Diversity lost


Forgive me for going on about this. I keep promising myself I’ll stop being outraged, turn off the radio and stop reading the papers. But if you’ll permit me one more question here:

Whatever happened to the Democrats being the party of tolerance and diversity?

These days, it’s gotten so people are afraid to say they still support Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y). They wait till they know if you’re a comrade before they say anything at all, and even then, they lower their voice and lean closer, as if confessing to some tell-tale mark of moral depravity, some innate but previously undetected propensity for corruption and vice and — God forbid — ambition.

She’s shameless she’ll stop at nothing to win she’s destroying the party Bill has lost it he’s playing the race card she should just go away and let Obama win.

All this from fellow Democrats, and I’m standing there thinking, Al Sharpton is threatening marches and demonstrations throughout the country if Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) doesn’t get the nomination. African American superdelegates who had pledged support to Hillary months ago and haven’t changed their mind are getting threatening messages from anonymous Obama supporters, something like 90 percent of the African American vote is for Obama and we blame Bill and Hillary — up until recently embraced by the African American community, Bill having been called “our first black president” by Toni Morrison — for bringing race into the equation?

Something like 14 million Democrats have voted for Hillary, given her their time and money, placed in her candidacy so many of their hopes and aspirations, and yet we blame her for the fact that the primaries have taken as long as they have?

If we have to find someone to blame, why not blame the Democratic Party’s proportional system? Michigan and Florida for breaking rules and being made to sit in a corner? Hell, why not blame Obama for getting into the race in the first place? Or the superdelegates who won’t declare themselves until they’re good and sure which side their bread is buttered on?

The notion that Hillary (or anyone else, for that matter, who still has the resources and the stamina and the faith to stay in the race) should just “go away” so that another candidate can coast to victory smacks of a sense of entitlement that, I dare say, is more suitable to a monarchical system than a democratic one. So does the argument that Obama’s record or abilities should not be scrutinized, held to the same high or low standards as those of other candidates throughout history. He’s been called a “unifier” and a “post-racial” candidate, and whatever little chink has appeared in his glossy image is being blamed on the fact that Hillary “just won’t go away.”

Are we electing a candidate based on his or her ability to lead the country, or are we crowning a king who looks good in pictures and who is above criticism, examination and challenge?

But the questions that have been raised about Obama in the past few weeks are ones that would have surfaced with time — during the primaries or the general elections. The fact that he became a phenomenon as quickly and unexpectedly as he did perhaps delayed the kind of scrutiny that other candidates are subjected to. But it seems to me that Obama supporters are doing exactly what Bush voters did in the last two elections: back him because he’s raised the most money; is likable and charming (I cringe when I say that, but there’s no accounting for taste); and promises them the world — No Child Left Behind, democracy in the Middle East, a permanent Republican majority.

True, there is a sense among young Democrats that Obama represents them better than an establishment candidate like Hillary. There’s equally a sense within the African American community that “our time has come.” Fair enough. They’re all entitled to their sentiments and entitled to support Obama as much as they want.

But by the same token, there is a sense among some of us woman folk in our 40s and 50s that our time has come, as well — that Hillary is the one female candidate with the brawn and the brain and the money and whatever else it takes to have a realistic chance at the presidency. That were she to lose — and I grant you, that seems more and more likely — there won’t be a female president in our lifetime. This may not seem like a big deal to our daughters’ generation, for whom women’s rights’ issues seem quaint. They’re energized by Obama’s message and the rock-star rallies. Fair enough. Go ahead and vote for him if you want, I say. Just don’t tell me that it’s OK to pick your candidate because he’s African American or young or a good speaker, but that it’s a betrayal of the party and a ruinous choice to pick her because she’s a woman who we believe is qualified.

Call me cynical, but I like Hillary in spite of the fact that she’s not Florence Nightingale. I think she’s as ethical or unethical as anyone else who has managed to navigate the treacherous waters leading to candidacy. On one level, I believe Gore Vidal when he said: “Any American who is prepared to run for president should automatically, by definition, be disqualified from ever doing so.” I think that applies as much to Hillary as it does to Obama or Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), that, again in the words of Vidal, “By the time a man gets to be presidential material, he’s been bought 10 times over.”

Yet, every time she’s attacked by the other Democrats in the media, every time a superdelegate previously pledged to her switches sides, every time New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson smirks into the camera and bashes Hillary in order to ride on Obama’s coattails (sorry, Bill, we all know the benefits of betting on a winner), anytime she digs her heels in and promises to keep going, I feel a sense of pride.

Here’s a woman who fights for what she wants to the bitter end; who doesn’t abandon her own dreams and the faith of people who have voted for her; who has the daring and the ambition to do what no other woman has been able to do in this country. And if that inconveniences anyone else — superdelegates, party bosses or Mr. Obama — it’s nothing that hasn’t been done, every election cycle in memory, by men.

Gina Nahai is an author and a professor of creative writing at USC. Her latest novel is “Caspian Rain” (MacAdam Cage, 2007). Her column appears monthly in The Journal.

Jews still have big role in changing L.A. political scene


It was not so long ago that Los Angeles City Hall and the Los Angeles Unified School District school board were filled with Jewish elected officials. The first winning Jewish
candidate of the 20th century, Rosalind Wiener (later Wyman) was elected to the council in 1953. From then on, Jews translated their high degree of political interest, disproportionate turnout at the polls and generally progressive politics into remarkable electoral success.

At one point, as many as one-third of the City Council members were Jewish. During the height of the school busing controversy in the late 1970s, the leadership of the anti-busing movement, as well as the most active whites in favor of busing, were Jewish and fought each other over school board seats.

Today, Jews remain a key constituency in Los Angeles politics and generate plenty of strong candidates. The dramatic rise of Latinos in local politics, though, has carved out another niche for minority candidates that once largely belonged to African Americans.

On the City Council, three seats (Districts 8, 9 and 10) are likely to remain African American for at least a while longer and then may shift toward Latinos. Another four (Districts 1, 6, 7 and 14) are likely to be Latino seats. Of the remaining eight seats, Jewish candidates have good chances to be elected but are only certain to be elected in one, the 5th District.

Jewish candidates also have an excellent chance at citywide races for mayor, controller and city attorney. On the school board, the Westside and Valley seats and maybe one more are still fair pickings for Jewish candidates.

The City Council’s 5th District stretches from the Fairfax district to Bel Air and Westwood on the Westside and into the near portions of the San Fernando Valley. It was Wyman’s seat, and then it fell to Ed Edelman, Zev Yaroslavsky, Mike Feuer and now Jack Weiss.

The 5th District is roughly one-third Jewish in a city with a 6 percent Jewish population. It regularly turns out the highest number of voters in city elections. (As one measure in the recent city elections, there were 185 precincts in the 5th District, compared to only 59 in the working-class Eastside 1st District. The more registered voters, the more precincts.) It has the highest level of education among the voters of any L.A. City Council district.

It’s a very tough seat to win, because there are so many strong Jewish candidates in the area. Those who win it have a good chance to move up. Edelman and Yaroslavsky became L.A. County supervisors. Feuer was nearly elected city attorney in 2001 and just won a state Assembly seat. Weiss has just announced his candidacy for city attorney in 2009. His candidacy opens up the 5th District seat in the same year.

Term limits in Los Angeles create the usual game of musical chairs. Until last year, all the elected officials were limited to two terms. In November, Measure R scrambled things by adding a term for City Council members, while leaving the three citywide offices at two terms. So Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Controller Laura Chick and City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo are all termed out in 2009.

City Council members who thought they would be termed out now have another term. Even with that extra council term, the citywide openings will draw some like Weiss to give up their seats to go for the gold. Chick is thinking of running for the 5th District seat, and the popular controller would be a strong candidate.

Weiss has collected the endorsements of two popular mayors, Villaraigosa and Richard Riordan. He is hoping to preempt major competition early on. A strong challenger would be Bob Hertzberg, who can draw on the Valley Jewish base, which outnumbers the Westside Jewish constituency.

The mayor’s endorsement may keep major Latino candidates out of the race, a relevant factor, given Delgadillo’s upset victory over Feuer, another 5th District City Council member with even more endorsements. Having endorsed Villaraigosa early in the mayoral campaign, Weiss earned that crucial mayoral support. Chick is closely allied with the mayor, having helped his campaign with tough investigations of former Mayor James Hahn and having formally endorsed him.

The school board elections offer another window into the changing Jewish role in Los Angeles. Jewish voters are immensely and intensely interested in public education, even when their children are grown or in private schools. As in the school busing controversy, Jews are on both sides of the power struggle between the school board and the mayor.

Marlene Canter, the school board president, has been the strongest critic of the mayor’s plan. David Tokofsky managed, sometimes narrowly, to hold onto his Eastside seat against Latino challengers but finally stepped down this year to be replaced by a mayor-endorsed Latina, Yolie Aguilar. At the same time, the mayor’s potential control of the school board likely comes down to a Jewish candidate endorsed by the mayor in the Valley’s 3rd District.

Incumbent Jon Lauritzen is being supported by the teachers union and is under heavy challenge from Tamar Galatzan, who is supported by the mayor’s reform coalition. Before joining the Los Angeles city attorney’s office, where she is a deputy city attorney, Galatzan was Western states associate counsel for the Anti-Defamation League. In the primary election, Galatzan outpolled the incumbent, 44 percent to 40 percent, setting up a tight race in the runoff.

So why are Jews on both sides of the school debate? Jews have long ties to the school board and to the teachers union. But on the other side, there is a long tradition of supporting reform in all its varieties, and Jewish voters provide the city’s most reliable bloc of pro-reform voting.

Valley Jews especially were friendly to Riordan, who has strongly backed Villaraigosa’s moves on education. And warm views of Villaraigosa himself, who has long cultivated the Jewish community, add to the mix. If Galatzan is elected, Villaraigosa will have his school board majority.

So as the rise of Latinos has moderately edged out the role of Jews in one way, the linkage to Villaraigosa (for Weiss, Chick and Galatzan) has brought Jews another advantage in a way akin to the Bradley alliance. This is, of course, typical of Los Angeles politics in that nobody makes it on their own anyway, but only in alliance with other groups.

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

Measure ‘R’ contains curious ‘reform’


On November’s ballot, tucked among the local measures affecting only Los Angeles, is curious Measure R, a plan by the Los Angeles City Council to provide each of the 15 council
members an extra $570,000 in pay, by my own estimate roughly $1.25 million in subsidized health care per person for life and an extra pension windfall per person worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Council President Eric Garcetti, as chair of the city Elections Committee, assigned the measure the letter “R” for “reform.” But critics — including retired Department of Neighborhood Empowerment chief Greg Nelson, city ethics commissioner and journalist Bill Boyarsky and the editorial boards of the Los Angeles Daily News and Los Angeles Times — call it something else: a sneaky way to loosen the accountability of our public officials.

And here’s the kicker: The “proof” that purports to demonstrate the measure’s effectiveness? It doesn’t exist.

On the ballot, Measure R will be described by proponents as a law that improves term limits and city ethics rules. Many voters will assume it’s a good idea, since it’s backed by the League of Women Voters and Chamber of Commerce.

In truth, Measure R wipes out the limit of eight years, allowing our existing crop of 15 council members — and all subsequent ones — to stay in office 12 years. (Voters can try ousting them earlier, but the history of such efforts is not encouraging.)

Measure R did not arise from citizens. In fact, polls show that Angelenos oppose efforts to soften term limits. Nor would voters seek to hand each of our current council members an additional $1 million to $2 million in pay and perks.

Only history will tell the tale of how Measure R really came to be. What is known, however, is this: It was proposed in vague outline by the chamber and league on a Friday. The council — which can take months just deciding the color of recycling bins — backed it the following Tuesday.

I’ve seen a lot of self-interested moves by politicians. One was the clever move in 1990 by the City Council, also peddled as “reform,” to forever tie their pay raises to those of Superior Court judges. As a result, every time overworked judges get a pay raise, so do the 15 council members. That’s why they earn $149,000, the highest-paid council members by far in a major U.S. city. (New York City, a far costlier place to live, pays its council members $90,000; San Francisco, another more expensive city in which to live, pays $91,000).

Although Measure R is touted as ethics reform, City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo and Ethics Commissioner Boyarsky — who is also a columnist for The Jewish Journal — have said it actually helps lobbyists cover their tracks.

Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce board member Ron Gastelum defended Measure R to me, saying the chamber and league proposed it because “it takes a council member the entire first term to really learn the business of the city,” and council members start running for other offices during their second term.

According to Gastelum, “after closely examining all these factors, we had to conclude that an additional term is needed.”

Except no “examination” happened. In an interview, Gastelum told me that neither the chamber nor league studied the achievements of legislative bodies limited to eight years, vs. those with 12. Moreover, they did not contact other cities or regions, nor did they define what “effectiveness” is.

Over the summer, league past president Cindy O’Connor admitted to the Tarzana Neighborhood Council that the league set up Measure R as “a carrot and stick.”

The carrot, she said, was their claim of an ethics crackdown. The stick, she said, was the unpopular term limits extension which could never pass alone.

Nelson says, “Measure R is really horrifying, because if you are lobbyist and you work on a contingency and don’t get paid until the issue you’re working on is over, you don’t, under this ‘reform,’ have to report that you are lobbying on the issue. So they are invisible! This is what Boyarsky and Delgadillo found unconscionable.”

Boyarsky, who cannot criticize Measure R because he is on the Ethics Commission, has nevertheless voiced extreme displeasure that it arose from backroom dealing and waters down city ethics laws.

“When I found out it eases regulations on lobbyists, I started asking all these questions of our [commission] staff,” he told me. “But that was all I could do. I am prohibited from criticizing ballot measures. My only consolation is I believe it’s going to lose.”

Would the City Council be more effective given 12 years instead of eight?
Nelson, who spent decades as an aide to fiery former Councilman Joel Wachs, says no.

“I realized it didn’t matter how much time council members have in office, the day I got this call from the Los Angeles Times,” he told me. About 15 years ago, before term limits, the newspaper asked Nelson to name the most important things the council had achieved that year.

“I couldn’t think of a single thing to put on a list for them,” he recalls. “The lesson is, given more time, the council is no more effective and no more interested in the big issues. I saw it firsthand.”

Jill Stewart is a syndicated political columnist. Her website is

Lieberman Facing Lose-Lose Proposition in Race


Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, the first Jewish candidate for vice president, is in a world of political trouble. Facing a tight race for the Democratic nomination from Ned
Lamont, he has already started to collect signatures to run as an independent, should he lose the primary on Aug. 8.

Lieberman’s friends say he is being scapegoated by the left for his brave foreign policy centrism and support of Israel. He is this generation’s Washington Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson, they suggest. And Jews, remembering the old foreign policy battles, should support him.

A Lieberman adviser said, “I find the behavior of a large segment of the Jewish community to be reprehensible and outrageous. When he’s in trouble like this, they all ought to rally to him.”

If this story line were true, a host of Jewish Democrats, centrist on foreign policy, such as Rep. Howard Berman (North Hollywood), Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) and Rep. Jane Harman (Venice), would be under just as much assault, and the party would be on the verge of civil war. They are all doing fine, although Harman did face a strong primary challenger whom she defeated.

And it’s not as if the Democrats have become a party of doves. Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) voted for the war and won the 2004 presidential nomination. Sen. Hillary Clinton (N.Y.) supported the war and still leads the field for 2008. Lieberman has received the support of the overwhelming share of Democratic officeholders and party leadership, so he’s hardly an isolated hero in the party’s ranks.
So why Lieberman?

Lieberman seems to genuinely like, admire, support and crave the approval of two men who are anathema to most Democrats: President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. He might also be one of the last Democratic voters left in America who thinks the Iraq War was a great idea, brilliantly executed by a smart president, leaving America and Israel much stronger than before.

Even those who oppose an immediate pullout have a hard time arguing that the war was a great idea in the first place and that things are going quite well now. Lieberman told the New Yorker, “On Iraq, Bush has it right.”

Last September, Lieberman returned starry-eyed from Iraq with glowing reviews of the president’s Iraq policy, published in The Wall Street Journal. He particularly noted the large number of cellphones, an observation made all the more embarrassing by continuing sectarian violence.

The president then quoted him at length to show the wisdom of his policy and how at least one Democrat gets it. At the State of the Union address, Bush kissed him. That kiss may prove fatal, as Bush, who is much shrewder than Lieberman, noted to Larry King, when asked if he liked Lieberman: “You’re trying to get me to give him a political kiss, which may be his death.”

Lieberman’s identification with the Bush inner circle was obvious as far back as the 2000 election. In the vice presidential debate with Cheney, Lieberman’s body language made it obvious that even if he disagreed with Cheney, it was a mild dispute among mensches of the world, who understood each other. Cheney saw the opening created by the Democrat’s eagerness to please, and he smilingly eviscerated Gore. Lieberman must have loved the post-debate reviews about how gentlemanly he was.

There is a market in the media for centrists who give their own party grief (see Sen. John McCain [R-Ariz.]). Not only has Lieberman become Bush’s favorite Democrat, he is also the favored Democrat on Republican-leaning Fox News.
Before the Lamont challenge, he regularly went on the Sean Hannity show, where Democrats are routinely bashed. He angered Democrats by telling Hannity, “It’s time for Democrats who distrust President Bush to acknowledge that he will be the commander in chief for three more critical years, and that in matters of war, we undermine presidential credibility at our nation’s peril.”

The Bush-Cheney team reviles Democrats of all stripes, whether left, right or center. Bush, however, has a long history of picking out and cultivating individual Democrats, like a wolf culling a weak sheep from the safety of the flock. That way, no concessions need to be made to Democrats, generally, while the impression of bipartisanship remains.

On Medicare, Bush played on Sen. Ted Kennedy’s (D-Mass.) ego to get the reform ball rolling, and then cut him out of the negotiations over the final Republican bill. For a while, the tame Democrat was Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia, until he began to look like a nut case.

And now, the best catch of all has been the eyes-wide-shut Lieberman who, unlike the others, has built a career out of being the wise and thoughtful centrist revered by the media talking heads.

Lieberman seems to be genuinely baffled and indeed petulant that his fellow Democrats won’t let him have it both ways: To say he is a strong Democrat with a largely progressive record and to work hand-in-glove with the White House to denigrate his own long-suffering and battered party.

Try as he might to separate himself from Bush, with secondhand, lame lines like, “I know George Bush. I have worked against George Bush. I have even run against George Bush. But, Ned, I’m not George Bush.” He may still fall victim to the Lamont ad that shows Lieberman morphing into Bush, with the words, “Joe Lieberman may say he represents us, but if it talks like George W. Bush and acts like George W. Bush, it’s certainly not a Connecticut Democrat.”

In a year that figures to be good for Democrats, Lieberman’s fate is a lose-lose proposition that just has to be endured. Many Democrats can’t figure out which outcome is worse.

If Lieberman wins the primary or wins as an independent, he will be even more insufferable. He might even join the Bush administration as secretary of defense, further hurting his party by leaving a Republican governor to select his replacement in the Senate. If he loses, he will become a martyr available to help the administration bash Democrats on foreign policy.

At least let’s stop pretending that this is a battle for the soul of the Democratic Party. That is far too elevated an enterprise. This is really about the consequences of Lieberman wanting to have his cake and eat it, too.

Gay Marriage Ban Could Alienate Jews


It’s a familiar calculus in the relationship between the Jewish community and the Bush administration: a social issue that divides the country 50-50 has the Jewish community split 75-25 against where President Bush stands.

On Monday, Bush strongly endorsed the federal marriage amendment to the U.S. constitution, which would effectively ban gay marriage.

“Marriage is the most fundamental institution of civilization, and it should not be redefined by activist judges,” Bush said after meeting with supporters of the constitutional amendment. He was referring to the 2004 decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Court to recognize same-sex marriages.

The bill, which was likely to be considered by the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, has virtually no chance of passing. Constitutional amendments need 67 of the 100 Senate votes to pass, and no one anticipates the vote breaking 55.

That makes it a win-win for Bush in his effort to keep evangelical conservatives on board ahead of the November midterm congressional elections. The reasoning is that the amendment will still resonate with the GOP’s conservative base five months from now, but will likely have disappeared from the memories of Republican-leaning social moderates.

However, Jewish Republicans, who have been trying to lure Jews away from their solid 3-to-1 support for Democrats, might have been dealt a blow, at least according to the amendment’s opponents.

“It’s unclear to me how the Republican Party will gain ground in the Jewish community by bringing forth a centerpiece of the religious right’s agenda,” said Mark Pelavin, associate director of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center. “For a large section of the Jewish community, this is an issue of fundamental rights and they will be watching closely to see how their senators vote.”

The Reform and Reconstructionist movements oppose the amendment. On Tuesday, the Conservative movement’s leadership joined in the opposition, in a statement that referred to a 2003 United Synagogue resolution opposing any such discrimination. Also in opposition are major Jewish civil liberties groups, including the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League.

The National Council of Jewish Women has taken a lead in opposing the legislation, organizing clerical lobbying against it and leading an alliance of liberal Jewish groups in urging senators to vote it down. Orthodox groups, led by the Orthodox Union and Agudath Israel of America, support the amendment.

The most recent polling on the issue, by Gallup, found 50 percent of Americans in favor of the amendment and 47 percent opposed. A 2004 American Jewish Committee survey of American Jews found 24 percent in favor and 74 percent opposed.

Jewish supporters of the amendment suggested they would sell the amendment to the Jewish community as one that would guarantee religious freedoms.

Proponents of gay marriage were “pursuing a deliberate plan of litigation and political pressure which will not only redefine marriage, but will follow from that to threaten the first freedom enshrined in the First Amendment — religious liberty,” said Nathan Diament, the director of the Washington office of the Orthodox Union.

Diament, the only Jewish participant at the meeting with Bush on Monday, said the Massachusetts ruling already had a negative impact on religious freedom. He cited as example the state’s Roman Catholic Church decision to drop out of the adoption business because it would be required to consider gay couples as parents.

“They’re trying to impose their position on society at large,” he said of proponents of gay marriage. “How a society defines marriage affects everybody.”

That view had some backing from at least one Jewish civil rights group, the American Jewish Congress (AJCongress).

Marc Stern, the AJCongress’ general counsel, cited the example of an Orthodox kosher caterer who could face a lawsuit for refusing to cater a same-sex wedding.

A successful compromise would “recognize the marriages in the context of a secular economy, for instance by not discriminating on domestic partner benefits, but it would not force people to act in areas they find morally reprehensible,” Stern said.

Chai Feldblum, a Georgetown University law professor and an activist for gay rights, said such arguments had no place in the public arena.

“There are lots of ways in which a religious organization can run its business as it wishes,” Feldblum said. “Rabbis don’t have to perform a marriage that they don’t agree with, a religious organization does not have to allow lesbians as rabbis. The problem is when religious organizations are operating in the public arena, with lunch banks, day camps, shelters. Then it’s very difficult to allow a religious organization to go against the public policy of the state.”

Republican Jewish spokesmen turned down requests for comment, but the amendment was not likely to help their efforts to appeal to Jews on domestic issues.

The emphasis before the 2004 election on Bush’s friendship with Israel and his tough reputation on security issues failed to make much of a dent on the Jewish Republican vote, which crept up to between 23 percent and 25 percent from about 19 percent in 2000.

Since then, Jewish Republicans have learned the lesson of emphasizing foreign policy too much and have carefully calibrated a social message designed to appeal to younger Jews. In Jewish newspaper advertisements and in stump speeches, Bush’s pro-business record is pitched to Jewish voters who may be more fiscally conservative than their parents.

And spokesmen like party chairman Ken Mehlman, who is Jewish, bluntly acknowledge to Jews that the Democrats were on the right side of history when they backed civil rights in the 1960s; but they say that Bush has inherited that mantle with his efforts to promote democracy abroad and force education reforms at home.

The most prominent Jewish Republican, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he would vote against the amendment. He cited classic Republican small government philosophy: government “ought to be kept off our backs, out of our pocketbooks and out of our bedrooms,” Specter said, according to The New York Times.

Democrats said the marriage amendment would help cripple such efforts.

“The Republicans are saddled with an agenda that’s horrific to the vast majority of American Jews,” said Ira Forman, the executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council.

Supporters of the amendment said they believed momentum was on their side. A similar effort in 2004 garnered just 48 Senate votes; this effort will top 50, they believe.

Abba Cohen, the Washington director of Agudath Israel of America, said he believed all Americans would eventually internalize the amendment’s moral arguments.

“This battle will be won in stages,” he said. “It takes time for the nation to fully absorb the implications of allowing same-sex marriage and the effect it will have on traditional families.”

The Reform movement’s Pelavin said his impression was that time was on the side of opponents of the amendment.

“This isn’t a fight that we picked, this is a fight that the president and the Republican leadership have picked,” he said. “This is an issue of fairness.”

 

Poor, Darfur Lose in Budget, Israel Gains


Jewish agencies around the country could have to ante up tens of millions of dollars in the next five years, thanks to a year-end budget package approved by Congress.

That assessment from a top Jewish activist here could be just the tip of the fiscal iceberg, as activists try to figure out exactly what was in the massive budget bill and how it will be implemented.

Last month, the Senate passed its version of the budget reconciliation bill by the narrowest of margins, with Vice President Dick Cheney casting the deciding vote. The measure aims to trim $40 billion from the gigantic federal budget deficit over five years through cuts in a wide range of programs, but lawmakers scaled back reductions that had generated the strongest opposition, including reductions in the Food Stamps program.

Jewish groups, led by the United Jewish Communities (UJC), were particularly concerned about changes in Medicaid rules intended to slow the growth in the entitlement program.

Despite their efforts, the final bill includes a number of provisions that could cost Jewish agencies dearly. Included among them: changes to regulations governing transfer of assets by potential recipients to both relatives and charitable institutions.

Jewish health agencies would be forced to make up the difference when Medicaid benefits for some recipients are cut because of the tighter rules, said William Daroff, UJC Washington representative. The change could also “disincentivize charitable giving” by the elderly, he said.

UJC also expressed concerns about increased co-payments for Medicaid recipients, something that could have a “profoundly negative impact on millions of destitute Medicaid recipients who would have greater difficulty accessing necessary health services,” Daroff wrote in a memo to Jewish agencies.

Congressional analysts say the massive bill — 770 pages of fine print that even many congressional leaders had not read when it was passed at 6:15 a.m. — will cut Medicare benefits, as well.

While warning that the full impact of the measure cannot be measured until regulations for implementing it are drawn, “we’re worried about the impact it will have on our agencies, as well as on the elderly and indigent population,” Daroff said, adding that “it’s going to cost a lot.”

Because of a legislative technicality, the House must vote again on the measure this month. Some groups, like the AARP, will use that to try to overturn the whole bill. However, Daroff said that congressional rules mandate an up-or-down vote on the entire bill, not selective modification, which will make reversing the cuts an uphill fight.

UJC, he said, will wait to see if there is a groundswell of opposition before deciding on a course of action: “If it’s a tilting at windmills exercise with no real possibility of having an impact, we may decide to save our strength and try to correct parts of the bill we see as most egregious after the fact. [We] have a limited amount of political capital.”

The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC) was blunter. The group called the budget measure “a heartbreaking end to a year in which so many Americans struggling with poverty have been repeatedly wronged and abandoned by those in whom their trust was placed.”

In a statement, the group cited cuts in funds for child-support enforcement and student aid and said the elimination of cuts to Food Stamps after a national uproar was “small consolation.”

The RAC and other liberal groups argued that far from reducing the deficit, the overall Republican spending plan — with tax cuts of more than $90 billion, which Congress will take up in the next few months — will just add to the red ink, while cutting services for the needy.

Israel Up; Darfur Down

Amid the last-minute budget-cutting frenzy, there was some good news for Israel: Congress approved $600 million for U.S.-Israeli cooperative military ventures as part of a big defense spending bill.

Lawmakers — perhaps with an eye on the 2006 midterm elections and the pro-Israel political action committees that are deciding which candidates to help when doling out dollars in this year’s election cycle — added more than $150 million to the administration’s funding request.

The appropriation included $133 million more for Israel’s Arrow anti-missile program, an Israeli military project with extensive U.S. funding. The measure also includes $10 million to study new technologies for short-range missile defense — a special concern for Israel, surrounded by hostile and increasingly well-equipped neighbors. That includes Iran, which recently acquired 12 long-range cruise missiles, according to Israeli officials.

The appropriation was hailed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which argued that enhanced U.S.-Israel military cooperation contributes to the security of both countries.

At the same time, some Jewish groups are lamenting something Congress left out of the military spending bill: $50 million to support African Union peacekeeping efforts in genocide-ravaged Sudan. Several Jewish groups lobbied for the funding, which the administration initially supported but then spurned.

The money was meant to bolster and expand the 7,000-strong African Union peacekeeping force in the Darfur region, which most analysts say is woefully inadequate in the face of genocide sanctioned by the Khartoum government.

“The lack of serious funding for addressing the crisis in Darfur is a disgrace,” said Mark Pelavin, associate director of the RAC. “Both Congress and the administration talk a good game about addressing the crisis, but then, when given a chance to do something concrete, they fail to do so.”

The administration may still find money for the program by tapping other appropriations, but the lack of congressional action undercuts U.S. demands for other countries to support Darfur relief, several activists said.

 

Shake-Up!


Rep. Howard Berman can work the J-circuit with the best of them. He knows who’s who among synagogue presidents, what to wear at bar mitzvahs, what to say to which rabbis and which chicken-dinner fundraisers are can’t miss. A smart Jewish politician in a heavily Jewish district quickly figures these things out, and Berman, 64, has represented his San Fernando Valley district since 1980.

By now, Berman knows almost instinctively where he needs to be.

So what’s he doing helping organize a Veteran’s Day parade in Pacoima, a working-class, Latino enclave?

The answer is that Berman’s 28th District has become a lot more Latino than it used to be, and Berman knows he needs to serve those constituents, too. That combination of political savvy and attention to public service has kept Berman in office these 25 years.

But staying in office could get a lot more challenging for Berman — as well as for several other elected officials who happen to be Jewish.

Proposition 77, the redistricting measure on next week’s special elections ballot, is likely to shift considerably more Latino voters into Berman’s district — and perhaps give rise to a viable Latino challenger. The same pattern could play out for several other Jewish politicians, including Reps. Adam Schiff in the Glendale/Pasadena area and Brad Sherman in the San Fernando Valley. Rep. Jane Harman, in the South Bay is less likely to be threatened, although her district is historically competitive to begin with. Rep. Henry Waxman, with his Westside and heavily Jewish base, probably has nothing to fear.

California’s congressional delegation also includes three other Jewish members, Tom Lantos, from Northern California, and Bob Filner and Susan A. Davis in the San Diego area. Filner presently faces a challenge from California Assemblymember and former City Councilman Juan Vargas.

So is a threat to Jewish incumbents reason enough for a Jewish voter to think twice about supporting Proposition 77 — especially when there are critics who take issue with the measure on other grounds? On the other hand, American Jews have traditionally lent support to causes that uplift marginalized communities. Wouldn’t it be fair to make it more likely that a Latino would represent a community comprised mostly of Latinos?

This Jewish side effect is one of many considerations posed by Proposition 77, one of a wearying welter of measures on the Nov. 8 ballot. The initiative would take the power to redraw legislative districts away from the California legislature and place it in the hands of three retired judges. It also would accelerate redistricting — changing things almost immediately rather than waiting for the next round of census data. Proposition 77 would apply both to state legislators and members of Congress, like Berman.

The ostensible goal of redistricting after a census is to keep the population of residents about the same in each district. Politically, a twin aim has been to keep incumbents in office, a strategy that is abetted by both Democrats and Republicans.

Up to this point, redistricting has worked in Berman’s favor, sharply reducing the percentage of Latino voters in his district, although Latinos currently make up a majority of his district’s residents. His current district cuts across the eastern heart of the San Fernando Valley, running east of the 405 Freeway and south of the 210 Freeway. When he was first elected, Berman’s district had just a 22 percent Latino electorate. An alternative map, put forth by the Rose Institute at Claremont-McKenna Colleges as more “fair,” would result in Berman representing an area in which 66 percent of the voting-age population is Latino.

Berman opposes Proposition 77, but also insists that he works hard to be, on merit, the first choice of his district’s Latino voters. He is a long-time supporter of rights for agrarian workers, many of whom are Mexican nationals — an issue that has resonance even for U.S.-born Latinos — and he’s served for 23 years on Congress’s immigration subcommittee. Berman said he spends more effort on the bread-and-butter issues of the northern, more Latino end of his district than he does in the south.

Then there’s the symbolism of the 2004 Veteran’s Day parade.

“The first Veteran’s Day parade in the San Fernando Valley is centered in Pacoima — not Sherman Oaks, not Granada Hills,” Berman said.

So it was that veterans from both world wars, Korea and Vietnam marched down the streets of a largely Mexican-American community in the north San Fernando Valley. And they’re going to do it again this year, winding up in the park named after Mexican American rock star Ritchie Valens, of “La Bamba” fame. Latinos, Mexican Americans in particular, have always signed up for the U.S. military in outsize numbers, Berman noted, despite facing discrimination and exclusion at home. The same goes, he added, for the war in Iraq — a disproportionate number of Latinos from his district, native-born and immigrant alike, headed off to serve.

Supporters of Proposition 77 assert that there is ample reason for all voters, Jewish and otherwise, to shake-up the status quo.

The conservatively inclined Rose Institute doesn’t take a position on Proposition 77, but it released a study in September calling for an overhaul of the present system.

“Here in California , the need for reform is clear and almost universally acknowledged,” the report’s executive summary says. “The 2001 gerrymander is likely to live on as a lesson in the abuses that can occur when incumbents are in control….”

The study makes its case with maps of zigzagging districts, including one, California Congressional District 23, that it dubs the “Ribbon of Shame.” District 23 has become a narrow band that twists south along the coast from San Luis Obispo County down to Ventura, connected at places with a razor thin slice of territory. It is represented by Democrat Lois Capps.

Redistricting cuts many ways. The 2001 plan suddenly made the seat of Brad Sherman shakier, shifting thousands of Latino voters to him from Berman, leading to some public sniping between Berman and Sherman.

At one point, the mapping marooned Sherman’s home at the end of a sliver surrounded by Berman’s new district. To top it off, the architect of the re-draw was veteran political consultant Michael Berman — to be sure, he’s well qualified, but he’s also the brother of incumbent Howard Berman. In the end, Sherman was able to keep his residence within a larger swath of his district.

The Democratic head of California’s Senate Redistricting Committee told Sherman, in effect, to shut up and accept it. A majority of the Latino legislative members, 16 of 19, voted in support of the redistricting plan — a show of fealty to the California Democratic caucus and Democratic control of the legislature. And both Sherman and Berman have survived in office.

But the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) sued. MALDEF argued that the redistricting could have concentrated Latino voters in a new district instead of splitting them between Sherman and Berman. A panel of three federal judges ruled against MALDEF, saying the overall results of all the redrawn districts did not discriminate against Latinos.

But the issue never subsided. Author and commentator Joel Kotkin, who supports Proposition 77, said that the current lines have polarized the California legislature, contributing to governmental gridlock with politically safe ultra-liberals opposed by politically safe ultra-conservatives.

“What we have done is dysfunctional,” he said. “We have too many liberal Democrats and too many conservative Republicans.”

In that argument, Kotkin is echoing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has endorsed Proposition 77 as a central element of his “reform” package of initiatives.

A more moderate and effective state Legislature should matter to all voters, including Jews, Kotkin said. Besides, he added, “I don’t think somebody being Jewish is the issue as much as whether that person represents the interests of the district.”

Nor is he worried that that California’s congressional delegation would be less pro-Israel if the Jewish Democrats were to fall.

“The old Waxman and Berman kind of politicians — liberal on other issues and good on Israel — will find it increasingly difficult as internal pressure within the Democratic Party becomes increasingly anti-Israel,” Kotkin said.

There’s a dose of politics embedded in Kotkin’s analysis, including a presumption that, over time, Republicans will be better for Israel, better for Jews and maybe better for Californians.

In fact, to many critics of Proposition 77, the initiative is all about politics and not so much about fairness.

Schwarzenegger wants a more acquiescent legislature, and this is his way of getting it, said Peter Dreier, a professor of politics at Occidental College who directs the school’s Urban & Environmental Policy Program.

“Arnold may call it a technical maneuver, but it’s about eliminating Democratic safe seats,” said the left-leaning Dreier, who opposes Proposition 77: “Republicans are very good at playing hardball and masquerading blatant power grabs as good government.”

Another lefty analyst, Harold Meyerson, takes issue with Kotkin’s implication that Jewish Democratic incumbents can be sacrificed because the best pro-Israel politicians of the future will be Republicans. While most members of the California Democratic caucus are not aligned with “hardline Israeli politicos,” Meyerson said, there’s a consensus of support for Israel within the caucus.

For some districts, the issue isn’t Democrat-to-Republican, but it could well be Jewish-to-Latino.

“A few of these districts might have Democrats of other ethnicities if they weren’t carved the way they were,” said Meyerson, editor at large for American Prospect and political editor of the L.A. Weekly.

There are, of course, other hard-boiled political considerations. The Jewish members of Congress have accumulated seniority, which helps them play key roles in matters pertaining both to Israel and broader foreign policy.

“This is a case of five members [from Southern California] who are interested in international relations in general and U.S.-Israel relations in particular,” Berman said. He, along with Reps. Schiff and Sherman, serve on the International Relations Committee; Rep. Harman sits on the Intelligence Committee.

Berman points to his 22 years as a member of the Foreign Relations Committee: “I know Israeli leadership, Palestinian leadership, maybe some Saudi leadership. There’s a lot of time and experience there.”

Still, it’s hard to find anyone who will outright defend a system that is gruesomely gerrymandered to protect incumbents. But for leftie progressives there’s more at stake than the downside of the status quo. For them, the California congressional delegation sits as a bulwark against the George Bush Conservative Republican majority — whose own members hail from equally gerrymandered states. In better times (for Democrats), the California delegation could become the lynchpin of an emerging Democratic — and more liberally Democratic — majority. That’s not something that progressive Democrats, such as Meyerson and Dreier, want to let Schwarzenegger tamper with.

The year 2005 may prove a watershed year for Jews politicians in Southern California. In addition to the members of Congress, Bob Hertzberg nearly made the mayoral runoff; the L.A. City government has three Jewish council members (though it recently had seven) and a Jewish city controller (Laura Chick); Jewish members hold three of seven seats on the Board of Education. It hasn’t been so many years since Jews weren’t allowed on some local golf courses. But influence — or even a seat at the table — can be as fleeting as rapidly evolving demographics. Just ask African Americans, who worked so hard to win voting rights, but who have already lost majority status in many parts of town.

But does it matter for Jews, who are so thoroughly intergrated into L.A. life and commerce?

It does for Howard Welinsky, a longtime Democratic Party activist who’s also prominent in the Jewish community and civic affairs.

“What is now at stake,” he said, “is that in Los Angeles, we have five Jewish members of Congress. And they’re all at risk.”

It matters to Welinsky that, “in the history of this country — and I’ve researched it — we’ve never had five Jewish members of Congress in one county. I can’t imagine anything that has greater impact in Jews in Los Angeles than this.”

For Welinsky, it’s not exactly about being pro-Israel, even though he certainly is. He’s taken with historicity of having five Jewish members from one area. Perhaps it’s comparable to the current reconfiguration at work in the Jewish heart of Fairfax Avenue. Why does it matter that a kosher grocery store, a shop selling Judaica and a place offering music from all over the Jewish Diaspora might fold to make room for pricey, non-Jewish boutiques that can afford the higher rents?

Only because, to some people, it does.

As for Berman’s fate, “I don’t think Howard Berman would lose, but those who have not been in those seats very long might find themselves facing well-funded campaigns by Latinos and other groups,” said Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, who opposes Proposition 77, even though she thinks the present system needs improvement.

Goldberg herself represents a majority Latino voter district.

“They vote, And they picked me,” she said. “Why did they pick me? Because I look out for the interests of the communities I serve. And that’s what they cared about more than my ethnicity.

“There are people in the population who vote their race, their gender their ethnicity, their sexual orientation,” she said. “I don’t think they’re the majority. People really do care about what you’re going to do when you get there.”

Shifting political nuances make these judgments ever more complex. Rep. Filner, a Jewish member being challenged by a Latino candidate, spent time in jail as a Freedom Rider, clearly reflecting concern for the interests of people of color. His opponent, Assemblyman Juan Vargas, is “pro-life,” inconsistent on civil liberties issues, but liberal on immigration. The district’s population already is 55 percent Latino, 18 percent Anglo, 15 percent Filipino and 12 percent African American.

Jewish Assemblywoman Hannah Beth Jackson, from a district that includes Santa Barbara and Oxnard, was termed out and replaced by Pedro Nava, who ran on an environmentalist platform, a position well in tune with most Jews.

Coalition politics involving Jews has frequently worked well for L.A.’s Latinos, and vice versa. Former Rep. Edward Roybal, the groundbreaking Latino who died last month, was first elected to Los Angeles City Council by a Latino-Jewish-labor coalition. And then there’s Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who grew up in formerly Jewish East Los Angeles and rose to office with broad Jewish support.

“Jews and others can represent communities of color,” said Jaime Regalado, executive director of the Edmund “Pat” Brown Institute for Public Affairs. “That has never really been the argument against apparent dilution of Latino or other minority voting strength in a particular political or voting system. It is all about fairness, in being able to elect a representative of the community’s choice on a level playing field.”

Proposition 77, almost inevitably, could make Congress less Jewish. But that’s just a starting point for addressing the question of whether Proposition 77 is good for California.

Crystal Ball Sees


It seems like we’ve been on the verge of 2004 for ages —
presidential election years always seem to distort the space-time continuum —
but now it’s really upon us, and a lively year it is certain to be.

Congress and the White House are up for grabs, the war on
terrorism is sputtering and political leaders face a host of pressing domestic
problems that they did their best to duck in 2003. In addition, the Middle East
is its usual seething tangle, ready to ensnare policymakers here and around the
world.

Here are a few predictions for the coming 12 months.

• The Presidency: More Up for Grabs Than the Pundits Say

Today’s conventional wisdom is that improving economic news
and Saddam Hussein’s capture have made President Bush all but invincible. Guess
again. Many key indices point to the president’s reelection, but that
conventional wisdom could be upset in a moment by a down tick in the shaky
economy, new terrorist attacks, big new scandals or bad news in Iraq.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, pulling far ahead in the
race for the Democratic presidential nomination, could become a formidable
candidate if he learns to stop shooting himself in the foot and steers toward
the political center.

Some Jewish voters, concerned primarily about Israel, will
make the long-awaited shift to the Republican side, but don’t look for a mass
exodus to the promised land of the GOP.

• Congress: More Republican, More Partisan

A year ago, the Democrats were plotting strategies for
winning back one or both houses of Congress. Today, they’re trying to figure
out how to limit their losses.

In 2003, the razor-thin GOP Senate margin allowed Democrats
to block a few of the administration’s most controversial domestic proposals
and a handful of judicial nominees. November’s election will likely make it
harder for them to keep that up.

• The Budget: More Red Ink

Lawmakers passed several big tax cuts in the past two years,
then fled the scene of the crime, abandoning 11 of 13 appropriation bills.

In January, lawmakers will have to pass a giant “continuing
resolution” to keep the government running for the rest of the fiscal year.
That pork-filled legislation is the opposite of the fiscal discipline both
parties piously promised.

Then it will be time to deal with next year’s budget. The
fiscal problems that gave Congress such fits this year will be that much more
severe, because they were just put off. Soaring defense costs could lead to
overwhelming pressure for domestic spending cuts.

However, with elections in November, lawmakers may once
again dodge the bullet, putting off the hard decisions until 2005, producing
bigger federal deficits and a bigger burden for the next generation.

• More Hype About Marriage

The Massachusetts Supreme Court decision on gay marriage
will propel so-called defense of marriage constitutional amendments to
political center stage. Conservative Christian groups will pull out all the
stops; gay and civil rights groups will fight just as hard on the other side.

The issue will become even more dominant, because of
politicians eager to divert attention from vexing issues — such as terrorism
and the retirement crisis — and it will continue to divide the Jewish community,
with Orthodox groups supporting the religious conservatives, defense
organizations and the Reform movement backing the civil rights advocates.

• More Movement Toward Public Funding of Parochial Schools

School voucher supporters are close to winning a big
skirmish in their war — a model voucher program for the District of Columbia.
That could ignite a flurry of new voucher proposals at the state and local
levels. The Supreme Court will rule in June on a case that could really open
the floodgates to new programs for parochial school funding.

The Bush administration will also continue using its
executive authority to give grants to religious groups that provide health and
services.

• More of the Same in U.S-Israel Relations

There’s plenty of potential for new U.S.-Israel friction,
but the Sharon government has a powerful protector: Yasser Arafat. As long as
Arafat is back at the helm of Palestinian government, Washington won’t really
turn the screws on Jerusalem, unless Sharon goes too far with his security
barrier and his proposal for “disengagement” from the Palestinians.

Less clear is the impact of a self-proclaimed protector of
Israel in this country: the Christian right. Televangelists and conservative
politicians such as Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) have become avid backers of the
Sharon government and of the idea that Israel should not give up any land to
the Palestinians.

However, many of these new Zionists have been reluctant to
go against a Republican president when he pressures Israel. New conflict over
the fence and Sharon’s proposal could put that new friendship to the test.

• New Jewish Divisions Over Peace

Jewish doves, paralyzed by the resumption of Palestinian
terror in 2000, are coming back to life, but centrist Jewish groups here have
shifted to the right. In Israel, Sharon’s call for removing some settlements
will touch off a furious battle that will spill over onto the American Jewish
scene.

All of that means more polarization than ever in a Jewish
community that will continue to support Israel, but which has very different
visions for the Jewish State’s future.

Unwanted: City Breakup


If the election were held today, secession would fail — at least among Jewish voters, according to a recent Los Angeles Times Poll.

Jewish voters are strongly against secession, more so than any other religious group, according to the July 2 poll. Out of 1,291 total voters surveyed citywide, 168 identified themselves as Jewish; of those voters, 57 percent stated they were against secession and 34 percent said they were for it. Only 9 percent said they were undecided, which Susan Pinkus, director of the Los Angeles Times Poll, said was "very low undecideds for this stage in the game."

Jewish voters were more strongly against secession than the total voters citywide. The Times poll found that citywide, 47 percent of all those surveyed said they were against secession. The numbers for Valley voters only were, not surprisingly, more favorable toward secession, showing 52 percent for and 37 percent against. Although the number of Jewish voters was too low to allow for a breakdown of Valley Jews vs. city Jews, Pinkus said even in the Valley, Jewish voters were strongly against the breakup.

Comparing Jewish voters with other religious groups, Pinkus said the polls showed Catholic voters citywide divided on the issue, with 43 percent against and 40 percent for secession, while Protestants were closer in their votes to Jewish voters, with 50 percent against and 35 percent in favor of the breakup. However, unlike the results from Jewish voters, those trends reversed when applied to only Valley residents, reflecting the general population’s leanings.

Jewish leaders, many of whom are themselves against secession, said they were not surprised by the poll’s findings.

"I’m not surprised, but I am pleased to hear the majority of Jewish voters are against secession," said Rabbi Mark Diamond, executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California.

Diamond spent more than a year studying the Valley, Hollywood and Harbor secession proposals as part of a task force for the Council of Religious Leaders.

"The status quo is clearly not working, but proponents of secession would have to make their case that it will significantly improve the lives of residents both in the city and the Valley, and I think they have failed that test," he said. "In addition, as a religious leader I have a special concern for the needs of the poor and the disenfranchised. To date, I have seen no firm data that would demonstrate the folks in favor of secession really have the interests of the poor at heart."

Rabbi Don Goor of Temple Judea, which has campuses in Tarzana and West Hills, said he believes Jewish voters in the Valley would naturally be uncomfortable with the idea of breaking off from the city of Los Angeles.

"We understand the value of being a part of a larger community and believe very deeply in community. In fact, there is a quote from the Mishnah that says ‘Al tifrosh min hatzibur,’ which means, ‘Don’t separate yourself from the community,’" Goor said. "The other thing to consider is that the Jewish community in Los Angeles has been very successful at building coalitions and making sure the values important to us are heard at the citywide level. I would hate for that to be lost."

But secession proponents say the Times Poll results contradict the feedback they receive from Jewish sources.

"The results are contrary to what we hear out in the Jewish community," said Richard Close, chairman of Valley VOTE and longtime president of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association. "For my friends and associates who are Jewish, particularly those in the Valley, it is a question of smaller city council districts and more responsive government, and so they favor [secession]."

Regarding Diamond’s comments, Close pointed out that, as noted in a recent article in the Daily News, "The city of Los Angeles gives the least amount of help to its poor compared to any of the surrounding communities like Burbank and Glendale. So I do not think Los Angeles is the city to look to as an example of what we could be doing for the poor."

"There is also more to the issue than just the poor," Close continued. "The middle class is leaving the city and the Valley in droves, businesses are leaving in droves because of inadequate police and paramedic services and because of the poor quality of the schools. If we’re concerned about the poor, we should also be concerned about the middle class."

Still, if the Times Poll is accurate, the majority of Jewish voters would agree with Goor’s analysis of secession.

"I think it’s against our interests politically and against our principles Jewishly," Goor concluded.

Hopes ‘n’ Votes


Kevin Feldman hopes that the newly drawn 30th Congressional District gives him a chance. His opponent in the March 5 Democratic primary is Rep. Henry Waxman, a popular 28-year veteran who has often run unopposed.

With redistricting, however, Waxman’s district now includes many areas that he has never represented, and Feldman hopes that gives him a chance. "Waxman is a household word on the Westside," he acknowledged. But the new 30th District, which runs from Malibu to Santa Monica and now north into Agoura Hills, Calabasas and Westlake Village, includes many voters previously represented by Rep. Brad Sherman, a Democrat.

Like Sherman, 33-year-old Feldman is a former financial services professional, having left his position as a vice president of banking services at Charles Schwab to run for office. Feldman is using his experience in business as the centerpiece of his campaign, advocating a market- forces approach to problems in government.

In the heavily Jewish district, which includes Beverly Hills, Westwood and West Hollywood, Feldman is not running against his opponent’s record on Jewish issues. In addition to Waxman’s important legislation on health care and environmental issues, the legislator has been among Congress’ most effective supporters of Israel and recently wrote an article for The Journal advocating better oversight of Holocaust-era insurance claims.

"Waxman has a fantastic record with regard to issues important to the Jewish community," admitted Feldman, adding, "I feel very connected to the Jewish community. Because I’m openly gay as well, I’ve chosen to focus my energies on that community. There’s only so many hours in the day."

Feldman serves on the board of Lavender Youth Recreation and Information Center a San Francisco-based advocacy and support organization for gay youth.

Beyond community affiliations, Feldman is focusing his campaign on using business tactics to solve government problems — particularly with the economic downturn — and transportation and education issues. He supports multiple experiments in educational reform, trying many approaches and implementing what works while discarding what does not.

"Business people are much more tolerant of failure," he said. Feldman also wants to bring the Metro Rail into West Los Angeles and the West Valley.

When the incumbent and challenger — both Jewish — met for a candidates’ forum at the Westlake Village-Thousand Oaks Chamber of Commerce, Waxman dismissed Feldman’s market-based strategies as too simplistic: "I wish we could let the market solve everything. I like the market," he said, "but I’ve been [in Congress] a while, and these issues are complicated. Glib answers don’t work."

Feldman responded, saying, "I don’t think the problems of government are any more complicated than the problems of big businesses like IBM or Charles Schwab." However, he said he is pleased to have Waxman responding to his challenge.

"We started as a grass-roots campaign, now we have 300 volunteers," Feldman said, noting that "just in the last few weeks, Waxman started accepting invitations" to discuss issues at candidates forums.

On March 5, the outcome of Feldman’s efforts to attract enough votes from both Waxman’s and Sherman’s constituents to win the primary will be decided.

+