Tom Lantos’ widow backs Holocaust insurance bill

Tom Lantos’ widow called on Congress to pass legislation that would allow Holocaust survivors to pursue civil action against insurance companies.

Lantos (D-Calif.), the chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee when he died in 2008, “believed that efforts to negotiate comprehensive settlements for those cheated by the insurance companies had failed to adequately meet the test of fairness and success,” Annette Lantos wrote in Politico on Wednesday, the same day the Senate Judiciary Committee met to consider the latest iteration of such a bill.

Lantos expressed support for the bill in 2007, but sources close to the congressman at the time said he saw it as problematic and blocked it from moving out of the committee to the House floor.

The effort to pass the current version is being led in the U.S. House of Representatives by Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Lantos’ successor as committee chairwoman, and Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), and by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) in the Senate.

Holocaust survivor groups have championed the legislation.

Opponents, including a number of national Jewish groups and the Obama administration, say the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims process may still consider claims despite being shuttered in 2007.

Backers of the bill counter that the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims process was inadequate and allowed the insurance companies too much leeway to reject claims.

Some opponents also say the bill usurps executive branch primacy in determining foreign policy and would upend delicate negotiations with a number of European governments, casting a shadow over ongoing efforts to extract more compensation from the governments.

Ros-Lehtinen and other supporters counter that the legislation simply allows fair access to the courts, and has no bearing on other negotiations, an argument echoed by Annette Lantos in her Poltico op-ed.

“Our concern should not be to ensure ‘legal peace’ or ‘closure’ for the behemoth German, Italian, Swiss, and French insurance companies like Allianz, Munich Re, Assicurazioni Generali, Zurich, Swiss Re and AXA, that have refused to honor billions of dollars of unpaid Jewish policies,” she wrote. “They are not deserving of our sympathy.”

Also addressed at Wednesday’s hearings was a bill that would strip “sovereign immunity” from foreign entities, allowing lawsuits to be filed against SNCF, the French railroad that transported thousands of Jews to their deaths.

Witnesses included Leo Bretholz a, a Holocaust survivor.

“This year marks the 70th anniversary of the first SNCF transports from Drancy toward Nazi death camps, yet I still remember the haunting night I jumped from an SNCF train bound for Auschwitz as if it was yesterday,” he said in prepared testimony. “As my 92nd birthday approaches, I only hope that the many dedicated lawmakers who have worked so diligently to move this legislation forward will redouble their efforts to pass this legislation during this Congress.”

Rep. Ackerman introduces Shalit resolution

U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) introduced a resolution calling for the immediate and unconditional release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

Tuesday’s resolution is Ackerman’s third calling for Shalit’s release. He introduced similar measures in March 2007 and June 2010 during previous Congresses. Next week will mark five years since Shalit was captured by Hamas in a cross-border raid.

“I think it is absolutely essential that the United States keep faith with our Israeli allies and stand with them in calling for the immediate release of IDF Cpl. Gilad Shalit,” Ackerman said in a statement. “The terrorists in Hamas, it should be recalled, snuck into Israel proper and attacked a group of IDF soldiers for the purpose of kidnapping Cpl. Shalit in order to hold him hostage.”

Ackerman, a member of the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, has met with Shalit’s family in Israel, Washington and New York.

“Hamas’ stooges can say whatever they want about this blood-soaked bunch of terrorists, but their behavior, in the form of unrelenting violence against Israeli civilians and the disgusting anti-Semitism they spew, shows their true beliefs and their real values,” Ackerman said. “Congress must stand with Israel in calling for Cpl. Shalit’s immediate and unconditional release, and I expect many of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support this resolution and call for its consideration and adoption by the House.”

Wiener, plagued by photo flap, skips Celebrate Israel Parade

U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner skipped the Celebrate Israel Parade in New York as reports emerged of a second illicit Internet interaction.

Weiner (D-N.Y.), who is Jewish and one of the most ardent supporters of Israel in Congress, is usually a reliable appearance at the annual parade and other Israel-related events.

He canceled all appearances this weekend, however, apparently laying low after a lewd photo was sent last week from his Twitter account to a 21-year-old college student in Seattle, Wash.

Weiner has said his Twitter account was hacked, and he deleted the photo almost as soon as it appeared. The student has denied any interaction with the congressman.

Weiner has said also that he cannot say “with certitude” if the picture is of him.

Andrew Breitbart, a conservative provocatuer, said Monday that he had evidence of other Internet interactions with women. By midday, Breitbart had posted two inoffensive pictures that Weiner apparently had taken of himself.

Rep. Giffords to attend husband’s shuttle launch

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head in January, will attend the space shuttle launch captained by her husband.

Giffords (D-Ariz.) was given the go-ahead by her doctors to attend the launch, her husband Mark Kelly said in a CBS interview broadcast Monday.

Kelly, will command the final flight of the space shuttle Endeavor, which is scheduled to lift off from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on April 29.

Giffords, the first Jewish congresswoman elected from Arizona, is in a recovery facility in Houston. The third-term Democrat was shot in the head on Jan. 8 as she met with constituents in Tucson, Ariz.; six people were killed.

Giffords will be joined by family members, friends, aides and health workers, the New York Times reported. President Obama and his family are also scheduled to attend. Giffords will watch the launching in a restricted area.

A portion of Giffords’ skull that was removed to relieve pressure from brain swelling had not yet been replaced, but her doctors believe she can travel safely. She will return to the Houston facility shortly after the launch, according to the New York Times.

Ex-Rep. John Adler of New Jersey dies

John Adler, a former New Jersey congressman, has died.

Adler, 51, died Monday of complications from a staph infection, the Asbury Park Press reported.

Adler, who was Jewish, had a long career in Democratic state politics when he won a swing seat in southern New Jersey in his party’s 2008 sweep of the U.S. House of Representatives. Two years later he was ousted in a close election by the Republican candidate Jon Runyan, a former offensive lineman for the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles.

Adler, among the first candidates in 2008 to endorse Barack Obama, later got flak from Orthodox Jews in the affluent town of Cherry Hill who believed that Obama had turned on Israel.

Rep. Barney Frank will run for 17th term

U.S. Rep. Barney Frank pledged to run in 2012 for his 17th term.

“While I would have preferred to put off a discussion about the next election until a later date, I have been asked on a number of occasions about my plans,” Frank (D-Mass.), one of the most senior Jewish members of the House of Representatives, said in a statement Thursday. “In addition, I have become convinced that making my decision to run for re-election known is important for maximizing the impact I can have on the range of issues to which I am committed.”

Speculation about Frank’s future had arisen in his home state because Massachusetts is likely to lose a congressional seat in 2011 redistricting because its population growth is slower than in other states, and because Frank was said to be chafing at the loss of his powerful chairmanship of the Banking Committee now that the Democrats have lost the House.

In his statement, Frank said his priorities would be to protect the banking reforms he passed in the last Congress and to reduce defense spending.

Frank has been elected to Congress by wide margins since 1980.

U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor: Take Israel out of foreign aid

A Republican Congress would seek to remove funding for Israel from the foreign operations budget, a GOP leader said.

U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor, the Republican whip and the only Jewish Republican in the House of Representatives, told JTA that a GOP-led House would seek to defund nations that do not share U.S. interests, even if it meant rejecting the president’s foreign operations budget.

Cantor, of Virginia, said he wants to protect funding for Israel should that situation arise.

“Part of the dilemma is that Israel has been put in the overall foreign aid looping,” he said when asked about the increasing tendency of Republicans in recent years to vote against foreign operations appropriations. “I’m hoping we can see some kind of separation in terms of tax dollars going to Israel.”

Cantor’s statement was a sign that the Republican leadership was ready to defer to the party’s right wing on this matter. Some on the GOP right have suggested including Israel aid in the defense budget, and a number of Tea Party-backed candidates have said they would vote against what is known in Congress as “foreign ops.”

However, until now at least, the GOP leadership has backed deferring to the executive branch when it comes to foreign spending, albeit after it has completed budgetary negotiations with the Congress.

The GOP looks set to win at least the House in the upcoming Nov. 2 elections, partly because of the recent surge in conservative activism.

The pro-Israel community has always backed the president’s final foreign aid budget as a whole and strongly resisted proposals to separate funding for Israel for a number of reasons.

Among them, pro-Israel activists see aid for Israel as inextricably bound with the broader interest of countering isolationism; elevating Israel above other nations might be counterproductive in an American electorate still made up of diverse ethnic groups; and such a designation would make Israel more beholden to U.S. policy and erode its independence.

Pro-Israel officials before the interview with Cantor had told JTA that the priority in January would be making the case to newly elected Republicans for backing a holistic foreign assistance package.

Henry Waxman: In his own words

What makes Waxman run?  

Earlier today, Rep. Henry Waxman defeated Congressman John Dingell for Chairmanship of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. 

The Westside Democrat, who is 69, now assumes a key role in pushing for greater government action on environmental issues like global warming. 

Two years ago in The Los Angeles Jewish Journal, Waxman reflected on the values and traditions that shaped his political career:

This piece is excerpted from remarks Rep. Henry Waxman gave at Carmen and Louis Warschaw Distinguished Lecture delivered at USC April 23.

What drew me to politics was the esteem I had always felt for public service and the commitment of our religious values to justice, human and civil rights, peace and the importance of helping all people be able to realize their full potential. And, of course, the essential task for our nation to be engaged in the world as a force for good.

As a Jewish congressman, I have been mindful that even in America, there have only been 157 Jews who have ever served in the House of Representatives; that I was the first Jew ever to have been elected from Southern California and the first in California in 40 years when I was elected in 1974. Today, we have 24 Jewish members, many from districts with very few Jewish constituents and seven from Southern California.

I am proud to have played a role as a congressman in events that impacted the Jewish people. My wife, Janet and I were in Egypt and Israel when, after meeting with both President [Anwar] Sadat and Prime Minister [Menachem] Begin, Sadat came to Jerusalem. We sat is amazement as we heard his speech in the Knesset. We fought for the freedom of Soviet Jews, visited Refuseniks, pressured Soviet leaders, and saw the doors open to allow them to leave. Janet was an instrumental player in the efforts to help Syrian Jews leave. We were in Israel as the airlift of Ethiopians arrived in Israel. I was able to attend the White House ceremonies for the Camp David accords between Israel and Egypt, the signings of the ill-fated Oslo agreement between Arafat and Rabin; the dinner in honor of diplomatic relations between Israel and Jordan. Last August, we were in Israel as it undertook the difficult disengagement from the Gaza.

While I have always had a strong Jewish identity, only as an adult have I explored more deeply the Jewish religion. The Jewish way is to have us elevate ourselves and refine our character through the observance of mitzvot. Judaism is much more about acting and doing the right thing, rather than believing the right things. Ethics is at Judaism’s core. God’s primary concern is not that we mindlessly follow ritual, but act decently. Ritual is to help us do that.

Actions and how we live our lives and treat others is at the heart of the matter. To aid us along these lines, we have specific obligations. Tzedakah, which means righteousness, not charity, helps bring justice to others and sanctity to ourselves. The discipline of kashrut raises the most mundane of routine acts into a religious reminder that we are distinctive and the mere physical satisfaction of our appetite can be a spiritual act. Shabbat gives sanctity to time to refresh our body and our soul. It has great meaning for me primarily to remind me, no matter how important I may or am supposed to be, the world can get along without me quite well for one day. It puts a lot of things into perspective.

Jewish observance is a check on our arrogance, self-importance, rationalizations to do what we want. We are required to fulfill the ethical commands and to choose to overcome our natural inclinations that are not worthy.

I have looked at the issue of governmental power in a similar way. Our U.S. Constitution tries to put in place a mechanism for checks and balances because our founders did not trust the concentration of power and the arrogance and corruption that can come with it. By the way, Jewish sources also resist an absolute power structure. Rabbi Joseph Soleveitchik referred to a well-known axiom that power tends to corrupt the one who wields it. The noblest, best-intentioned ruler is affected by the glory, tribute, and power of his office. This may cause him to step over the boundary of legitimate authority. The human ego is likely to be distorted and intoxicated by a status, which has no external limits.

For the last six years, we’ve essentially had one-party rule in Washington. And for the last decade, the Republican congressional leadership has governed with the idea that the most important job for them was to keep the Republicans together instead of trying to seek bipartisanship.

Next week, the Republicans will put forth a bill in the House for lobbying reform, in response to the convictions of Duke Cunningham, and the indictments and convictions of a number of staff people around Tom Delay, who also has been indicted. The problem runs far deeper than can be cured by superficial reform. The problem starts not with lobbyists, but with Congress itself.

Look at the Medicare prescription drug bill. Negotiations were behind closed doors; Democrats excluded. Key estimates about the bill’s costs were withheld by a government official who was told he would be fired if he disclosed the information. Two key negotiators ended up working for the drug companies after the bill passed. And when the bill was short of votes on the House floor, the 15-minute roll call was extended to three hours. A Republican member was offered a bribe to vote for it. Now, seniors are trying to make sense of the law and how it affects them, while the drug and insurance companies are coming out the big winners, as the legislation is projected to cost billions more than originally thought.

What about our checks and balances? What about self restraint and ethical guidelines? It is as if recklessness is invited because some leaders do not think they will be held accountable.

Oversight is important, and if done right it can find the truth and bring real change.

At the same time the Congress is refusing to do oversight, the Bush administration acted, even before Sept. 11, 200l, with greater secrecy than any other in history, exceeding even Richard Nixon’s.

Last year, Congressional Quarterly, the nonpartisan magazine reported that:

“Administration secrecy has become the rule rather than the exception, a phenomenon that lawmakers, journalists, public interest groups and even ordinary Americans say has interfered with their ability to participate in government and to hold it accountable for its actions.”

Congressional Quarterly went on to note that some of the documents the administration has withheld seem to have little to do with the war on terrorism and a lot to do with keeping embarrassing information from the public.

There’s no doubt that some things must be kept secret. Our national security demands some information must be kept secret for the good of all. But what we have here is an obsession for secrecy.

Think about the secrets that we now know about: the wiretapping of Americans; a network of foreign prisons; information about detainees at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, Sept. 11 documents proving that the White House had been warned abut the use of hijacked airplanes as weapons

I do not intend to be partisan. But I do believe that the leadership of our government in both Congress and the Executive Branch has turned away from core values we have as Americans and as Jews.

The Journal’s Raphael J. Sonenshein profiled Waxman — ‘the Democrats’ Elliot Ness’ — last year:

The sweeping Democratic congressional victories in 2006 have not translated into the kind of oversight many voters had hoped for. In particular, the SenateJudiciary Committee has been notably unable to penetrate the Iron Curtain of Justice Department resistance.

The Bush administration has figured out it can derail the traditional hearing process by simply refusing to cooperate at all, by withholding all relevant documents or either not showing up at hearings, and if there, having nothing interesting to say. White-maned senators, who look like they were sent from Central Casting to play the part of “outraged representatives,” are reduced to rolling their eyes when witnesses “do not recall.”

Without the facts being handed to them on a silver platter, the senators seem inclined to weakly extend deadlines for cooperation or just give up. How can we do oversight, they ask, if the White House won’t help us?

There is another path to oversight, though, and its model has been developed by a 68-year-old Jewish congressman from the Westside of Los Angeles named Henry Waxman. But it takes a lot more work than the standard model.

With a hostile president, even a Democratic majority in Congress cannot legislate. But it can do oversight, and in the long run, oversight creates a constituency for legislation. Oversight is about information and public education.

In fact, Waxman already did more oversight while in the minority than many Democrats have been able to accomplish with the majority. Back in 2005, David Corn wrote in the Nation magazine that Democrats considered Waxman to be their “Eliot Ness,” and that many members wished the rest of the party would adopt his approach.

The standard oversight model is the congressional hearing. But hearings are not good vehicles to gather information, and they do not work as public education without some effort and creativity. Senators who think they are one great question away from breaking the case wide open and getting their names into the history books instead find themselves drawn into obscure debates with uncooperative witnesses, which leave the public baffled or indifferent. It’s doubtful that anyone will repeat Sen. Howard Baker’s memorable Watergate line: “What did the president know, and when did he know it?” So why bother trying?

A hallmark of Waxman’s work as chairman of the incomparable House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (which, Waxman notes, allows him to poke into “everything”) is that his staff does the legwork before hearings are held. Before the 2006 elections brought him into the majority, Waxman used his minority position on the committee to establish an investigative staff. He has used his staff even more effectively in the majority.

Majority staff reports on a wide array of topics are made available to the media in an accessible format. There is usually a “hook” that fosters active media coverage. For instance, in 2004 he issued a staff report listing “237 misleading statements” by Bush administration officials about Iraq.

The groundwork for the issue is defined by Waxman, and the baseline information does not depend on cooperative witnesses. These reports, covering a vast array of urgent topics, make for good reading on his committee Website. The Web site also includes a “whistleblower hotline.” The hearings then add to the data and even add some drama.

Once the report is issued, hostile witnesses have an incentive to appear before the committee to do damage control. That is why Blackwater’s founder had to testify following a blistering and well-publicized staff report that investigated the company’s activities in Iraq. Waxman knows how to run a dramatic hearing, as shown by the famous day in 1994 when he got tobacco executives to raise their hands and commit perjury about the effects of smoking.

Waxman’s latest foray into Blackwater suggests that if he keeps pulling that thread, he may bring home to the public the scope and impact of the private war the taxpayers have been financing in Iraq. That’s what congressional investigations are supposed to do.

He is worrisome enough to Republicans that one California congressman, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), issued a veiled threat: “If Henry Waxman today wants to go to Iraq and do an investigation, Blackwater will be his support team. His protection team. Do you think he really wants to investigate directly?”

Waxman is easy to underestimate. He is obviously not a member of the Washington society A list. He is known for never having attended the Academy Awards in his hometown. After the 2006 elections, he told Time magazine, “It’s such a long night. When I watch it on TV, I can get a snack.”

Those who know Waxman’s political history, however, are not surprised that he is tenacious and effective. While Waxman is very idealistic about how government should work and is not a Beltway shmoozer, he is a sophisticated political practitioner.

Before he won a seat in Congress in 1974, Waxman was a young Democratic activist during the heyday of Democrats in California politics. He upset an incumbent to win election to the state Assembly in 1968. He and his close ally (and, after 1982, fellow congressman) Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys) pieced together one of the few successful political organizations in Los Angeles political history.

Labeled the Waxman-Berman “machine” (which was undoubtedly an overstatement encouraged by the lack of such organizations in California), their combine backed numerous candidates for the state Legislature and other offices. They nurtured the early career of Zev Yaroslavsky.

Waxman and Berman were effective campaign organizers and team builders. They were at the center of a loyal group of elected officials, many of whom were Jewish politicians on the Westside; others were African Americans and Latinos.

So as Democrats struggle to define their role of congressional majority facing a hostile White House, they would do well to consider that neither the White House nor the mass media will do their work for them. If they want to see how it is done, they would be well served to ask the West Los Angeles expert.

Wellstone — One of the ‘Frozen Chosen’

As Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) began campaigning for a third term, some pro-Israel activists tried to generate support for his opponent by whispering that the two-term incumbent was insufficiently supportive of Israel. But in almost every respect Wellstone, who died in the crash of his campaign plane in remote northern Minnesota last week en route to a funeral, was more representative of the Jewish political tradition than almost anyone else in political life.

Wellstone, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants, was a bleeding-heart liberal in the best sense of the phrase. He genuinely cared about the nation’s most vulnerable citizens; he put social justice and civil rights ahead of almost every other consideration during his 12 years in the Senate.

Defying the anti-government mood that has even crept into Democratic circles, he made the case for active, creative, compassionate government intervention to elevate the poor, treat the sick and protect the vulnerable. Many Democratic colleagues had come to fear the taint of the liberal label; Wellstone wore it as a badge of honor. He did it with humor and grace and a lack of the humbug that seems to infect even politicians who come to Washington as self-proclaimed populists.

He often appeared at public events in a dark T-shirt, not the camera-ready jacket-and-tie ensembles chosen with the TV lights in mind. He was forever rumpled, forever looking like an energetic-but-distracted college professor who had consumed too much caffeine and too many ideas.

He looked — there’s no other way to put this — totally Jewish. Wellstone looked like a guy at the corner deli in Brooklyn, arguing politics with a thoroughly Jewish zest. His unabashed ethnicity was all the more amazing because he represented the land of Garrison Keillor’s Norwegian bachelor farmers — an overwhelmingly Lutheran state where the Jewish population is a measly .4 percent and the favored political style is Scandinavian deadpan.

He used to refer to himself as one of the "Frozen Chosen."

He was one of the most regular attendees of the Capitol Hill events sponsored by American Friends of Lubavitch.

"Disagreement never led to disrespect with Paul," said Rabbi Levi Shemtov, the group’s Washington director. "He and I agreed on very little, politically, but he was always extremely polite, courteous and respectful. He had a real respect for Jewish things. He was a real mensch."

Wellstone’s office even looked like the office of a quirky, widely read college professor — which is what he was before his quixotic Senate victory in 1990. His inner office looked like a used bookstore; it smelled of musty pages, not political testosterone.

Wellstone did not wear his religion on his sleeve, but he made it clear to friends over the years that his Judaism was an essential element in his compassionate liberalism.

"He was motivated by fundamental values and was a brilliant advocate for his beliefs, " said Hannah Rosenthal, executive vice-chair of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. As a Midwest political activist and then an official of the Clinton administration, Rosenthal worked with Wellstone throughout his Senate career. "He was proud that those beliefs were motivated by the prophetic values of Judaism. As the son of Russian Jewish immigrants, he believed in the strength and beauty of American democracy."

When he came back to Washington more than a decade ago — he was raised in suburban Arlington, Va., just across the Potomac — he sometimes seemed more interested in being a liberal gadfly than in leaving his imprint on legislation, a process that requires compromise and ability to forge bipartisan coalitions.

But even political detractors say Wellstone quickly shifted gears, reaching out across partisan and ideological lines to make a difference on the issues he cared about: health care, the environment, abortion, gay and civil rights.

His consistency was impressive in a city where deeply held views often last only until the next public opinion survey. He voted against the 1991 Gulf War resolution, and he voted against a similar resolution a few weeks ago, despite predictions that it would hurt his re-election bid against former St. Paul Mayor Norman Coleman — another Jew.

It didn’t; polls showed that his stand was part of the reason he had reclaimed the lead in the tight race. But that didn’t seem to matter to Wellstone; he was against a preemptive, unilateral war, case closed.

He remained a reliable supporter of Israel, but he didn’t vote the straight party line — just as he didn’t vote the straight party line when it came to domestic matters. He strongly supported an active U.S. role in Mideast peacemaking, something that didn’t always endear him to pro-Israel lobbyists, but was consistent with mainstream Jewish thinking. He supported a congressional resolution of solidarity with Israel earlier this year but insisted that, "I don’t think it should be viewed as an open-ended endorsement of the policies of the Sharon government."

He was passionate about the issues that drove him into politics, and he was passionate about his job — so much so that he violated his promise to seek only two terms.

Wellstone was buried as a Jew this week; he will be remembered for living a life that reflected the best in Jewish political activism.

Better Future Tied to Secession

For decades, hard-working, committed citizens have been struggling to break the Valley free from remote politicians and uncaring bureaucrats, whose interests are focused on downtown interests with downtown influence. If we are successful, Valley independence will provide a more representative and more accountable government for all Los Angeles residents.

Declines in public safety, after-school programs, health care, education, transportation and the loss of middle-class jobs have contributed to the Valley’s sinking quality of life. Valley leaders have been trying in vain to get the attention of the downtown interests for many of these local problems.

Throughout the East San Fernando Valley, there are unpaved and unlighted streets. Crime throughout Los Angeles is increasing and murders in the Valley have increased 80 percent. In the northwest Valley’s Devonshire Division, as few as nine police cars patrol at night, with only 14 cars covering the peak activity periods.

Valley residents know that some areas of Los Angeles have nearly twice as many officers assigned to them per thousand residents. This inadequate deployment explains why police response times to emergency calls in the Valley are 18 percent slower than in the City of Los Angeles as a whole. Indeed, in many neighboring cities, police response times to emergency calls are nearly half those experienced in the Valley.

Roads and public safety are not the only examples of misplaced priorities and bureaucratic bloat. The Local Agency Formation Commission report proving the financial health of an independent Valley city and the remaining part of Los Angeles confirms that the city currently spends $1,350 per resident per year, about $250 more than the average amount spent by Phoenix, San Diego and other cities the size of the proposed Valley city.

That extra $250 per person a year is bureaucratic fat that could be eliminated with a modest amount of municipal belt-tightening. Such fiscal discipline would save about $350 million for the Valley city and could save $575 million for the remaining part of Los Angeles.

Numerous academic studies prove that budget bloat is merely a function of government size. Economists call it "diseconomies of scale." By reducing the size of government agencies, they become more efficient and better spend their resources to meet local needs.

This would be especially true if the new Valley city adopts a small, locally accountable borough system as part of its municipal charter. But if the downtown interests defeat Valley independence, there will be no real fiscal reform for any part of the city. They will see the defeat of Valley independence as validation of business as usual.

Until just recently, our voices have been drowned out by the din of continuing controversy and neglect of misplaced priorities. After ignoring the Valley’s needs for years, the downtown power brokers have finally realized that we’re serious about making real change. So, finally, they’re telling us what they think we want to hear. They’re making us promises, saying anything they can to keep us from leaving.

Now, the downtown interests are spreading fear and sowing doubt. Their focus is on generating fear — telling us "the sky is falling" — protecting their bureaucracies, maintaining their own power and preserving the status quo. But we know better. They can’t make up for decades of neglect with a few months of political rhetoric. We can see through their smoke and mirrors.

We know that a new San Fernando Valley city will work financially and be more efficient and effective than the sprawling megalopolis of Los Angeles. And we know we can put in place a local government that will be more responsive and accountable to the people of the San Fernando Valley. We know that there will be better opportunities for public participation in two smaller cities.

When Los Angeles voters take the time to study the Valley independence issue, they will find solid evidence that Valley independence provides opportunities for a better future in both the Valley and the rest of Los Angeles. About 40 percent of the Valley’s population is Latino, giving Latino leaders an unparalleled opportunity to represent their community, develop their skills and move up the political ladder.

For residents in the remaining parts of Los Angeles, Valley independence would allow elected officials to focus on settling the persistent turmoil and meeting the many needs of a growing population. With Valley leaders taking care of Valley problems, there will be more time, energy and resources to address the crime, transportation, economic development, environmental and quality-of-life issues that continue to plague the rest of Los Angeles.

Valley independence is all about accountability, local control, self-determination and opportunity for a better future for all Los Angeles residents and their families. Jewish voters understand these important principles.

All Los Angeles residents deserve a government that’s accountable, a government that’s efficient, a government that’s responsive to their needs and supports a better quality of life. Valley independence is the catalyst for that overdue change.

The Contender

It is three weeks before Election Day. Doctor and candidate Sid Gold sits in a booth at Jerry’s Famous Deli in Woodland Hills and orders a large breakfast. He looks like he could use refueling. The 57-year-old father of four is running a difficult campaign against Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon for the 25th Congressional District, and already on this Sunday morning he has been up walking precincts in North Hills and Sepulveda.

“I think there’s been a disconnect between people and their elected representatives, that they don’t care, that once they’re elected the only thing they care about is lobbyists and big money. The individual gets lost,” Gold said. “As a doctor, I deal with people one at a time, and that is the focus I want to bring as a representative.”

The 25th District encompasses the Santa Clarita Valley, Antelope Valley and the northeast part of the San Fernando Valley, which includes the communities of Granada Hills, Northridge, Sepulveda and North Hills. While not as “Jewish” demographically as the West Valley or the North Hollywood/Van Nuys area, it is attracting more and more families owing to the district’s affordable housing and easy freeway access. The district has long been a Republican stronghold; prior to McKeon, parts of the district (which was reapportioned following the 1990 census) were overseen by Rep. Bobbi Fiedler and current House member Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley).

Gold hopes to change that reputation.

“There’s already a shift going on as more young, married couples move out here,” he said. “We’ve registered 200 new Democrats in the Antelope Valley alone. There are many differences between the two parties, and that’s going to come out in this election.”

A naturalized citizen born in Canada, Gold has lived in Granada Hills for 25 years and prior to that in North Hills. He is employed by Kaiser Permanente as the assistant chief of psychiatry for the Valley service area. He has served as president of the District 17 region of the Los Angeles Medical Association and was chosen to be a delegate to the California Medical Association and the American Medical Association. He has strong ties to the Jewish community in the San Fernando Valley, having served on the executive boards of The Jewish Federation Valley Alliance and of Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School. He currently participates in The Valley Alliance’s planning and allocations committee. His endorsements include California Democrats such as Rep. Brad Sherman, State Assembly Speaker Robert Hertzberg and Speaker Emeritus Antonio Villaraigosa, as well as Gov. Gray Davis.

Gold feels the Jewish community’s interests have not been supported by McKeon, whom he accuses of insensitivity in the wake of the shootings at the North Valley Jewish Community Center last year.

“His response to the victims was pathetic. He was on vacation at the time but did not send representatives to any of the rallies or meetings,” Gold said, adding that McKeon’s opposition to hate crimes legislation also showed his lack of interest in the Jewish community. “The Republicans have been sitting on the hate crimes bill. The argument is that a crime is a crime is a crime. To me, a hate crime is an attack on the Constitution and should be treated as something special.”

The contender also accused the congressman of not being strong on backing Israel. However, McKeon said that he disagreed with President Clinton’s abstention from the United Nations resolution condemning Israel earlier this month, saying the U.S. should have exercised its veto power.

McKeon also disagreed strongly with Gold’s assessment of his record on the Middle East, pointing out that he had voted for funds to implement the Wye River Accords.

“Our government should encourage both sides to come to the table to discuss peace, as well as provide financial assistance to implement any peace agreement,” McKeon said. “However, I do not agree with the Clinton-Gore administration’s tactics in pressuring Israel to give up lands that it believes necessary for its security. I’ve stood on the Golan Heights. It’s a small area. Israel needs some real estate to provide it with security.”

As for the hate crimes legislation, McKeon said he believed the proposed expansion of hate crimes laws unnecessary, calling them “a legislative press release.”

“The North Valley Jewish Community Center shooting was committed in a state that already has a tough state hate crimes statute, and that certainly didn’t deter the shooter,” he said. “The defendant in that shooting is already facing the death penalty. We can’t get any tougher on him than that, with or without an expanded hate crimes law.”

McKeon also disagreed with Gold’s statement that he was not responsive enough to issues important to the people of his district. He pointed to his record on recent bills he co-authored, including the Higher Education Act Amendment of 1998, which cut the student loan interest rate to its lowest level in 17 years, and the Work Force Investment Act, which provided jobless Americans with a voucher to use to obtain the job-training services of their choice.

“I have always voted as I saw fit,” McKeon contends. “My opponent is simply unhappy that I haven’t supported liberal, big government programs that trust bureaucracies rather than trust people. The fact that I have been reelected every two years [since 1992] indicates that the people of my district don’t have a big problem with the way I vote.”

Though active in the North Valley Democratic Club, Gold has never held public office. His hope is that his personal experience with two of the most important issues in this election, education and health care, may help draw much-needed attention to his campaign.

“As a doctor, I am very concerned that there are 45 million uninsured people in the United States,” he said. “As a country, it is not viable to have so many people at risk with their health status.

“The number one issue, however, is education. The federal government contributes only about 7 or 8 percent to schools and I think we can enhance the rolls and enhance teacher’s salaries. We do not want to continue with a situation like we have here in Los Angeles, with so many uncredentialed teachers.”