss,” he said. “She has expectations of her staff to have high standards.”

Gal said Livni’s warmth, or lack thereof, is unimportant.

“As an Israeli citizen, when I consider who I want to be as my prime minister, there are more important things to me than who is going to be the one out there hugging everyone,” she said. “I want someone who is focused and dedicated like her, who knows how to go into a room with a goal and make decisions.”

Shai Ben-Mor, who worked as Livni’s communications director, said Livni often “fled from the headlines” where other politicians would seek coverage.

As an example, he cites the time that Livni visited Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip shortly before Israel evacuated from the territory in the summer of 2005. She wanted to meet the local residents and explain to them that she felt their pain but was standing behind the government policy to evacuate Gaza, Ben-Mor said.

“She had the courage to go there to a place where she is deeply unpopular, and to look at the eyes and not to hide in her bureau in Jerusalem,” Ben-Mor said.

Her support for the Gaza withdrawal reflected how much Livni, who was raised by fiercely ideological parents, represented a shift from her political beginnings.

Her father, Eitan, was a commander of the prestate Irgun militia and later a Likud Knesset member. Her mother, Sara, also was a well-known Irgun fighter who inspired one of the militia’s fight songs, “Up to the Barricades.”

Livni herself once opposed any notion of trading land for peace. But not unlike other prominent sons and daughters of the founding Likud elite, including Olmert, Livni changed her position to support the idea of territorial compromise.

As foreign minister, Livni has led Israel’s talks with the Palestinians, which have been conducted largely out of public view.

Whether or not those talks achieve diplomatic fruit will depend in large part on how Livni fares in Kadima’s primary, and whether the winner of that vote can assemble a coalition government and stave off new general elections.

Israel political outlook uncertain as Olmert announces plan to resign


JERUSALEM (JTA) – Ehud Olmert’s announcement Wednesday that he will not seek re-election plunged Israel into deep political uncertainty at a time when the country faces several crucial diplomatic tests.

Confronted with police investigations into possible illegal fund-raising activities and a climate of intense political hostility, including from leading members of his own party, the Israeli prime minister held a hastily assembled news conference Wednesday evening to announce he will resign the premiership.

The change will take effect once Olmert’s party, Kadima, chooses a new leader in primary elections scheduled for mid-September. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz are the leading contenders for that spot.



Olmert announcement video from JerusalemOnline/Israel Channel 2 News



“Things got out of all reasonable proportion,” Olmert said in his speech, referring to what he called “ceaseless attacks” against him. “The prime minister is not above the law, but he is not by any means under it.”

Maintaining his innocence, Olmert said he would step aside for the public good.

“The time has come for me to take a decision,” Olmert said. “What is more important than what: my own personal justice or the public good?”

In the short term, Olmert’s announcement means he will stay in office as a lame duck until Kadima elects a new leader – either Sept. 17, when the party’s primary will be held, or Sept. 24, when a runoff, if necessary, will take place.

After that, Kadima’s new leader will become the acting prime minister and be charged with assembling a coalition government.

Failure to muster a majority of at least 61 Knesset members in the coalition would trigger new general elections.

Aside from casting a cloud of uncertainty over political succession, the development raised questions about how Israel’s major diplomatic initiatives will fare during this period of political transition – including peace tracks with the Palestinians and with Syria, and the effort to halt Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program.

At the time of the announcement, Livni was meeting in Washington with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to discuss those issues. Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who heads the Labor Party,  also was out of the country, on a plane on his way home from meetings in Washington.

Israeli pundits speculated that the absence from the country of Livni and Barak, two of Olmert’s main political adversaries, was a factor in the timing of the prime minister’s announcement.

Barak could trigger new general elections by pulling his Labor Party out of the governing coalition, but he lags behind Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu in polls showing Netanyahu would handily win a general election if held today.

The method of Olmert’s departure from the political stage ensures that his successor from Kadima will be able to run for the next general election as an incumbent prime minister, possibly giving that candidate a boost.

Olmert said Wednesday that he would not mettle in the Kadima Party primary and that he sought to engender a respectful and fair political transition.

The prime minister had been under a cloud of investigations almost since his first day in office. He assumed the position of acting prime minister in January 2006 after then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon became disabled from a coma. Olmert won elections to retain the premiership in March of that year.

But the latest scandal, in which an American Jewish businessman named Morris Talansky testified that he gave Olmert $150,000 in cash over the course of the decade and a half before Olmert became prime minister, crippled Olmert’s ability to govern.

Even Olmert’s decision to re-launch Turkish-mediated peace talks with Syria and sign a cease-fire deal with Hamas in Gaza were viewed with suspicion by some who derided the moves as ploys to ensure Olmert’s political survival.

Since the Talansky scandal broke, a growing chorus of Israeli pundits, Knesset members and public intellectuals had called on Olmert to step aside, if only to allow the government to focus on the urgent threat of a nuclear Iran.

It’s not immediately clear how Olmert’s resignation will affect Israel’s campaign to stop Iran from getting the bomb.

Why I support Hillary


Last year, Senator Clinton voted to label the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization.

Barack Obama attacked her vote ferociously.

Hillary stood her ground.

As a strong Democrat, I was drawn to Senator Clinton’s unparalleled and tenacious stands on domestic issues:

  • Separation of church and state (a 100% rating from Americans United for Separation of Church and State)
  • A woman’s right to choose
  • Universal health care
  • Co-sponsor of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act
  • Courageous support for the LGBT community
  • A detailed and ambitious plan to end our dependence on imported oil and combat global climate change.

The security of the U.S. and Israel are critical to me. Before endorsing, I discussed foreign policy with both Senators Clinton and Obama, and then conducted multiple hours-long discussions with each of their top foreign policy advisors. I endorsed Hillary Clinton after proving to myself that she is the strongest friend of Israel running, and has the clearest view of the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program.

The following sentences are taken word for word from Senator Clinton’s official position paper:

Cover stories Brad A. Greenberg:
Raphael J. Sonenshein:
Tom Tugend:
Arnold Steinberg:
Candidate profiles
Why I back ______________ Hillary Clinton
Barack Obama
“>By Rep. Robert Wexler
John Edwards
Rudy Giuliani
John McCain
Mitt Romney

Election 101 — who is your choice?


This time of year, we know that you are seeing signs everywhere about the upcoming presidential election. So many people, so many numbers … and even though you won’t be able to vote until you are 18, we think you should know what it all means.

1) What is a caucus?


A caucus is a private meeting of members of a political party — sometimes caucuses are held in public places, but they can even be held in someone’s home — to select delegates for a nominating convention. In a caucus you are voting for a delegate to represent your choice but not the actual candidate, as you would in a primary.

2) So what is a primary?

It is an election held before the general election, where voters select the candidates who will run on each party’s ticket. Primaries can be open, meaning any registered voter can vote in any party’s primary, or closed, where the selection of a party’s candidates in an election is limited to registered party members.

3) So what’s the difference?

In a primary you fill out a ballot — and you can even send it before the election date, as an absentee ballot. In a caucus, you vote by physically standing in an area designated for your delegate. After discussion and debate, an informal vote is taken to determine which delegates will be chosen.

Both caucuses and primaries help to narrow down the number of candidates in a political party. The Democrats started the presidential race with eight candidates and now they have five — three of whom are considered “front runners.” The Republicans have seven candidates.

4) So what is a delegate?

A delegate is a representative who bases his or her votes on the majority opinions of the people he or she represents.

5) And what’s a nominating convention?

It’s where each political party will finally confirm who they are nominating for President of the United States (and there will be plenty of speeches from the leaders of those two parties). The two major ones are the Democratic Convention and the Republican one. The Democratic National Convention will be held in Denver, Colo., from Aug. 25-28; the Republican National Convention will be held in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn., from Sept. 1-4. There will also be conventions for other smaller parties, such as the Green Party and Libertarian Party.

6) So how many delegates does it take to win the party’s nomination?

Well, that depends on the party. To win on the Democratic side, you need 2,025 delegates. On the Republican side, you need 1,191. And many states have a policy where even if you don’t win a primary or caucus, if a certain number of people vote for you, you get some delegates.

7) When and how does California vote?

California votes in a primary system on a day called Super Tuesday (Feb. 5), when 23 other states will also be voting. We used to vote in June, but many felt this wasn’t fair because several candidates were no longer running by the time summer came around. There are 441 delegates on the Democratic side; and 173 on the Republican side in California.

There’s a lot more to this election issue … check around on the Web and watch the news with your parents to learn more about it. You can find out even more about the candidates in next week’s Jewish Journal.

If you could vote in the election, whom would you pick and why? It’s OK if your choice isn’t the same as your mom’s or dad’s. Is your classroom holding a mock election? E-mail us at kids@jewishjournal.com over the next months and let us know. We’ll post the results here and see if kids really can pick the president.

Now Hear This

Get decked out in your V-Day outfits and declare your love of music. What better way to spend the weekend before the biggest love day of the year than at The SqueeGees’ CD release party? Join Samantha Tobey and Roman Bluem in a free family concert to celebrate the launch of their first full-length album (ask mom or dad to show you what an album looks like).

Feb. 10 at 11:30 a.m., at Dragonfly Dulou, 2066 Hillhurst Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 665-8448.

Jewish Voters to Play Key Primary Role


In Democratic districts on Los Angeles’ Westside and in the Valley, next week’s primary will not only determine the Democratic winner but also the person who will almost certainly win in the fall’s general election. And Jewish voters, who are overwhelmingly Democratic, will play a key role in the outcome.

The local Jewish community has a relatively small percentage of genuine right-wingers. But otherwise, there’s a wide spectrum of opinion, from pro-labor liberals, such as Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg (D-Los Angeles), to moderate, pro-business Democrats like Bob Hertzberg and moderate Republicans like Steve Soboroff and Assemblyman Keith Richman of Granada Hills. Both Soboroff and Hertzberg did very well with Jewish voters when they ran for mayor in the 2001 and 2005 mayoral primaries.

Ideological division among Jews also plays out geographically, with Valley Jews generally more moderate than Westside Jews. The Daily News tends to reflect the moderate-to-conservative side, while the L.A. Weekly holds to the liberal corner, with the L.A. Times in the middle of this broad swath.

At the federal level, the ideological diversity among Jews and Jewish politicians is less overtly apparent much of the time. That’s because opposition to the highly partisan Bush administration has created unprecedented unity among Democrats. It is politically unsafe within the party to be too accommodating or friendly to this White House.

This has created problems for Democratic incumbent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. No Democrat has been more worshipful of the Bush Iraq strategy, nor a more useful tool to the White House’s foreign policy propaganda. As a result, Lieberman, who is Jewish, now faces a strong primary challenge from Iraq War critic Ned Lamont.

An echo of Lieberman’s struggle has emerged here, in the 36th Congressional District, which includes Venice, Manhattan Beach and San Pedro. It’s represented by Jane Harman, another Jewish Democrat perceived as a foreign policy hawk. By no means as pro-Bush as Lieberman, Harman nonetheless outraged many Democrats by seeming to back the Bush domestic spying program. Now, she has a liberal Jewish opponent, Marci Winograd, in her heavily Democratic district.

The 36th once was a swing district, and Harman’s moderation was essential to her survival. Redistricting in 2002 has since made the 36th safely Democratic, making her liberal critics less forgiving.

As a result of these primary challenges, both Lieberman and Harman have been at pains to highlight their disagreements with Bush. Harman recently referred to the Bush administration as “lawless.” Adding to Harman’s woes is Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who is considering bumping Harman from her senior post on the Intelligence Committee.

It helps both Harman and Lieberman that their challengers are underfunded and that the party establishment has rallied to each of these incumbents. For that matter, Jews are likely to understand better than other Democrats the cross-pressures on foreign policy, such as support for Israel, that frequently make Jewish Democrats more hawkish than might otherwise be true. Yet Lieberman’s egregious Fox News attacks on Democrats — as insufficiently supportive of Bush — seem likely to alienate even many natural backers, while Harman’s affinity for the viewpoints of the intelligence agencies also has introduced some doubt.

At the state level, Jewish voters will choose in the Democratic primary for governor between Steve Westly and Phil Angelides, neither of whom is Jewish. The more traditionally liberal Angelides, backed by most of the union and liberal blocs in the party, presents himself as the one leading Democrat who was opposed to Arnold Schwarzenegger when the governor was popular. He also defines himself as the person willing to call for higher taxes on the rich. The L.A. Times has endorsed Angelides. The L.A. Weekly’s endorsement has not been announced as of this writing.

Westly, endorsed by the Valley’s Daily News, says he is the moderate alternative on taxes and other issues and that he can best defeat the governor. Both are well regarded in the Jewish community as friends and as supporters of Israel. But, of course, so is Schwarzenegger.

Had this election been held last year, when Schwarzenegger seemed bent on destroying his own governorship with his turn to the right, any decent Democrat could have prevailed. This year, Schwarzenegger has begun to substantially rehabilitate himself with the center and even parts of the left.

An example is how he has mended fences with much of the education establishment. He had originally provoked the ire of educators and their unions when he reneged on an agreement to repay school funds he’d borrowed during an earlier budget cycle. But the harsh political fallout and the state’s improved tax revenues have prompted him to start redeeming his original promise.

This year’s budget includes a down payment on the school funds he had used for other purposes. He also has appointed Democrats to high posts. And he has fought with the Bush administration on some issues. He’s even started to work effectively with the Democratic Legislature, whose leaders will campaign at his side this fall for a bond measure to improve the state’s infrastructure. And he has stopped running his mouth as though his primary mission were to appease right-wing talk radio.

These are the kinds of moves that will appeal to moderate Jewish voters, who have long been willing to vote for moderate, pro-choice Republicans. This is troubling news for the winner of the Democratic primary.

What could still beat Schwarzenegger in the fall is a massive Democratic turnout in the congressional races that is aimed at crushing the Bush national agenda. Then, too, Schwarzenegger’s past attacks on Democrats and their values may have left some lingering animosity. The “governator” dug himself a deep hole last year, and he has not necessarily climbed all the way out.

The moderate-liberal split also plays a role in the campaign to replace Fran Pavley in the coastal 41st Assembly district. Barry Groveman, Julia Bromley, Lelly Hayes-Raitt, and Jonathan Levey are the main contenders. All are touting their progressive environmental credentials.

Groveman, the mayor of Calabasas, is the only one of the four who does not live in liberal Santa Monica. He has the backing of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and centrist Santa Monica Councilman Bobby Shriver.

Groveman and Levey have dominated in fundraising, while Bromley, president of the Santa Monica school board, boasts endorsements from Pavley and popular state Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Los Angeles). Levey has won both the Times and the L.A. Weekly endoresements. Groveman received the Daily News endorsement.

Another race of local interest is the one to replace Paul Koretz in the 42nd Assembly District, which cuts across from Los Feliz through West Hollywood to the Westside and includes part of the Valley. One candidate, former L.A. City Councilman Mike Feuer, lost a close race to Rocky Delgadillo for city attorney in 2001. He’d previously served as executive director of Bet Tzedek. His rival, Abbe Land, is a former member of the West Hollywood City Council and former co-chief executive of the L.A. Free Clinic.

These two progressive and very formidable Jewish candidates cannot be easily separated by the liberal-moderate rubric. Feuer has won the backing of outgoing incumbent Koretz, as well as from both The Times and the L.A. Weekly. Land has endorsements from L.A. Councilwoman Wendy Greuel and from Goldberg and Hertzberg. Both Feuer and Land have a host of labor endorsements. (In the interests of transparency, I should note that Feuer is a friend whose campaign I support.)

Then there are the Jewish incumbents who face no serious challenge. Preeminent among them are county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles).

Yaroslavsky continues to work effectively, if often invisibly, in the mixture of power and obscurity that marks the L.A. County Board of Supervisors.

Waxman has been an outspoken and highly effective critic of the Bush administration and may become a central player in national government should the Democrats win back control of the House. The vision of Waxman with subpoena power must keep White House aides up at night.

One Jewish Republican deserves comment. Assemblyman Richman is running for state treasurer in the primary. Richman, endorsed by the Daily News, has been a force in building bipartisan alliances in Sacramento and was popular enough in the Valley to lead the field in the campaign to become the Valley’s “mayor.” In that same 2002 election, Los Angeles’ voters defeated Valley secession.

Finally, it will be interesting to see how Jews respond to Proposition 82, the initiative to provide free preschool to all California children through a tax on the wealthiest Californians. Generally, Jewish voters are extremely supportive of any education measure, especially school bonds. Many progressive groups support Proposition 82. While the L.A. Chamber of Commerce also supports it, most of business is against it.

The Times has called for a “no” vote, arguing that there are more cost-effective ways to cover those who do not have access to preschool. The Daily News also is opposed. The L.A. Weekly favors Proposition 82.

Supporters contend that Proposition 82 may be the last best opportunity to reach the goal of universal preschool with standards. While Schwarzenegger opposes it, his ally and friend, former L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan, is a big supporter. The measure is very close in the polls, and Jewish voters may play a key role in determining the result.

Once these primaries are over, the internal dynamics of the Jewish community’s politics will become less visible, at least until the next set of primaries. Of course, as November approaches, there will be talk about how many Jews might vote Republican. But given the unifying Democratic hostility to Bush, don’t bet on it.

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

Bibi Up, Sharon Down — for Now


Former prime minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu is back in control of Israel’s Conservative Likud Party as his onetime ally and current rival, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, recovers from a mild stroke.

Exit polls showed Netanyahu winning Monday’s Likud Party leadership primary with 47 percent of the vote, well ahead of the 32 percent taken by his top rival, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom.

The victory helped rally a right-wing party still reeling from the defection last month of its previous chairman, Prime Minister Sharon. The fact that Netanyahu’s victory came as Sharon recovered in the hospital only raised the stakes in a general election scheduled for March 28.

Before the primary, opinion polls showed the Likud trailing both Sharon’s new centrist Kadima movement and the center-left Labor Party. With Netanyahu at Likud’s helm and Sharon’s health in doubt, however, the political prospects could change.

Despite his age and obesity, Sharon, 77, has been relatively healthy. He will need his strength to fight off Netanyahu, 56, a polished campaigner.

Sharon on Monday appeared to be recovering well from the stroke he suffered last weekend, but his illness probably will have some political ramifications.

His health likely will become a campaign issue, with rival parties contending that Sharon’s brief hospitalization highlights the fact that Kadima is a one-man party. If anything happens to Sharon, the argument goes, Kadima and any government it heads could fall apart.

Slicing and Dicing L.A.’s Electorate


 

The race for Los Angeles mayor features two consummate insiders who are close to one another ideologically and disagree on few issues, posing a question: With Sacramento politics offering a clash of political tectonic plates and big, competing reforms, why is the mayor’s race lacking in big ideas?

Two putative outsiders, iconoclastic City Councilman Bernard Parks and former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg, were rejected by voters during the primary after raising broad, visionary themes, including altering the fundamental priorities inside City Hall and shaking up the schools.

Voters instead chose two men who avoided such big themes, agreeing on many issues. At their first postprimary debate, Mayor James Hahn and Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa offered almost identical praise for Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton, cited almost identical reasons for supporting driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants and offered minor differences on congestion and other topics.

The area of greatest dispute is their dislike for one another, which, if you think about it, is actually a form of agreement.

So instead of wrangling over where this sprawling city-state should be heading, Hahn and Villaraigosa are both promoting parochial issues area by area and ethnic group by ethnic group.

In an appeal to black voters, Villaraigosa — rejected by blacks who four years ago voted 80 percent for Hahn — slammed Hahn for “disrespecting” residents of South Los Angeles. In an appeal to Jewish voters, Hahn denounced the mayor of London for anti-Semitic remarks — after a Jewish Journal report revealed that Hahn’s campaign had touted endorsements from key Jewish figures whose signatures were faked.

Analysts say this slicing and dicing of the electorate will continue. History may be made if voters choose Villaraigosa as the first Latino mayor since Abraham Lincoln’s time, and Hahn becomes the first L.A. mayor since the Great Depression to be ousted after just four years. Yet, despite so much on the line for both sides, Angelenos have heard little that is visionary.

Democratic consultant Kerman Maddox, owner of Dakota Communications, said, “I don’t expect to see any visionary debate or visionary ideas or global thinking at all. Just an ugly food fight, with two candidates who look only at the key target areas and just try to win votes in those target areas, while acting to try to suppress the other guy’s voters.”

Added Maddox: “No big ideas on transportation, unemployment, economic development. It troubles me, but I just don’t see it.”

Allan Hoffenblum, a Jewish moderate Republican consultant, said both men are focused on highly parochial appeals to far-flung sectors of the city.

“Nobody believes either one of them will have a subway from downtown to Santa Monica, or all of a sudden become ambassadors to the world so business will be pouring in,” Hoffenblum said. “How does a mayor even fix the incredible antibusiness attitude here? So they’re going to talk instead about controlling airport expansion when they’re on the Westside, and denounce the mayor of London’s anti-Semitic remarks when they’re talking before conservative Jews.”

Both candidates are aiming at voter-rich enclaves identified via computer programs that spit out the names and locations of everyone who voted in a past mayoral race. With campaigns bee-lining for those voters, the broader populace fades to the background.

This hands power to the most involved voter blocs: Jews, blacks and white conservatives. Add to that mix Latinos, not normally big voters, who may participate due to Villaraigosa. Jews will account for 10 percent to 15 percent of the vote — more than their population percentage. It’s not a bloc, since liberal Westside Jews vote differently from conservative and Valley Jews. But in a close election, the candidate with the most Jewish votes could win.

By the same token, the dwindling black population, now perhaps 11 percent of Los Angeles, is likely to make up more than 15 percent of voters.

Black residents tend to vote almost monolithically. But Hoffenblum and Maddox believe that Villaraigosa can win if he wrestles more than one-quarter of the black vote away from Hahn, by mining anger over his firing of former Police Chief Parks.

White conservatives offer another highly involved voter bloc, so both candidates hammer at law and order, though crime is down substantially. Hahn attacked Villaraigosa’s past opposition to gang injunctions when he was a leader of the local American Civil Liberties Union. Today, Villaraigosa supports gang injunctions, albeit with more reservations than Hahn. But Hahn may turn out conservatives by illustrating Villaraigosa’s liberal record.

Amid this targeted campaigning, Rich Lichtenstein, a Democratic consultant, said there’s little chance either candidate will speak meaningfully about daunting citywide issues.

“I don’t want to believe we’ve come to a point in time where big ideas are not going to be debated in L.A. mayoral races],” Lichtenstein said. “But if you hear any big ideas, they will come from Hahn, because he’s trailing in polls, and it is almost always the trailing candidate who takes the risk to launch something that reflects some kind of vision.”

So while the state is engaged in a pitched debate that could affect education, elections, and taxes, Angelenos won’t be hearing much that’s weighty. The mayor’s race offers potential fodder for the history books. But it won’t be remembered for its issues.

Jill Stewart is a syndicated political columnist and can be reached at

Q & A With L.A.’s Next Mayor


Four major contenders are vying to unseat 54-year-old incumbent Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn in next week’s primary election. If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote, then the top two finishers will meet in a May runoff.

The challenger leading most polls is 52-year-old Antonio Villaraigosa, who lost to Hahn, then the city attorney, in the 2001 mayoral runoff. Villaraigosa, a former state Assembly speaker, currently represents an Eastside district on the Los Angeles City Council.

Bob Hertzberg, 50, a Los Angeles businessman and attorney, also served recently as state Assembly speaker.

Bernard Parks, 61, spent most of his career in the Police Department, rising to police chief under Mayor Richard Riordan — before Hahn denied Parks a second term. Parks also sits on the City Council for a South Los Angeles district.

State Sen. Richard Alarcon, 51, represents a San Fernando Valley district, just as he did in an earlier stint on the City Council.

The Jewish Journal’s editorial board interviewed all five candidates. Highlights are published in the pages that follow. Some questions and answers were edited for brevity and clarity.

Please scroll down to read each Mayoral candidate’s Q & A session with Senior Editor, Howard Blume:

RICHARD ALARCON

JAMES KENNETH HAHN

BOB HERTZBERG

BERNARD PARKS

ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA

Richard Alarcon

STATE SENTATOR

Jewish Journal: What is your essential critique of Mayor James K. Hahn?

Richard Alarcon: It’s not as much about why we want to replace Mayor Hahn, but how we want to change city hall. We have an opportunity in this election to change the rules, to change policy, how the city operates.

We’ve seen hundreds of thousands of dollars funneled in from law firms, public relations firms, large construction firms. The pay-to-play scandal is specifically about the contractors and the developers. This election is about to pay to play.

[Mayor Richard] Riordan and [Mayor Tom] Bradley were never under investigation by the federal authorities, that I can remember. And I was pretty close to both administrations.

This is fundamentally different. It’s just really a matter of needing to change the rules or needing to change the leadership. It’s about the trust from the public that has been deteriorated. My campaign is about restoring the trust of the public in city government. By rooting out the contractor and developer contributions, we go a long way to restoring that trust.

JJ: During a recent television debate before the neighborhood councils, you were clearly No. 1 on the applause meter with some of these themes.

RA: They applauded the loudest when I mentioned my [anti-corruption] ballot measure. They [also] applauded the loudest when I mentioned I was suing the city for raising the water rates.

JJ: So if you do not make it to the runoff, are you going to pursue this lawsuit? And are you also going to pursue this ballot initiative?

RA: Absolutely. Absolutely. All of these things will continue. But it’ll be a lot easier to get them done when I’m mayor.

JJ: As a state senator, you’ve put forward a plan under which Los Angeles would have less power over the regional authority. How does this help things?

RA: Yes. We’re talking to elected officials in areas that are likely to have the capability to build an airport. It’s interesting, they’re all Republicans, but that’s the only place where you can build an airport if you’re going to build one. Palmdale is the most obvious choice.

JJ: Is L.A. holding up the development of Palmdale Airport?

RA: Absolutely, they’re controlling it.

JJ: Isn’t it in L.A.’s interest to develop a Palmdale airport?

RA: I think it is. As mayor, I would make it in our interest. But it’s not in the interest of the airlines, because the more congestion, the more you sell. The airlines want every plane to be maximized…. And they couldn’t give a damn about the 405 Freeway, as long as they’re continuing to fill up their planes.

JJ: How do you feel about Hahn’s airport plan?

RA: I would rather scrap it, start over very quickly, move forward. [The airport] does need renovation, nobody doubts that. I don’t think we need to grow LAX. We need to build a new airport.

As I said, when the bucket is full of water, you can’t just paint the bucket to get more water. You have to get a new bucket. So I want to build a new airport.

JJ: Based on the polls, you’re trying to leapfrog over other candidates. Why should voters support you over them?

RA: I’m the only candidate that would give neighborhood councils planning authority. Three of the other candidates voted for the water rate increase. I’m suing the city of Los Angeles because I believe the water rate increase is illegal.

JJ: Campaign finance is one of your issues. But I haven’t noticed anything coming out of the Legislature on the subject. You’re a state senator. Why haven’t you pursued this more vigorously at the state level?

RA: I absolutely anticipate there will be changes at the state level as a result of other investigations. But you deal with what you got first.

I’ve always supported the strongest ethics rules. I’ve always voted for tougher ethics rules. Whether it was on the [city] council or in the state Senate.

JJ: Your reform plan would ban donations from whom?

RA: Developers and contractors. They couldn’t donate more than a hundred bucks. There are some thresholds — if somebody wanted to remodel their home, we didn’t want to burden them. So it [excludes], for example, single-family residences.

JJ: Why wouldn’t your proposed restrictions apply to all campaign contributors, including public employee unions?

RA: Are they being investigated? I haven’t heard about them being investigated.

JJ: Neither have honest contractors been investigated, but they’ll be restricted.

RA: But that’s how ethics rules work. Every section of this measure is modeled after something already in existence. And they will stand up to constitutional scrutiny.

JJ: There’s been a lot of debate about the schools, and what to do about them. Where do you stand?

RA: I disagree with Arnold Schwarzenegger that we should break up the school district.

JJ: Then you disagree with [mayoral challenger] Bob Hertzberg, too.

RA: Yes. First of all, there has been no specific plan. And I learned in the secession [debate] that you got to read the details. I decided not to go with secession.

Well, the same thing applies here. I want to see the details. I want to see what the proposal is. And I’m not sure that creating five or six more bureaucracies is going to get more knowledge into the classroom. I’m a [former] teacher. My focus is to get more dollars into the classroom.

That’s why I introduced a $200 million measure [in the Legislature] to train teachers to get their full credential. See, I think I had more impact with that than any proposal to break up the school district .

You want to improve our educational system, put the money in the classroom. In one week, [Schwarzenegger] can turn around and cut $2 billion out of K-12 education in the state of California, and [then] two or three weeks later, say that we need to break up the school district. I’ll tell you, those new five or six bureaucracies, where are they going to get the money?

What I want to do is get the power down to the schools. Thomas Jefferson said that no child should go to school more than five miles from their home. This is even before we had a public educational system. When we’re sending people to school on the other side of town, we’re not building that sense of community, that is the problem that I see with L.A. Unified.

JJ: As mayor, what would be your relationship to the school district? What would you do?

RA: The primary educational institution that the city manages is the library system. So I would expand the hours of operation, provide homework clinics. I would establish a dropout prevention program within the mayor’s office to nurture the L.A.’s Best Program, which I helped design when I worked for Mayor Bradley.

I would turn our parks into educational entities. [Parks] should have computer learning centers for kids. Truancy enforcement is an educational program.

Another thing the city could do is expedite the development of schools, like I did at the General Motors plant. We assign somebody to it, and they stay with the project.

JJ: So where are the jobs of L.A.’s future going to come from?

RA: We shouldn’t just do business tax credits. We should target them to good jobs with good wages. When I did the General Motors plan, I negotiated with who was going to come in and who wasn’t going to come in, and made sure that they had good wages and good benefits. It wasn’t that difficult.

I would focus on other industries that can’t leave but pay good wages. People that make less than $10 an hour cost the state $10.5 billion. That’s money that we could use for education and health care…. Other industries that can leave, we got to fight for … the movie industry, obviously.

JJ: How has Mayor Hahn done on housing?

RA: Hahn boasts of the development of 3,400 units of affordable housing over three-and-a-half years. When I was on the [city] council, in five-and-a-half years I developed, just in one council district, 1,200 units of housing. I would match my housing record up to anybody in the state, quite frankly….

My goal would be to expand the number of units of housing by 2,500 units a year, at a minimum. If you do anything less than that, you’re having very little impact. And the mayor has done less than that.

JJ: There’s one ghost from your past that was a particular issue to some in the Jewish community. In your 1998 contest for state Assembly against Richard Katz, a Jewish politician, your campaign sent out a mailer implying that Katz had tried to intimidate Latinos in Orange County from voting. In fact, Katz had sought to safeguard their voting rights. You won that campaign by 29 votes. Some critics perceived an almost anti-Semitic tone to that mailer.

RA: What saddens me more than anything else about what happened in the Katz race is that people misunderstood who I am in terms of my relationship with the Jewish community.

I am a product of the teaching. And maybe that’s why I became a teacher. When I went to … [Polytechnic] High School, it was at least 20 percent Jewish. Most of the teachers were Jewish.

The campaign was ugly on both sides. What hurt me was that people in some way might think I was anti-Semitic. It had nothing to do with anti-Semitism.

That was a spin that was created by a third party, that had nothing to do with Richard. I visited Israel in March of that year. I wanted to rebuild the relationship with the Jewish community, and I have. And I’ve worked very closely with the Anti-Defamation League.

For more information about Richard Alarcon, visit alarconforla.com and ” alt=””
align=”left”>James Kenneth Hahn

MAYOR OF LOS ANGELES

Jewish Journal: Many people are familiar with two major events of your first term: the defeat of the secession effort to break up the city and replacing Police Chief Bernard Parks with William Bratton. What else would you cite as major accomplishments?

Mayor James Hahn: Well, those two that you mentioned are awfully huge, and they were pretty mighty achievements. The other thing, we’re pushing forward housing, [with a] $100 million housing trust fund that more than doubled the number of housing units being built in this city.

You see a real housing boom going on in Los Angeles now. And that was due to streamlining ordinances, as well as the housing trust fund, and expanding the adaptive-re-use ordinance, which had applied to buildings downtown. [That] also preserves our old buildings from being torn down. It gives them new life and uses.

I was very proud of working with L.A.’s Best after-school program, [which was] started by [then-Mayor] Tom Bradley. I made that a goal to see how many schools we could expand that to…. There [were] about 78 schools when I came in as mayor, and we added 45 schools.

[Regarding] homeland security, I chaired the United States conference and mayors task force on aviation security. We’ve gotten over $180 million in funding for airports and ports and other things to work around security.

We really made [it] a priority to connect people to their government. Got over 80 of these neighborhood councils certified. … Also the government [is] more connected to people through our 311 system.

We brought statistical measurements to City Hall for the first time. I was shocked to find out that we never measured anything in this city. I don’t know how anybody ever figured out how they were doing. So we borrowed a page out of [Police Chief] Bill Bratton’s book [by gathering and using detailed data].

Started off with the Board of Public Works, and we actually had different departments say what the performance goals are, and then they’re measured against those goals. And we see we can improve efficiency.

A good example of that was we have street lighting, you know, [and] identifying how long it takes to put street lights in this city. We were noticing that there were a whole bunch of [street lights taking more than] 30 days [to repair] in South L.A.

I said, “Why are we taking so long to fix street lights down in South L.A.?” It turned out … that’s where most of the older street lamps are. And the stock of replacement parts was low. And so we worked to solve that problem.

We worked with the Department of Water and Power, which sends out trucks everywhere every day. We had the Police Department let them know about these stupid tennis shoes hanging over power lines. We’ve already got the crews out there where you see these things; they can take them down.

The city government’s worked really closely together in a more coordinated fashion. And I think people are seeing it. The government’s a lot easier to use, a lot more user friendly.

The most remarkable thing is, obviously, we’re making this a safer city. You don’t want to rush right by that…. If you go to Hollywood now, you see tons of tourists coming back there. Go right over here to MacArthur Park, [which] was overrun by drug dealers and gang members, and we had the Pasadena Pops Orchestra perform a symphony [there] a few months ago. Families using that park instead of drug dealers.

JJ: Regarding the plan to re-shape Los Angeles International Airport, what about the safety concerns raised by the RAND Corp.?

JH: RAND told me the same thing that every other security expert has told me. The main threat to LAX, or any airport for that matter, is a large vehicle bomb.

The plan that I’ve come up with is to disperse entry points in the airport and eliminate private vehicles from the central terminal area. It’s the cleanest, simplest, most effective way of protecting the central terminal area.

Their top two recommendations I have no control over. They said the airlines should hire more people at the ticket counters to check packages, and the [Transportation Security Administration] should hire more people to open more screening lines. Well, thank you very much, I can’t make that happen, you know. Those two agencies — airlines, TSA — are beyond my control.

JJ: Can you address the issues of corruption in city hall?

JH: Sure. I don’t think anybody in the public life holds himself to a higher standard. And so, I’m very concerned about these allegations, urge full cooperation in these investigations.

If somebody has done something wrong, they need to have the book thrown at them. We are now well over a year into these investigations. Either point out if [someone] did something wrong, or point out that they haven’t found anything. So far, I have seen no evidence that anyone either did or did not get a contract because they did or did not make a campaign contribution.

JJ: Do you have any reflection on bringing in someone like Troy Edwards as deputy mayor, a person who had a fundraising role in your campaign?

JH: He was out of the fundraising business. He wasn’t doing it anymore. So far, we have rumor and innuendo.

JJ: There’s also the allegation that Fleishman-Hillard, the public relations firm, was becoming a tool of the mayor’s office, even though the DWP was footing the bill. Should Fleishman-Hillard have been working for the city in the first place?

JH: These contracts were really in [place] before I ever came here. They were extended after I was in here. … [Fleishman-Hillard] was doing things for the [DWP]. I’m happy to show up on things like that. I am the only mayor. So when people want attention, they usually try to get me to come there.

JJ: How would you compare your approach to education vs. your predecessor, Mayor Richard Riordan?

JH: You generally learn from other people’s experiences, as well as your own. The previous mayor spent a lot of time and effort raising money to rearrange the members of the school board. One of them, I think, still remains of the people that he elected to office.

I want to be a partner with the school district. We’ve created a historic understanding with them on working with the school district to site schools, steering them away from, as much as possible, tearing down homes to preserve our housing stock.

And then, of course, the after-school programs. And [we’re working] to make areas around schools safer. I think there is no more important issue in the city than education. [As opposed to Riordan], I would rather spend my efforts in activities that actually bear fruit.

JJ: Is part of your job to deal with the achievement end of the school district?

JH: Look, [Riordan] made no impact. I’m making an impact in thousands of kids’ lives every day by having an after school program.

They’re doing better in school. They’re getting better grades. They’re getting better attendance. And they’re staying out of trouble.

Yes, it would be wonderful if I was in charge of the school district, but that’s not going to happen. And neither is breaking up the school district [as proposed by mayoral challenger Bob Hertzberg]. So I think people ought to level with people, you know. We’re running for political office — stand by what’s real and what’s honest.

JJ: What are your accomplishments and future plans regarding traffic?

JH: I haven’t seen any grand visions [from the challengers], big ideas. People want this magic wand to be waved in traffic to make it disappear, so they can continue to drive their own car.

That’s what it really boils down to when you talk to people. That’s what I’d wish, you know. Everybody else get off the road so I can just go wherever I want whenever I want.

Just this year, we got the full funding agreement for Eastside, the Gold Line. And that was 10 years in the making.

And as soon as I got on MTA to assess where everything is, I said we’ve got to start moving forward on the Exposition light rail. That needs to move. And so we’ve been pushing it forward. That will take 10 years to build. We have to eliminate this restriction on tunneling through the Wilshire corridor.

Let’s connect the Green Line to the airport. That’s part of my airport plan. But let’s start looking at some other things. How do we use existing capacity better? You know, installing the software that can even improve the already synchronized traffic lights.

We can continue to make improvements like that. I’ve identified 35 streets, like Wilshire, like Vermont. See how we can squeeze more capacity. Get much more aggressive about enforcing no parking during rush hour. And you know what? I’d like to eliminate the parking on a street like Wilshire.

We can encourage more companies to have staggered work hours and telecommuting, and things like that.

It may not sound like much when you improve traffic signal synchronization, but if you squeeze an extra 2 percent out of every intersection, and you add that up as you drive across the city, you’re adding real minutes here.

JJ: How would you make Los Angeles more business friendly?

JH: If we’re so unfriendly, why are we the place where more small businesses started than any other place in the country? I’m proud of that fact. And I want to encourage that. That’s why business tax reform is one of the things that I’ve embraced.

For more information about Mayor James Hahn, visit www.jimhahn.org or ” alt=””
align=”left”>Bob Hertzberg

ATTORNEY/BUSINESSMAN

Jewish Journal: What is your central critique of Mayor James K. Hahn?

Bob Hertzberg: He just doesn’t get it. Everything he does is calculated — a calculated transaction to get support from somebody, one group or another…. There’s no leadership involved at all.

It’s like, “Oh, golly, gee, shucks. Now, I better deal, deal with the environmental community. What can I do for my green power program?” And: “Oh, golly, gee, shucks, I gotta deal with this community. What can I do to bring them along?”

JJ: But he defeated secession. Wasn’t that a success?

BH: No. It wasn’t. Because he came to the San Fernando Valley, and instead of trying to inspire people with a sense of the greatness of a world-class city, he came out and said, “You people,” and it was insulting, and demeaning to the San Fernando Valley.

Los Angeles is … you’ve got a place where, when you go travel downtown, they say, “We want our fair share.” You go to South L.A.: “We want our fair share.” You go to San Fernando Valley: “We want our fair share of this.” It comes by virtue of the fact that the place is a city of more than 110 communities and 284 annexations.

So, what do you do when you govern a city like this? You bring everybody up together…. Instead of just concentrating on downtown, look to each community and find out things you can do for each community, and bring the city up together, so that it’s not an us vs. them.

JJ: What would you do to create jobs in Los Angeles?

BH: I’m in the process of forming an international foundation to help bring businesses here…. I’m gonna pick up the phone, and I’m gonna be calling heads of state and government people from all over the place to try to get activity here….

For example, the Korean banks — big money. [And] the Korean insurance companies are deregulating. The Spanish banks are buying up the Mexican banks and want to move here. I’m gonna reach out to these companies to bring capital here. Capital creates jobs.

The second aspect is, there’s great economic opportunities in South L.A., because of the real estate values…. If a mayor really leads the charge, there’s a real opportunity to attract capital there.

JJ: Should Jewish voters consider voting for a Jewish candidate, namely you? Is being Jewish or being something else a factor?

BH: I don’t know…. I do think there’s still somewhat of an impact. We certainly see it in terms of polls that people vote along ethnic lines….

There are people that come to me and say, “It would be wonderful to have a Jewish mayor who [is] from the community.”

I have very strong relationships in the Korean community, very strong relationships in the Chinese community…. I started [in politics] in South L.A. 31 years ago … working through a number of African American campaigns. I worked on the Eastside for a long time. My wife is Latina….

No one ever looked at me and said, “Who’s the Jewish guy?” Never did happen.

JJ: Is Police Chief William Bratton doing a good job?

BH: Yeah. I don’t think Hahn’s giving him what he needs to do his job.

But I gotta tell you something…. I’ve got to fund the police first…. There’s $450 million more in cash than there was on Day 1 [of the Hahn administration]. OK? Jim Hahn took that $450 million and basically gave most of it out [in] pay raises.

JJ: Would you undo the three-day workweek for the police?

BH: I don’t know…. I listen to Bratton on that.

JJ: How necessary is it to break up the Los Angeles Unified School District, as you propose? There are, after all, prime examples of bad small school districts.

BH: First of all, 53 percent of ninth graders don’t graduate, OK? How am I supposed to be the mayor of a world-class city when you don’t have a world-class education….

We’ve got an adult illiteracy rate worse than Mobile, Ala. Seventy-five percent of the kids that are in jail haven’t graduated high school…. Nothing is worse than the status quo.

JJ: Nothing?

BH It’s pretty damn hard to spend this amount of money and be this big of a failure.

Sometimes, when you have a problem this big, you have to take it and make a statement. I think John Kerry lost the election because he nuanced too much. I’m not nuancing this thing.

What I hear from teachers [is] that they want power in the classroom. They want to be able to make their own decisions…. We know that small classrooms with autonomy, without this top-down bureaucracy that just smothers people, works.

We’ve seen it in New York. One of the reasons why government fails is because we try to centralize power. We try to centralize policymaking decisions.

Why can’t you take the [proposed] Riordan model and let principals make the decision?

JJ: You’re mixing ideas that don’t necessarily relate: Empowering teachers is not the same thing as … empowering principals. Giving authority to principals and breaking up the district are not necessarily linked either. And New York City’s school district hasn’t been broken up.

BH: Here’s the notion: Sometimes, you fundamentally have to change the structure of power to fix things. Dick Riordan tried to do it with LEARN [a reform effort in the early 1990s]. He tried to do it by electing people to the school board. You keep moving down the list to try and make it work, and if it doesn’t work, guess what? You keep trying something new.

When I say break up the district, it may mean at the end of the day … that the LAUSD is just the city of Los Angeles, which could be fine with me.

JJ: So little Lomita, which is not part of Los Angeles, would have to create its own school district?

BH: I’m thinking about the quality of life, the future of Los Angeles. How do we actually make a school district that integrates with the rest of the city in a real way?

JJ: Limiting L.A. Unified to Los Angeles would make L.A.’s mayor more influential in the city’s schools, would it not?

BH: It would change the paradigm of power in education. Which is what we have to do.

JJ: How could you go about breaking up L.A. Unified?

BH: Let’s assume, for argument’s sake, we had a constitutional amendment that said in any city larger than 2 million people, the school district can’t exceed the boundaries of the city.

JJ: How does L.A.’s mayor bring this to pass?

BH: I use the bully pulpit … maybe cobble together a coalition statewide that talks about local control of the schools…. And I put it on the ballot.

In the first 90 days [after being elected mayor], I’ll pull everybody together, listen to everybody and ultimately, I’m going to decide what I want to do.

Breakup proponents in the Valley won’t necessarily like a breakup plan that doesn’t give the Valley its own school district.

What they want is a school system that works, a school system that’s connected to their community…. They’re tired of the waste. They’re tired of the bureaucracy…. They’re tired of not being listened to…. They just want a [school] system they can send their kids to.

JJ: How would you critique Riordan on education while he was mayor and afterward?

BH: What Riordan’s done is magnificent. Here’s a guy who doesn’t have to engage…. This guy doesn’t need to do anything. And he’s out there spending tens of millions of dollars of his own money buying computers.

He’s trying to fix it. He’s trying to engage other wealthy people to care about education. Now, do I agree with every single solution he’s got? No, but who cares? He’s in the game. He’s at it, fighting it.

JJ: But how effective were Riordan’s efforts?

BH: We all build upon those who were there before. [He] basically tried and tried and tried and tried to make it better. There’s no question about his sincerity. I give him all the credit in the world.

Let me tell you what leadership is…. You’ve gotta move people out of their comfort zones, everybody–your best friends and your worst enemies.

I’m in it. I’m doing everything I can. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. … I’m telling you, if I win this thing, fasten your seatbelts. Fasten your seatbelts.

For more information about Bob Hertzberg, visit ” alt=””
align=”left”>Bernard Parks

CITY COUNCIL/RETIRED POLICE CHIEF

Jewish Journal: Why shouldn’t James K. Hahn be mayor for four more years?

Bernard Parks: [He’s] been missing in action on a variety of issues — missing on transportation, only shows up about 30 percent of the time [to Metropolitan Transportation Authority]. Issues such as housing, issues of public safety.

The city is too dynamic to be running on cruise control.

[And] we’ve got corruption. We’ve had people get arrested. We’ve had people steal money. We’ve seen extortion in city government.

JJ: But how closely do any of these issues connect to Mayor Hahn himself?

BP: I don’t think he can avoid or ignore or deflect any longer that he’s responsible for the environment of corruption in the city of L.A.

JJ: How would you differentiate between scandals on Hahn’s watch and the police scandal in the Rampart Division, which happened on your watch as police chief?

BP: I don’t think that Bernard Parks sat there and waited for the grand jury to come and tell me there was a scandal. We invited the FBI in. We invited the U.S. attorneys in.

This corruption is unique. These people are doing things for the betterment of an individual [Hahn] or [his] administration. You either have one of two things. You have corruption [or] you have incompetence. Neither one’s acceptable.

If you look at Jim Hahn’s record, it hasn’t really changed. Jim Hahn has been hands off and a nonparticipant leader in every job he’s had. It’s just been it’s more acute in the mayor’s office.

JJ: Did you notice these traits in him when you were police chief and he was the city attorney?

BP: We dealt with him on a number of issues. Many attorneys, many judges will tell you the reason for the significant liability issues that we’ve had in the city was the poor administration in the city attorney’s office [under Hahn].

JJ: Do you think Mayor Tom Bradley’s ability to create a progressive black and Jewish coalition can be reproduced?

BP: Anyone that has any hopes of doing anything productive in the city of L.A. has to understand coalitions. But it’s not as simplistic as the Bradley era of Jewish-black.

The Asian population, the Hispanic population, and all these subgroups…. We have to be able to walk in all of those communities and address those issues. It’s very simplistic when somebody says, “Hertzberg’s gonna get the Jewish vote; Parks is gonna get the black vote.”

I went to the event at the Wiesenthal Center. I couldn’t count the number of people that came up from the Jewish community and said, “No. 1, we appreciate you being here. No. 2, we appreciate that you seem to be here all the time. And No. 3, we’re gonna remember you on March 8.

People have a comfort level with those who seem to be around when they don’t need anything or around when they’re not asking for something. And so I don’t believe that every Jewish vote is going for Hertzberg.

JJ: How do you revitalize communities while also addressing the housing shortage?

BP: The city has to realize that it cannot solve the housing problem by itself. Developers are going to solve it. [And] you cannot concentrate totally on senior and affordable housing.

We have a brain drain in the city, because nurses and police officers and firefighters — people that actually make a living — are living outside the city because there’s no housing for them.

In the Eighth District that I represent, there is no such thing called market-rate housing or workforce housing.

Now, tell me what benefit is it to keep dumping poor people on top of poor people? And then [we’re] amazed that the community doesn’t work, the education system doesn’t work, that all of these things have gone wrong when we have created policies that shift people in mass numbers away from the city of L.A.?

In the Eighth Distract for 15 years, the only housing that’s been built has been senior and affordable. Now, we just got the first market-rate housing development approved a month ago.

You can’t mandate it. You can’t come up with this inclusionary zoning and then say, “I’m gonna make you build houses a certain way.” With incentives you have more of an ability to get what you want.

[Also] you need a Planning Department that actually plans, that actually looks at a city and says, “Why is it that in Grieg Smith’s [Northwest San Fernando Valley] district you have no affordable housing, yet Bernard Parks’ [South Los Angeles] district has nothing but affordable housing?”

JJ: How do you feel about the role of the mayor in relation to the L.A. school district?

BP: I don’t agree with breaking up the school district, because I don’t think that’s the answer…. The school district didn’t get [into its] condition overnight.

The dramatic difference in education and change in Chicago and New York, when they changed the administration to be the responsibility of the mayor, is remarkable…. They finally figured out who’s responsible for education.

Right now [in Los Angeles] who’s responsible for education? Nobody knows. It’s certainly not the superintendent, because almost everything he recommends, the school board says no. Is it any one board member? No. So it’s a diffused operation over one of the most significant issues that we have.

JJ: Talk about your support for the Wal-Mart store in your council district.

BP: People will come to us and say, “Don’t let them in your city, because they pay low wages and they have no medical insurance.” Except when you look at Wal-Mart and you see what they actually pay, and they do have medical insurance, it’s contrary to the story given by the union.

My experience with Wal-Mart is very narrow. I have a shopping center called Baldwin Hills. It’s the oldest shopping center west of the Mississippi. Before Wal-Mart came in, a retailer left in the middle of the night five years ago. Not one retailer showed up and said, “Let me go into the 100,000-square-foot building.”

Wal-Mart comes in. They put several million dollars in the building. They hire 500 people from the community that happen to be seniors, young people, minorities, disabled. … The only complaint in the shopping center today is, “I can’t find a parking place.”

JJ: Do you have any concerns about Wal-Mart?

BP: I have concerns about anybody that is a monopoly. [But] those great union stores that everybody trumpets, they’re not building in these communities.

We can count on one hand the grocery stores that are in the Eighth District. Most of them are Food 4 Less, which means you must bag your own groceries, unstick your feet from the floor to walk and deal with rude people, bad groceries and higher prices. But yet, we would make sure that a competitor can’t come in and sell groceries that might give people better quality.

JJ: But there’s the argument that Wal-Mart drives smaller community-based stores out of business.

BP: That’s a good theory, except no one in the Eighth District competes with Wal-Mart.

JJ: Nobody?

BP: Nobody.

JJ: Public safety also affects whether residents or businesses will move into an area or stay in an area.

BP: They also move out because they believe their kids aren’t being educated. They also find that there’s no housing that they would pay $300,000 for. But the issue of public safety comes down to: Why let our police officers work three days a week, when in the last four years, we’ve had over 300 more murders than the four previous years?

If you went from a three-day workweek to a five-day workweek, you would increase the number of police cars that respond to calls by 30 percent.

JJ: What do you think of Police Chief William Bratton’s work?

BP: It’s going to be difficult to assess his true value under this current leadership [of Mayor Hahn], because I don’t think he can perform very well as long as officers are only here a short time. I also am very concerned that we have eliminated many of our prevention and intervention programs that compensate for the three-day workweek.

We digress from many of the long, hard-fought battles to put prevention, intervention and education as part of the police strategy, and we’ve gone back to almost the ’89, ’90s era of arrest figures.

[And Hahn] made a policy decision in the city of L.A. [that] it’s far better to have a smaller, better-paid Police Department than adding [officers].

JJ: Would you give Chief Bratton a second term?

BP: I wouldn’t make a commitment for any general manager two years out. Every general manager that works for me is going to have to sit and look me in the eye — understand where I’m going, what the direction is.

JJ: Do you think [labor leader] Miguel Contreras and organized labor have too much influence in city hall?

BP: No doubt…. What, who is the workforce that’s gonna [rebuild] LAX? It’s trade unions. Many of the people don’t live in the city. So what did the city get out of this other than the airport that’s gonna be dysfunctional?

When I talked to [a] trade union president, his basic answer to me was, “We don’t care what we build. We just want the 11 billion [dollars].”

You can’t put the president of almost every union on your commissions and then say no when they want something. Do you think it’s by coincidence that Miguel [Contreras] is on the LAX commission when there’s an $11 billion project that’s sitting in the wing?

When you come up with a proposal that’s anti-Los Angeles, I’m not gonna buy into it. I don’t care if you’re union or if you’re Democrat or Republican. When you offer a plan that’s anti-L.A. I’m not gonna support it.

For more information about Bernard Parks, visit ” target=”_blank”>www.lacity.org/council/cd8/index.htm.


Antonio R. Villaraigosa

CITY COUNCIL

Jewish Journal: What is your central criticism of Mayor James K. Hahn?

Antonio Villaraigosa: Over the last four years, he’s not demonstrated the leadership that a great city needs and deserves, pure and simple.

JJ: In 2001, you got a huge boost from union endorsements. This time, Hahn’s got the lion’s share. Why?

AV: Because Jim will do anything and say anything to get elected. He used LAX expansion as a means to secure union support for another four years.

JJ: So it was just the LAX expansion issue?

AV: It wasn’t just LAX. It was a number of things. But LAX expansion was the engine….

[Regarding the airport], a regional airport system is critical. To invest $11 billion, we should be investing in a lot more capacity than you could ever get at LAX.

LAX is already a parking lot. And the growth in the region is on the east and in the north. It seems to me that putting our airport capacity in the parts of the region that are growing makes more sense for traffic, for convenience and for, you know, spreading out the capacity over the region.

When I’m mayor, we’re going to put a plan together to develop and make real a regional airport system.

JJ: Besides the unions, you also don’t have the same phalanx of elected officials supporting you. Last time you had Gov. Gray Davis, Mayor Richard Riordan, Gil Cedillo and also philanthropist Eli Broad. This time, the current governor is neutral and the others support someone else.

AV: Tom Bradley’s second race [for mayor against incumbent Sam Yorty] was very different from the first one. In the first one, he had 5,000 volunteers. In the second one [which Bradley won], he barely had half of that. I think he had 2,000 is the number I heard.

[State Assembly Speaker] Jesse Unruh who was with Bradley in ’68 ran against him [in 1972]. Baxter Ward ran.

I mean it’s not the same race. It’s a different race. [I’m] running against an incumbent now. People know you better.

So, yes, maybe you’re not as exciting. But it’s gonna be more difficult for Jim to create a climate of fear around my candidacy. If you look at his mailers [in 2001], they were remarkably similar to the mailers used against Bradley. Armed and dangerous, do you remember that one?

JJ: This time you’re also running against Bob Hertzberg. You were roommates with him in Sacramento, when you were both in the Assembly.

AV: And we’re still friends. All you guys have been trying to squeeze out of us all this drama. We don’t have issues with one another…. Rather than compare myself to Hertzberg, let me just talk about my strengths.

My strength is, I have an ability to see the big picture. I have the ability to create consensus around a vision and a plan for what needs to be done. That, I think, makes me different from the other candidates in this race. I’ve always been able to both hire and attract strong leaders who can help implement that vision…. I had really good people around me.

JJ: When you ran for City Council, you said you would serve four years. You said you wouldn’t run for mayor in this election.

AV: I said I would be a council member for four years. I believed that then. But, you know, circumstances have changed.

As time went on, it became clear to me that Jim just didn’t have the wherewithal to lead the city. And I didn’t really believe that any of, you know, the candidates running could beat him.

JJ: What about charges of corruption in the Hahn administration?

AV: This is the most investigated administration since Frank Shaw in the 1930s. The gall that [Hahn] would act like the victim when he’s failed and refused to answer a simple question.

JJ: Which is?

AV: Why did you put your chief fundraiser [Troy Edwards] in charge of the three proprietary funds giving out more than a billion dollars worth of contracts?

JJ: The mayor said to us that Edwards wanted to do something other than fundraising.

AV: I will appoint deputy mayors that have expertise and knowledge in the area that they’re overseeing. Come on, everybody. That’s not an answer. He gave you an answer, but that wasn’t a real answer, and you know it. I’m surprised you didn’t fry him.

JJ: Are you trying to remake a Bradley coalition in some ways with a Jewish and Latino synergy?

AV: Not purposely. Look, I’ve always had a very strong connection to Jews in my life. Other than my mother, the people — the librarians, the teachers, the people in authority that gave me a chance — most of them were Jews.

I lived in Boyle Heights. There was still a residue of [Jews] if not living there, working there. I’m talking about the ’50s and the ’60s. And I’ve always felt a connection.

The three things my mother, as a young boy, told me about — and maybe it’s because where we lived — was the Holocaust, Jim Crow and what happened to the Japanese. In the ’50s in our home, we would have Jews, blacks, Asians and even gay couples. My mom, she was just very progressive.

JJ: There doesn’t seem to be so much of an ethnic voting pattern in Los Angeles right now.

AV: Even with Latinos.

JJ: What do you think that says about Los Angeles?

AV: It’s a good thing. I love it. Judge me by the content of my character and what I have to contribute. I’ll go on that any day. I’ll ride that horse any day.

JJ: Do you feel the city needs more police?

AV: We need a minimum of another 1,000 and probably upwards of that to be honest.

JJ: And how do we do that?

AV: Let’s move ahead with the [L.A. Councilman Grieg] Smith’s proposal, which [the City Council] just passed, to put 300 cops on the streets of Los Angeles. … And then put a Measure A on the ballot, a half-penny sales tax countywide in 2006. Why 2006? Because we just lost this half-penny sales tax in November, ’cause people don’t have trust and confidence that government’s going to spend the money the way they said they would.

So I proposed put the 300 cops on now, tighten our belt, show people that we’re committed to making cops a priority now with the money that we have. Then build support around the region for a half-penny sales tax that is a little different than the last one.

It would have a citizens oversight committee to ensure that we’re spending the money the way that we said we would. And we would put in this initiative, by the way, specific language about putting these officers not in administrative functions, but in positions that really impact patrols and community-based police.

JJ: In terms of the housing crisis, are you in favor of inclusionary zoning, which could require developers to include “affordable” units in their projects?

AV: I support the concept, but the devil’s going to be in the details. The only way it’ll work is if you get a buy-in from developers. It’s got to cost out. It’s got to have the parking variances and the bonus densities, you know, that allow them to make money.

The communities need to revitalize. That doesn’t mean that you want gentrification. But you do want homeowners anchoring the community.

The other thing I talked about in the plan [is] streamlining the permitting. We’re gonna re-think what housing looks like. Not every home is gonna be a 2,500-square-foot home with a front yard and a backyard.

We’re gonna do a lot more mixed use, you know, retail on the bottom and adapt. And nobody has really called Jim on the absolute misrepresentation of his “fully funded” Housing Trust Fund. It’s never been fully funded.

JJ: Talk about schools.

AV: I don’t support school district breakup, because the process of breakup will be a legal quagmire and very divisive for the city. I do support smaller schools, smaller classrooms, teacher training and compensation, teacher accountability [and] more parent and teacher control with a strong principal.

A specific thing we can do as mayor is re-think what schools look like. I’ll make education my top priority. I’ll build 100 schools.

You know, it’s been very difficult to site many of our schools. The city can work with the school district to site the schools and build the community consensus around the siting of those schools. The city can create synergies that come with parks and libraries [near] schools, extending libraries’ hours to create community centers at the schools.

The city can expand the after school program. Jim did do some things about that. There’s no question. But I guarantee you we’re gonna exponentially multiply what he did.

Finally, we have an important opportunity in the city to support and expand charter schools. Do I think a stronger mayoral role in the schools would be a good thing? Absolutely.

JJ: Would you try to pursue that?

AV: Right now, I’m gonna focus on the things that we can do. I also think there’s a role in creating a more harmonious relationship between the school district and the teachers union. And I think I have a unique ability to do that.

JJ: What do you think about the Riordan-style relationship to the school district?

AV: I’ll say this: While Dick Riordan often failed in his objective to exert greater control over the school district, he was passionate about education, in contradiction to Jim Hahn, who’s just been missing in action.

For more information on Antonio Villaraigosa, visit ” target=”_blank”>www.lacity.org/council/cd14/page2.cfm?doc=home.

First Election Round Goes to Jews


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another 4 percent voted for Kucinich, she noted.

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

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

Joe: What Went Wrong?


Sen. Joe Lieberman’s visions of the presidency collided with an unpredictable New Hampshire electorate on Tuesday. Lieberman did better than some polls predicted, but probably not enough to salvage a candidacy that was out of synch with the changing political perspectives of the party’s core activists.

He may have been the right man running in the wrong year.

His inspired performance as the 2000 vice-presidential candidate won him widespread respect and affection. That made him a frontrunner this year, but changing times and issues — and some strategic blunders — dissipated that momentum.

On Tuesday, Lieberman said he will continue the race into next week’s big round of primaries, but even admirers concede his candidacy is on life support, with all of the momentum — and, soon, most of the political money — shifting to the New Hampshire winners.

The primary was a huge victory for Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and another setback for former Vermont governor — and former front-runner — Howard Dean. Its impact is less clear on two other candidates: retired Gen. Wesley Clark and Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), who were locked in a close battle for third place.

So what went wrong for Joe? The answers have a lot to do with the fluid views of the voting public, the shifting center of the Democratic party and with Lieberman’s own character.

Some of Lieberman’s problems stem from his sense of loyalty and personal integrity. Political scientists make much of the fact that the senator delayed plunging into the Democratic primary race because of his pledge not to oppose his 2000 running mate, former Vice President Al Gore.

Gore couldn’t make up his mind for months, denying Lieberman the early start he needed to amass an insurmountable lead in fundraising and support that would scare off the competition — the classic strategy for frontrunners. Then, Gore rewarded that loyalty by endorsing Dean and not even giving Lieberman a heads-up before making the announcement.

A bigger problem was simply lousy timing.

Lieberman, a beacon of Democratic centrism, was too conservative for a party that is shifting to the left and too mild for party loyalists consumed with anger over the Republican administration and Congress — and who want a candidate who reflects that anger.

To the liberal core — half of those who voted in Tuesday’s primary consider themselves liberal, according to exit polls — there wasn’t enough to differentiate Lieberman from the Republican incumbent in a year of exceptional polarization.

Those same polls show continuing anger about the Iraq war. Lieberman, the war’s key Democratic supporter, continues to pay a heavy political price for that support.

Lieberman’s association with Gore, too, may have hurt him. There is evidence Democrats are eager to move beyond the Clinton-Gore era. Lieberman, who became a familiar face on the 2000 campaign trail, is a living reminder of that turbulent era.

Political professionals also point to strategic miscalculations that may have damaged the campaign.

Although it was widely assumed Lieberman would run for the presidency in 2004, he did not do what successful candidates normally do — spend several years traveling the country, building a strong base of personal relationships, tapping into all the key Democratic power centers.

"Too much of the campaign took place in Washington," Johns Hopkins political scientist Benjamin Ginsberg said.

Lieberman’s deadly deference to Gore may have been part of that; so was his devotion to his Senate duties.

Lieberman, like Clark, decided to forsake the Iowa caucuses and focus instead on this week’s New Hampshire primary.

But Kerry and Edwards, by beating Dean in Iowa, came out of the caucuses with a full head of steam — which suddenly made Lieberman’s and Clark’s tactical decision look like a blunder.

When Iowa caucus participants started shifting away from Dean because they worried he couldn’t beat President Bush, they broke for Kerry, who mounted an all-out Iowa effort, not Lieberman, who didn’t.

Kerry’s image as the Democrat with the best chance of being Bush apparently carried over into New Hampshire.

There’s little evidence Lieberman’s Judaism was much of a factor, although his religiousity may have soured him with some Democratic voters. Open professions of faith are seen as essential these days in general elections — but they are not big selling points with liberals.

And Lieberman did not do all that well among New Hampshire’s 10,000 Jews. According to exit polls, he came in third with Jewish voters — behind Kerry and Clark.

In the end, Joe’s woes have been mostly a function of changing times and a changing party.

To his enormous credit, Lieberman didn’t try to remake himself; he staunchly defended the centrist Democratic principles that have defined his career in the Senate, even when it became clear they would be an impediment in his quest for the White House.

That may be what Lieberman is most remembered for when the 2004 primaries enter the history books.

Joe’s Dark Days


With the startling victory of Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in the Iowa caucuses and the dismal third-place finish of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, the Democratic presidential deck has been drastically reshuffled.

And the joker could go to Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), who opted out of the Iowa race and now faces even tougher odds in next week’s New Hampshire primary.

But Lieberman is fighting back, and he’s getting some important help. This week he won the endorsement of New Hampshire’s biggest newspaper, the Union Leader — normally a stalwart supporter of the GOP cause.

But two factors are conspiring to complicate Lieberman’s uphill fight: the surge by retired Gen. Wesley Clark in New Hampshire, and the Iowa surprise — which resulted in a huge victory for Kerry and a surprisingly strong second-place finish for Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.).

Dean finished third, with a devastating 18 percent of the caucus votes.

"A lot of Democrats have been looking for the anti-Dean," said a top Jewish Democrat this week. "Lieberman hoped to be that candidate, but now it looks like it will be a fight between Kerry and Clark. Things look very bad for Joe, although he keeps plugging."

University of Wisconsin political scientist Ken Goldstein predicted that the Lieberman campaign could come to a quick end, possibly right after New Hampshire — and that the cash-hungry Clark and Kerry campaigns will quickly move in on his Jewish financial backers. Clark, who skipped Iowa, has been gaining ground in New Hampshire, he said.

"And now Kerry and Edwards have huge momentum coming out Iowa," Goldstein said. "I just don’t see how Lieberman can continue unless he manages to really shock people in New Hampshire."

Diversity of Dizzying Dimensions


When voters cast their ballots for mayor in next week’s primary, they may be electing to that office the first Jew, the first Latino or the first woman.

There are 15 candidates on the April 10 ballot, but only six are considered serious contenders. In a reflection of Los Angeles’ diversity, two — Wachs and businessman Steve Soboroff — are Jews; former state Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa and U.S. Democratic Rep. Xavier Becerra are Latinos; and two — City Attorney James Hahn and state Comptroller Kathleen Connell — are Anglos.

With no candidate expected to get a majority in the crowded primary, the two top vote-getters probably will compete in a June 5 runoff.

All are veteran politicians except for Soboroff, who has never run for public office and is trying to use that to his advantage. "A Problem Solver, Not a Politician" is the phrase used on his bumper stickers, campaign literature and TV commercials.

At 52, Soboroff has made a great deal of money as a commercial developer of shopping centers, malls and retail chain stores. His wealth reputedly stands at $10 million, though he told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in an interview that the figure is lower.

Soboroff has committed $687,000 out of his own pocket to his campaign, supplementing $2.9 million in outside contributions.

He will need all that and more, mainly for television commercials, by primary day. If he makes the June 5 runoff, he will have to spend at least another $3 million, according to political analysts.

Not to worry, though. "I’ll spend whatever it takes to become mayor," Soboroff says.

So far, there have been some 40 debates among the six candidates. The debates largely have been devoted to issues rather than personal attacks, except for some bitter exchanges between Soboroff and Wachs, whose mutual dislike is palpable.

The front-runner at this stage is Hahn, with Villaraigosa closing in fast, followed by Soboroff. As the only Republican in the race, Soboroff is counting on the support of white voters, especially among conservative middle-class residents of the populous San Fernando Valley.

There are no assurances that he will attract the most Jewish voters. A vast majority are Democrats, and although the mayoral race is supposedly nonpartisan, they may vote for a more liberal contender.

On the other hand, Jews who prefer to vote for one of their own probably will back Wachs, who is a veteran of 30 years of city politics and enjoys a considerably higher profile in the Jewish community than does Soboroff.

Wachs, who is among the more conservative of the candidates, had been expected to be one of the strongest entrants but in fact is far back in the field, according to polls.

No one is billing the contest for runner-up — and a spot in the runoff — as a Latino-Jewish confrontation, but the possibility of such a face-off points to the emerging political realities of America’s second-largest metropolis.

A generation ago, Jews played a substantial role in Los Angeles politics as financial backers and campaign strategists, but they shunned the limelight, and few ran for elected office.

The situation has changed drastically: Jewish politicians today are omnipresent in Los Angeles and in California as a whole.

The area of Sherman Oaks is illustrative. Close to the boundary between the Los Angeles Basin and the San Fernando Valley, Sherman Oaks is part of the Los Angeles municipality and has a strong, but not predominant, Jewish presence.

Counting from lowest to highest office, a Sherman Oaks resident could have a Jewish city councilman, county supervisor, state assemblyman, U.S. congressman and two U.S. senators.

The Jewish political domination is not as pronounced in other districts of the city. Relative to their proportion of the population, however, Jews are vastly over-represented in Angeleno politics, particularly given the demographic changes of the last decade.

Latinos, primarily of Mexican descent, have become the single-largest ethnic group in Los Angeles, making up 42.5 percent of the city’s almost 3.9 million inhabitants. Jews, whose numbers are stable, represent about 10 percent.

African Americans make up close to 11 percent but are about to be overtaken by Asian Americans, according to just-released figures from the 2000 census.

Jews still lead all other groups in voter participation and financial donations, but Latinos, until now relatively dormant on the political scene, are beginning to flex their muscle.

The current mayoral election, especially a potential Soboroff-Villaraigosa contest, is an omen of things to come as a new generation of Los Angeles-born Latinos demands its share of the political pie.

So far, the political competition between Jews and Latinos has been muted and nonconfrontational, and leaders in both communities are working to keep it that way. One sign is the increasing number of programs Jewish organizations direct toward Latinos, hoping to create bonds similar to those that linked Jews and blacks during the civil rights struggle.

Villaraigosa is a prime example of the upcoming generation of Latino leadership. A young and very personable politician, he grew up in the then-heavily Jewish area of Boyle Heights. He likes to say he was a potential delinquent and rarely fails to credit his Jewish high school teacher for turning him around.

Villaraigosa enjoys considerable support in the Jewish community. Two of the wealthiest and most influential Jews in Los Angeles — developer Eli Broad and television mogul Haim Saban — are among his prominent backers.

State Races Get Hot


As I made the rounds of endless cocktail parties and debates two weeks before March 7 primary day, I could see that the Jewish community has little reason to cheer term limits, just as it will not likely salute restrictions on campaign contributions, if that should ever come to pass. The Jewish community has spent much of the past 30 years learning the effective use of government for the wider public good. The race between Assembly members Wally Knox and Sheila Kuehl to replace State Senator Tom Hayden is another case of chopping our institutional wisdom at its root. Newly-installed Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg, already regarded as one of the most effective and professional legislators of his generation, will be term-limited out of office at the next election term.

As it is, the Knox/Kuehl fight is being waged as gingerly as two hard-hitting adversaries can make it — velvet on steel.

“Time after time we agree on much,” Knox told the Sherman Oaks Property Owner Association last week. “We are strategic allies.”

Nevertheless, much of this newspaper’s readership lives in State Senate District 23, extending from Sherman Oaks to Westlake and Malibu, in which 25 percent of the electorate is Jewish. So how will you likely vote?

The answer is, probably with much pain.

The assets of both candidates — two Harvard Law graduates, both well-known in the Jewish community, with vast identification on liberal issues, are easy to enumerate. Since you’ve received their mailers, too, I’ll just say that what impresses me about each is as follows:

Knox, a former labor lawyer, has a gut instinct for high-profile consumer issues like saving the 310/818 area codes and studying the car-choked 405/101 freeways. He acted fast on gun control, especially after Buford O. Furrow, Jr. opened fire on the North Valley JCC. He played a key role in legislation enabling Holocaust survivors and their families to recoup on European insurance policies. In the battle of endorsements, Knox has Mayor Riordan. One factor in the loss of Gov. Gray Davis to Kuehl may be Knox’s early support of Jane Harmon in her gubernatorial bid.

Kuehl, forever known as Zelda Gilroy on “Dobie Gillis,” takes an equally effective approach, especially with regard to family-related issues like nursing care, HMOs, financial privacy and overhaul of the Kafka-esque child-support collection system. She acted fast to repair Pacific Coast Highway, and is a fervent protector of motion picture industry interests, and the environment. And she’s an independent thinker, a maverick who refused to back Gov. Pete Wilson’s hastily-designed, potentially disastrous school “reform” package, including onerous educational testing which is now causing much pain.

Once upon a time, Jewish clout, and the seats that went with it, seemed to be endlessly expanding. Tony Beilenson began his Sacramento career representing exactly the district that Knox and Kuehl are now fighting to win. He ended his congressional career 25 years later, and most of his seat was near Ventura County. But unless upcoming reapportionment splits the Valley and Westside into two Senate seats, the political pond is shrinking.

West Hollywood City Councilman Paul Koretz and attorney Amanda Susskind are the front-runners for the 42st Assembly District vacated by Sheila Kuehl, with Dan Stone, a Beverly Hills physician, an earnest third. One campaign insider termed the Koretz/Susskind race “the nerd vs. the activist,” and that almost says it all.

What it leaves out is the way that local politics, in a campaign in which both candidates will raise $600,000, breaks down into distinct subgroups. Gays, seniors, women, homeowners — each of these will find a candidate to match their schism.

Community activists Adele and Ira Yellin are typical: Adele is for Susskind; Ira for Koretz. A Koretz fundraiser on Thursday featured real estate interests from West Hollywood focussed on density issues along Sunset; at a Susskind event the previous day, the topic among women activists was the need for better hospital care.

Susskind is by far the more gregarious and articulate candidate, a charming policy wonk who can make her decades spent representing small cities like Hidden Hills seem like a glamorous precursor to her current foray into politics. Her father, who was a Kindertransport survivor from Nazi Germany, became an engineering professor at UC Berkeley. Her mother was a veteran of the London blitz. A hardball campaigner, she has the support of both Mayor Riordan and Latino powerbroker Assembly member Richard Polanco. Howard Welinsky, Jewish community activist and former head of the Jewish Community Relations Committee, is one of her biggest backers.

Nevertheless, Koretz, whose diffident speaking style hides considerable political acumen, has sizable support and name recognition in the Jewish community. Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky (and Gov. Davis) back Koretz, who has spent his career in local politics as aide or elected official.

“We’ll be able to be proud of either candidate,” a long time political observer told me. But when it comes down to March 7, that sentiment will be cold comfort to the loser.


Marlene Adler Marks is senior columnist of The Jewish Journal.


Her website is www.marleneadlermarks.com.

Her e-mail address is wmnsvoice@aol.comHer book, “A Woman’s Voice” is available through Amazon.com.

A Vote at a Time


The big political story that’s emerged from last week’s California primary is not the Davis-Lungren gubernatorial race nor the high-profile propositions. The big story is yet unfolding and takes us to a small corner of our town, in the east end of the San Fernando Valley. At this writing, former Assemblyman Richard Katz is only 33 votes behind City Councilman Richard Alarcon in a race to replace veteran state Sen. Herschel Rosenthal. While awaiting the inevitable recount, observers of the new American ethnic politics are peering over the map of Senate District 20 block by block for what is being done right — and wrong.

“It’s despicable how they played on race,” Katz (pictured above) told me, seething from five pro-Alarcon mailers, including one with a photo of Cardinal Roger Mahoney, who disavowed it on election day. Another mailer implied to Latinos that Katz would have workers at the polls to block voters.

“What does hard work and experience mean if it can’t stand up against ethnicity?” he said.

No matter how slick a spin we put on it, the Katz/Alarcon vote reveals that politics has come literally to an ethnic divide, the divide being the Hollywood Freeway that cuts north and south through the district, from East Los Angeles to the city of San Fernando into Sylmar and the Angeles National Forest.

West of the freeway, where the district includes the Orthodox shtiebls in North Hollywood, the Conservative Adat Ari El, and Assembly District 40, occupied by powerhouse Bob Hertzberg, the vote went for Katz. To the east, in an area previously known as the “sleeping giant” and including Assembly District 39, now occupied by Tony Cardenas, the vote went to Alarcon.

With only 33 votes between them, it’s clear to see what the new Latino activism means: Los Angeles voters, like those of many urban areas undergoing volcanic ethnic upheavals, are voting in enclaves. The candidate who brings more of his enclave to the table wins.

Is this harsh? It is true that Congressman Howard Berman handily won 61 percent of the vote against Raul Godinez II, mayor of the city of San Fernando, in a congressional district that nests in the upper reaches of Senate District 20. (This same district contains Berman’s congressional seat plus the 39th and 40th Assembly district seats.) But Berman was one of 12 California representatives whose seats were targeted by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute for having at least 20 percent of eligible voters who are Latino. In Berman’s district, the voting-age population of Latinos is at least 46.9 percent. Berman told me that longtime Hispanic voters remained with him. But with first-time voters, he still had work to do.

“The Latino political role is growing, and it is focused,” says the man who helped grow and focus Jewish representation in California politics over 30 years. “It’s a formidable block.”

Which brings us to the Katz/Alarcon race.

Katz is, after 16 years in Sacramento, the more impressive political presence. He masterminded the Democrats’ recapture of the Assembly in 1996, and he authored the legislation that merged Southern California’s two largest mass transit districts.

By contrast, Alarcon (pictured above) may be (to quote L.A. Weekly) one who has left few tracks on civic life. But, as the councilman himself told a Jewish Federation Council debate, he has one asset: timing. This year, the Hispanic political caucus, led by state Sen. Richard Polanco (attempting to shore up support in his own fight to replace Senate leader John Burton), had the money, the experience and the well-oiled machine for Alarcon to ride.

On election day, the Polanco/Alarcon get-out-the-vote drive was nearly 1,000 strong. The numbers tell the story: The precincts east of the freeway outpolled those of the west by 317 votes.

And so today, Katz and Alarcon are 33 votes apart.

What comes next? For years, it was an article of faith that Latinos stay home on election day. That faith is no more.

Bill Mabie, chief aide to Polanco, told me, “I thought to myself, ‘What are they so laid-back about?'” referring to Katz’s camp. “We had a tremendous mobilization. They did not.”

Katz is angry that this election ultimately turned not on the candidacy of Alarcon but on help, and a last-minute infusion of $180,000 from Polanco’s Latino Political Action Committee.

Howard Welinsky, incoming chair of the Jewish Community Relations Commission, said that the problem is compounded because “the Jewish community does not support our own the way we used to.” Faced with a potentially divisive campaign, the best that some Jewish leaders could do was urge their Latino colleagues to stand in silence.

But such friendships didn’t help Richard Katz. The Katz/Alarcon race makes clear that we who live in our own enclaves may have to work harder to reach out.