Steve Zimmer holds middle ground


After surviving opposition funded by the mayors of America’s two biggest cities, newly re-elected Los Angeles Unified School District board member Steve Zimmer says his win has preserved a “system of checks and balances” in running L.A.’s huge school district.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg teamed up to pour millions of dollars into the Coalition for School Reform, a political action committee that supported the campaigns of Zimmer’s challenger, lawyer Kate Anderson, as well as school board president Monica Garcia, a Villaraigosa ally. Garcia won, but Anderson lost in a race that turned out to be the most closely watched of the election. Another Villaraigosa-backed candidate, Antonio Sanchez, is headed for a runoff in a contest for an open seat.

Bloomberg gave $1 million to Villaraigosa’s Coalition For School Reform, which put in almost $4 million to take control of the school board. The two mayors are aligned with national education advocates who generally oppose teacher tenure and seniority rules and instead favor evaluating teachers on the basis of statistically controversial student test scores. They also back charter schools, which are publicly financed but privately run schools whose teachers are often not union members. 

Villaraigosa, Bloomberg and their allies seem to believe in the old cliché: my way or the highway.

But Zimmer, whose Fourth District ranges from East Hollywood to Venice and from Westwood into the San Fernando Valley, received 52 percent of the vote in an extraordinarily low-turnout election. “Venice was the tipping point for me,” Zimmer said. “I knew the election would be determined in Venice, and it was literally these parents e-mailing for us. The voters who voted were highly informed and highly educated on the issues. This election was won by moms in virtual precincts, moms blogging, really engaged in the substance of the issues.

“What the opposition wanted was complete control,” Zimmer said. “When you don’t have a system of checks and balances, you go to extremes. As a policymaker, I think moderation, compromise and cooperation are the key ingredients in building successful.”

Zimmer, who was a classroom teacher and counselor at Marshall High School, has always tried to walk a line between the Villaraigosa coalition and the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA), the teachers union that opposes the mayor.  It’s a difficult task in the highly polarized world of education politics and policy.

“He was no one’s ‘yes man,’ ” wrote former State Sen. Gloria Romero in an Orange County Register column. “That seemed to be the problem.” Romero advocates changes in school operations, but doesn’t follow the hard line espoused by some of the national reform leaders. 

Although UTLA has criticized Zimmer in the past, the union obviously considered him better than the Villaraigosa group and put almost $1 million into his and other school board races.

Now safely possessed of another four-year term, Zimmer is looking to the future.

One big question is whether he will support school superintendent John E. Deasy, who is much admired by the Villaraigosa group. Zimmer’s foes implied during the campaign that he would vote to fire Deasy.

I asked him if he would continue to back the superintendent. “Absolutely,” Zimmer said. “John Deasy is the right person. He is the best person. I have been the decisive vote to maintain the Deasy superintendency, but I reserve the right to disagree with him on policy issues. We should debate policy. We are policymakers. You get the best policy by having a healthy debate.”

Another big question is whether Zimmer will be a candidate for president of the school board — a high-visibility post, although the president has the same one vote as the six other board members.

“I think people will speculate,” he said. “And if asked by a strong majority of my colleagues, I would consider that. But I am not obsessed with title or position. I don’t wake up in the morning thinking about that.”

We discussed a subject that has long interested Zimmer — the effort to persuade parents to keep their children in public schools, particularly the middle class in middle schools. I first met Zimmer when I began writing about this for the Jewish Journal a couple of years ago, centering my attention on Jewish families on the Westside and in the San Fernando Valley. Zimmer, who is Jewish, has been a leader in the effort.

“On the Westside, I am very proud of the fact that we have had the guts to deal with the complicated issue of families coming back to the public schools,” he said. How do our parents, especially in the Jewish community, invest in and support and transform our neighborhood schools without excluding anybody? That is the absolute question. Can we make the investment? Can we re-engage in our public schools?”

“There are strong examples in West Hollywood. We’re beginning to have examples on the Westside in elementary schools.”

Ethnic and class differences can make the process difficult. Zimmer talked about the difficulty of getting parents of different incomes and ethnicities to work together. “How do I as a leader guide a person through a relationship with a parent who might not even have a high school education … who is regarded as ‘the other’? That is the struggle of the moment on the Westside.”

It’s actually the struggle of the moment all over Los Angeles, and not just in the schools. I’m glad Zimmer survived the Villaraigosa-Bloomberg assault and will be around to continue to add his moderate voice to the battle. 

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

Jerusalem mayor visits L.A. to promote his city and court film producers


Nir Barkat, the mayor of Jerusalem, spent part of his recent visit to Los Angeles trying to sell entertainment industry moguls on the virtues of filming in Jerusalem.

A former tech entrepreneur who Newsweek once compared to Batman’s millionaire alter ego, Bruce Wayne, Barkat said that getting producers to shoot films in Jerusalem is a top priority.

The city, already millennia old, has recently developed services to cater to film producers, and Barkat is in the process of lobbying Israel’s national government to institute tax breaks to help Jerusalem compete against other cities.

Getting films made in and about Jerusalem, Barkat said in an interview on May 7, “is the best positioning for the city that deserves better positioning than what you see on the news.”

Attracting filmmakers to Jerusalem could also help Barkat make good on a campaign pledge to increase the number of tourists who visit the city each year from just over 2 million when he took office, to 10 million. For the last two years, Jerusalem has welcomed about 3.5 million tourists each year.

“The culture feeds tourism and is fed from it,” Barkat said, “and film production fits right in.”

Barkat, who plans to run for re-election when his first term ends in 2013, mentioned having met the outgoing Los Angeles City Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa a few times. At one of their meetings, the mayors shared notes on crime. Barkat recalled Villaraigosa telling him that in 2010, Los Angeles, a city of 3.8 million, reported 297 murders.

In Jerusalem, a city of about 800,000, Barkat said, the number of murders that year was nine, a rate about one-seventh that of Los Angeles’. In 2011, Jerusalem saw only five murders. The statistics, Barkat was quick to point out, included both killings classified as crimes and deaths resulting from terror.

“So,” Barkat said, smiling, “how safe is Jerusalem relative to Los Angeles?”

School Is in Session for Villaraigosa’s Critics


“A great school is an anchor for a neighborhood,” Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said. “A great school district is an anchor for a great city.”

I was interviewing the mayor in his City Hall office last week about his heavy involvement in the Los Angeles public schools. Although running the Los Angeles Unified School District isn’t in his City Charter job description, Villaraigosa has been a leader in creating schools that offer alternatives to traditional district methods, trying to improve student and teacher performance.

Villaraigosa has been criticized for these efforts. Some critics say he should spend his time on potholes, traffic congestion, jobs and cops rather than on an institution over which he has no jurisdiction. His most intense criticism comes from the teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), which opposes his sweeping proposals, especially those that weaken seniority protection for the hiring, firing and assignment of teachers. The union especially opposes charter schools, which operate with public funds but are not under UTLA contracts. Villaraigosa favors charters.

The union-charter school issue is complicated.

The charters are beloved by rich business people like Bill Gates and Eli Broad, who help fund them, and by some hedge fund magnates, who see them as good investments. Also, there are tax advantages for donating to nonprofit charters. All these people think charters offer a magic way to better schools, although results around the country are mixed. UTLA, on the other hand, is opposed to charters and to other proposals to change seniority rules and other contract provisions that protect veteran teachers at the expense of newer, more energetic and perhaps more imaginative teachers. To UTLA, charter supporters are union busters.

This is just one element of the public school situation, one of the most interesting and important stories in Los Angeles. For public school students, parents and grandparents, the daily ups and downs of life at the kids’ school are a major worry and topic of conversation. Many Jewish families, returning to the public schools or contemplating such a move, are among them. That’s why I write about the public schools as often as I do.

In addition to helping create alternatives to the traditional Los Angeles public schools, Villaraigosa has rounded up donations for the LAUSD and, most importantly, raised money and campaigned for winning candidates, who have formed a majority on the seven-member L.A. district board and are friendly to his ideas.

I asked him about this. “Mayors need to drive these reforms,” he said. He had visited one school in the morning and said he had to limit our conversation to a half hour because he was going to another school late in the afternoon.

As he sees it, “Kids fail in urban schools in numbers that boggle the mind.” When they drop out, they can’t compete for jobs that are increasingly complex. Nor can a city with bad schools compete for industries and other businesses.

Villaraigosa is deeply involved in two efforts that he considers major reforms but that are strongly opposed by the teachers union.

One is Villaraigosa’s Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, which he formed with the school district after his effort to take over the LAUSD was defeated in the legislature. It is a nonprofit organization run by the city and the school district, which has taken on more than 21 schools with considerable power to manage teaching and the budget. A $50 million donation — at $5 million a year for 10 years — from South Bay real estate developer Richard Lundquist and his wife, Melanie, both LAUSD grads, got the partnership off to a good financial start.

The other is Public School Choice, consisting of 74 Los Angeles schools that have been taken over by nonprofit charter school firms or organizations formed by teachers, school administrators, parents or community groups. These schools operate without many of the union rules Villaraigosa opposes, and with strong emphasis on evaluations of teacher performance.

As Villaraigosa sees it, teachers collaborate and compete. “Competition and choice work,” he said. “The days of excuses and low expectation are over.” He added, “Teachers are rising to the occasion.” He said they “plan together, work together and critique each other.”

Like the mayor’s Partnership schools, the Public School Choice schools include some of the city’s lowest ranked academically and have the most needy students.

All this reflects an expansive view of being mayor, but one that has always made a lot of sense to me.

The mayor of Los Angeles is the most visible and powerful elected public official in the L.A. basin. Some of his responsibilities extend beyond the city limits. For example, by serving on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board and appointing three more of its members, he has considerable influence over the Southland’s rail and bus lines. By appointing the airport board, he has more say than anyone else in running Los Angeles International Airport.

With such wide-ranging responsibilities, it’s good that the mayor has focused on the public school system, the institution that, along with the police and fire departments, has more impact than any others in Angelenos’ daily life.

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

Rabbi Freehling’s pet project


Daylong synagogue attendance is rare among most Reform Jews. It’s even rarer for their dogs.

For almost 12 years, Lucy traveled each day to University Synagogue in Brentwood with her owner, Rabbi Allen I. Freehling, then the synagogue’s senior rabbi. The golden retriever mix soon became one of the most popular members of the Reform congregation.

“The kids coming in for Hebrew school used to arrive early, come to the rabbi’s study, and hope that they would be the ones to take Lucy for a walk before going to class,” Freehling recalled. “She was delighted to spend the whole day in my office. If there wasn’t someone to pay attention to her, she would usually just sleep under my desk.”

Freehling, now the executive director of the City’s Human Relations Commission, found Lucy at a city-run animal shelter in the San Fernando Valley. Through a series of community workshops he is helping to facilitate for Los Angeles Animal Services, Freehling is urging other local residents to seek pets from city shelters, too.

L.A. Animal Services has been sponsoring its “Humane L.A.” workshops — a series of 11 free, public panel discussions — every other week since August to educate Angelenos about what they can do to help make the city a “no-kill” haven. The workshops, which will continue through mid-December, focus on different facets of the agency’s “no-kill equation,” such as low-cost spay and neuter, rescue groups, foster care and adoption programs. Common-sense factors like these, the agency believes, can, in time, reduce the number of unwanted animals euthanized at city shelters.

“We do have a responsibility in terms of taking good care of the animals that are a part of our population,” said Freehling, who is sharing the role of facilitator with three other members of the Human Relations Commission. “Spay and neuter has to become something that is accepted by everyone, because the only way to curtail the population of animals is if they are not reproducing on a regular basis. For people who wish to have animals, for them to consider adopting as opposed to purchasing would also be a step.”

The senior rabbi at University Synagogue for 30 years, Freehling and his wife, Lori, adopted Lucy with social interaction in mind.

“Not wanting to leave Lucy home by herself, we purposely found an animal that would be good with adults and children,” he said. “An animal is a marvelous provider of comfort. That was the role that she played at the synagogue. Being greeted by her was, more often than not, a comforting experience.”

Lucy eventually died of cancer, and the Freehlings adopted Pearl, a black lab and pit bull mix, from an animal rescuer in Riverside. Pearl hasn’t had the same opportunity to follow Freehling to work since he was appointed to the commission in 2002.

“Here at City Hall it’s less likely that someone would bring an animal to the office on a regular basis,” he said.

Asked if it’s possible to make Los Angeles a no-kill city, the Chicago native does not hesitate before saying, “Yes.” But profound changes must first occur in the local population’s attitude toward its four-legged neighbors.

“I hope people will begin to understand what a no-kill city is all about and what our responsibilities are as part of that community, and not simply leave it up to a particular department within the city to solve the problem by euthanizing an extraordinary number of animals,” Freehling said. “It’s something we’re all in together.”

For dates and locations of the remaining “Humane L.A.” workshops, visit

Mayor: Building inspectors need better training, sensitivity to block another Yom Kippur showdown


One year after an emotional incident in which city building inspectors sought to halt Kol Nidrei services for Orthodox worshippers at a Hancock Park service, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has followed up with a report with recommendations designed to increase sensitivity and prevent future problems.

The confrontation at the Yavneh Hebrew Academy in the Hancock Park area outraged the Orthodox community and its political supporters.

Triggering the incident was a series of anonymous phone calls from a neighbor of Yavneh, alerting the city Department of Building and Safety (DBS) to a probable violation, on Yom Kippur, of restriction governing the hours that Yavneh could use the facilities.

At 8 p.m., while Rabbi Daniel Korobkin was conducting Kol Nidrei services for some 200 worshippers, two inspectors walked into the lobby and told startled congregants that they had to vacate the premises immediately.

When told that worshippers would leave only if carried out by force, the inspectors left and the services continued.

The roots of the incident lay in a contentious nine-year feud between some residents of the upscale Hancock Park neighborhood and an influx of strict Orthodox families.

Villaraigosa, together with city councilmen, felt the heat from both sides and the mayor asked the law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom “to independently review, pro bono, the events that occurred on Sept. 21, 2007…and to make recommendations.”

In a letter yesterday (Sept. 23) to DBS general manager Andrew A. Adelman, obtained exclusively by The Journal, Villaraigosa cited 12 findings and recommendations by the law firm and asked for a response by Nov. 7.

In general, the report found that DBS had not singled out the Orthodox community as such, but called for an improved inspection process within DBS, and better communications with the city planning department and with institutions, such as Yavneh, operating with certain restrictions under a conditional use permit.

Specifically, the report recommended continued “awareness seminars” for inspectors at the Museum of Tolerance, supplemented by a “cultural diversity” program, in addition to the following points.

Training to avoid conflicts while conducting building inspections.

Review of the policy under which DBS accepts anonymous complaints.

Avoid interrupting cultural or religious events.

Institutions operating under conditional use permits to appoint community liaisons, who would be notified of complaints before city officials take action.

Korobkin, the Yavneh spiritual leader, said he was very pleased with the mayor’s recommendations and that the fault for last year’s incident lay mainly in the way DBS was structured, as well as a certain lack ofsensitivity.

There is no chance that last year’s incident will be repeated, he said. For one, Kol Nidrei falls on a weekday this year, which allows for extended operating hours.

Korobkin also asserted that relations between Yavneh and its neighbors had improved over the last 12 months and that complaints came mainly from a hard core of seven to eight residents.

But future relations between Yavneh and the Hancock Park Homeowners Association, which includes a fair number of Jewish families, will bear watching.

No spokesperson for the homeowners was immediately available, but in the past they have persistently accused Yavneh of violating the terms of its conditional use permit and have initiated a number of court actions.

Although Yavneh is not located within his district, City Councilman Jack Weiss has been a vocal champion of the religious school.

He said that in the dispute, “justice is on the side of Yavneh – it’s not even close.”



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Celebration to mark raising of Israeli flag at consulate


The blue and white flag with the Star of David will be raised for the first time in front of the Israeli Consulate on Sunday, Sept. 28, in a community-wide celebration of the Jewish state, its 60th anniversary and the beginning of Rosh Hashanah.

The flag-raising ceremony and celebration has been almost one year in the making, starting with the arrival in Los Angeles of the new Israeli consul general, Yaakov Dayan.

He was puzzled why there was no flag flying in front of the consulate, nor, as he has learned, at any other Israeli diplomatic mission in the United States. The most common reason given for the low profile was security, but Dayan didn’t buy it.

“There are Israeli flags flying in front of our missions in much more dangerous places throughout the world, including our embassy in Cairo,” he told The Journal.

“I remember walking with my father when I was a child in Tel Aviv, and when we saw foreign flags, he would tell me about each of the countries they represented,” Dayan recalled.

“When I came to Los Angeles, I thought of how many kids pass along Wilshire each day and might ask what the blue and white flag with the six-pointed star meant,” he added.

Dayan quickly learned that putting up three flagpoles on Wilshire Boulevard for the Israeli, U.S. and California flags required numerous permits and some political help from City Councilman Jack Weiss and Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.

The Israeli flag to be hoisted on Sept. 28 has a history of its own, having flown originally over the embattled town of Sderot, regularly exposed to hostile fire from the Gaza Strip.

When Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Dayan visited Israel last June, the flag was formally presented to the mayor by Shimon Peres, president of Israel.

At the same time that two Israeli soldiers raise their country’s colors, the Stars and Stripes will be hoisted by U.S. Marines and the California Bear flag by the National Guard in festivities starting at 1 p.m. in front of the consulate building at 6380 Wilshire Blvd.

Dayan and his staff are going all-out to make the one-hour event a joyous and memorable occasion for the Jewish and general communities of Los Angeles.

Among the highlights planned are:

Music by the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony, which will play the Israeli and U.S. national anthems.

Performances by various school choirs.

Short speeches by Villaraigosa and Dayan.

Some 60 rabbis will join in blowing shofars to welcome the Jewish New Year.

Schoolchildren will prepare and send New Year cards to Israeli kids in development towns and communities exposed to rocket fire. Students from the Milken Community High School will wear special T-shirts for the occasion.

Vera Cruz and other Latino bands will entertain after the ceremony.

Israeli and American pop stars, among them Macy Gray, Noa Tishby and Hedva Amrani, will sing.

In addition, two youngsters will win free flights to Israel, courtesy of El Al, where they will visit schools in various parts of the country.

Diplomats from Mexico and other countries, political leaders and representatives from Mormon and Christian evangelist churches will join the festivities.

While the focus of the celebration will be on Israel, Los Angeles will also benefit. A blood donation center will be on site to benefit the bone marrow transplant unit at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles. Villaraigosa and Dayan will be the first donors to the blood drive initiated by Rabbi Hershy Ten, president of the Bikur Cholim Jewish Healthcare Foundation.

“This celebration will be an apt and enjoyable way for the community to show its solidarity with the people of Israel,” Dayan said.

Shahar Azani, Israeli consul for public affairs, added, “Too many times must we come together to protest attacks on Israel or mourn victims, so it’s time for a happy get-together.”

Wilshire Boulevard between San Vicente Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue will be closed during the celebration. Free or reduced-fee parking will be available within walking distance of the consulate. For more information, visit www.israeliconsulatela.org.

Rabbi Zoë Klein: L.A. delegation to Israel returns with wealth of optimism


Last week I returned from traveling through the land I love with some of our most influential local leaders, all journeying to Israel with the desire and will to help our collective Los Angeles reach its highest potential.

Sitting in the office of the mayor of Tel Aviv-Yaffo with date cookies and strong tea, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said, “Los Angeles is in many ways a paradise lost, which we are in the process of regaining.”

To come to Israel as part of that regaining of paradise was as productive to Los Angeles as it was precious to me, to have the two worlds my heart’s inhabited for so long come together in a dance. Like the scouts who returned from the Land of Canaan bearing a cluster of grapes, each one as big as a globe, we returned with an abundance of fruit, ripe with wisdom, vision and hope.

I was proud to be part of this delegation, proud to be among some of the gatekeepers of our city, astounded at the vast amount Israel had to offer us and the generosity of her leaders to share.

One of the biggest themes of our journey was water. The CEO of the Israeli National Water Commission quoted Vladimir Nabokov when he talked about Israel’s culture of innovation, saying, “A genius is an African who dreams up snow….”

At the Clean-Technology roundtable in Tel Aviv, some of the most brilliant minds in green technology spoke with us, starting from the premise of Israel’s most pressing question: “How do you run an entire country without oil?”

One after another genius dreamt up snow before our eyes, explaining how Israel planned to create an entire national transportation system by connecting the parking grid to the electric grid and how the L.A. Basin (which is the same size as Israel) could do the same, becoming the cleanest city in the world.

The list of technologies invented in Israel was overwhelming. That a country so small would have more companies traded on NASDAQ than any other country outside the United States amazed us: defense, drip-irrigation, Intel, Pentium, Centrino, cellphones, cordless phones, voice mail, flash technology, MP3, satellite TV, cable, DVD, Direct TV (heart of the box made in Jerusalem), plasma televisions, IM, firewalls, pill cam, generic drugs, first drug to delay Parkinson’s disease, geothermal, solar power, storage, fuel cells, batteries.

The list was out of control. Our mayor said, “Each company is great, but more than that, we need to create the kind of partnership where there is real investment in a lasting relationship, particularly with solar and greening.”

We all had a new appreciation for why our futures are intertwined.

We asked how a country so small could be so oversized when it came to invention?

One answer was that it is a culture of acceptance of risk. Another answer was that it is a culture that identifies the brightest and puts them in top positions in the army, where they learn discipline. A third answer was that it is a culture that embraces immigrants who come with degrees, perspective and the fire to create.

We visited a progressive school in Tel Aviv for immigrants, where there were 48 languages spoken, where our mayor said he was particularly heartened to see refugees from Darfur.

“I hope we think about how to embrace each other, in our shuls, in our churches, in our mosques,” he said.

Tel Aviv-Yaffo Deputy Mayor Yael Dayan, daughter of Moshe Dayan, spoke to us there saying, “The melting pot idea was a mistake, that you take everyone and put them in a pot, heat them up and create something new. You have to respect the uniqueness of each culture; you have to care about them. Don’t put them in a melting pot but make them part of a collage.”

At our last dinner together before boarding the plane, we spoke about Israel and our deepened respect for its accomplishments. Members of the delegation expressed concern about the wall, and Villaraigosa expressed concern, as well, adding, “Then again, they have built a wall to keep people out who want to kill them. It is hard to argue with that.”

Then he thought for a moment and laughed, shaking his head and saying, “And we’re building a wall in America to keep people out who want to take care of our babies.”

The highlight of this working trip for many of us was the time we spent with Israeli President Shimon Peres. He welcomed us warmly, saying that whenever he hears of a fire in Los Angeles, “We all want to run and help put it out.”

Villaraigosa explained that he was from Boyle Heights, and Peres asked if that was close to Beverly Hills. Our mayor laughed and said, “It is very far.” The two spoke about being optimists, and Peres said, “In the beginning, the pessimists are always right, but in the end, the optimists are right.”

Peres spoke about pollution, that pollution was endangering our lives in so many ways, physically and also by funding terrorists when we rely on oil.

He said, “You cannot negotiate with nature. Nature is getting impatient. You cannot tell the icebergs to wait…. We prefer to depend on the sun not an Arab country. The sun is more friendly, more objective, open to everyone.”

He spoke of the difference between “holy countries” and “oily countries,” about the problem of oil, that when one discovers oil they stop working, stop thinking.

“Why work when you’ve found oil?” he said, and then added about Israel, “What makes us proud is that we have become richer by working … we don’t have oil, but we have science, and science is unlimited.”

“We have had seven wars, always outnumbered and outgunned,” Peres said, weightily, “but never did a day of war postpone a day of freedom.”

L.A. benefits from ties with Israel


Los Angeles has long had a special relationship with the state and the people of Israel. It is a partnership founded on innovation and common hopes; a bond defined by shared dreams for a future of peace, security, and sustainability; a connection that grows stronger each time we establish new ties with our counterparts in the Jewish state.

Over the past week, I led a delegation of civic, faith, business and community leaders on a trip that will help make Los Angeles stronger, safer, more secure and better stewards of the environment — and all Angelenos stand to reap the benefits of our efforts.

In just a few days, we signed agreements to strengthen security at our airport and enhance our counterterrorism capabilities. We initiated partnerships to protect our ports and reduce our carbon footprint. We took a series of steps to revitalize the L.A. River, expand the city’s water conservation and recycling initiatives and invest in the technologies of tomorrow. From homeland security and public safety to environmental innovation and green development, Los Angeles is set to receive the best Israel has to offer in the fields where the Jewish state leads the world — and Los Angeles will be better off as a result.

Some of the most memorable and moving moments of the mission came in our meetings with Israel’s top political leaders. President Shimon Peres told us about Israel’s drive to grow green and continue to rededicate its efforts to make the desert bloom. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert outlined the challenges of leading a democratic nation in a neighborhood of dictators and despots. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni engaged us in a discussion on the ongoing struggle for peace, while former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu explained what must be done to secure his country and develop a vibrant economy. Finally, the mayors of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv shared their visions for prosperity and vitality in Israel’s largest cities.

Beyond the lasting impact of our security and green technology exchange, and beyond the extraordinary sessions with living political legends, there was one experience — one set of images — that will remain etched in my memory forever.

During the second day of the mission, we traveled to Sderot — a city devastated by years of rocket attacks and red alerts, and a town representing the front line of Israel’s fight against indiscriminate violence and causeless hatred. There, in the midst of the terror we all see on the nightly news and at the epicenter of fear for so many families, children expressed their desire for normalcy before a backdrop of bomb shelters in their schoolyards. Students demonstrated a commitment to a strong education in schools forced to invest in reinforced rooftops instead of new books and materials. Parents looked on with joy and pride as their kids got the opportunity to dance and sing and perform for their guests. And when we looked into the eyes of Sderot’s youth, we could see the hope, spirit, innocence and exhilaration that emanate from the hearts of so many young people worldwide.

After this visit to Sderot and throughout the entire state of Israel, I came away with a powerful reminder of the unique character and incredible story of the Jewish people. It is a tale of resilience in the face of adversity; of a determination to succeed despite impossible odds; of a commitment to innovation; of a will to preserve their homeland; of an unflagging and unwavering faith in “tikkun olam” and “tzedakah,” in repairing the world and pursuing justice, in the values that have sustained Jews for thousands of years and made Israel a true “light unto the nations.”

After 60 years of constant threat and endless challenges, I can safely say that Israel today is stronger than ever. It is a state that remains a beacon of light and a bastion of promise for nations and communities across the globe. It is a country that believes in what’s possible and never falters in its struggle for a brighter future. This mission and these experiences brought the history of the Jewish state into focus and gave us all reason to join our brothers and sisters halfway around the world in the hope — hatikvah — that, one day soon, Israel would once again be a free nation, a secure state and a peaceful homeland.

Photo essay: Mayor Villaraigosa in Israel


Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa inaugurated a state-of-the-art computer learning program in the besieged Israeli town of Sderot Friday, June 13.

Leading a delegation of community leaders and politicians, Villaraigosa presented the computers to Sderot residents so that they could continue learning despite constant rocket fire by Palestinians in the neighboring Gaza Strip.

Los Angeles-based Israel Leadership Club (ILC), which initiated and -sponsored the computer initiative, provided The Journal with these photos. Danny Alpert, ILC’s Co-Founder and co-Chairman said during a memorable speech in the city he said, “Today we mark a significant milestone in fulfilling our commitment to the young generation in Sderot. We mark a key point new stage for the relationship between the community in Los Angeles and the city of Sderot. Together, we provide the children of Sderot with the opportunity to receive proper education just like the children of Los Angeles receive.”

Right to left:: Danny Alpert, Mayor Villaraigosa and MK Michael Eitan in Sderot

R-L: Miriam Sassi, Sderot Municipal Education Director, gives Alpert an award from the city. In the background: Mayor Villaraigosa with the kids’ delegation who took an active part in the Live for Sderot concert. Behind them from right: MK Eitan, Councilmember Jack Weiss and Sdeort’s Mayor Eli Moya

From right: Consul General Jacob Dayan, Alpert, MK Eitan, Villaraigosa, Representative from CET who provides services to the project

Major Villaraigosa going to Israel, AJ Committee Asian Pacific outreach


Mayor Villaraigosa Plans Trip to Israel

Antonio Villaraigosa, who twice visited Israel as a member of the California Assembly, will lead his first trip to the Jewish state next month as mayor of Los Angeles.

“This is something he wanted to do,” spokesman Jonathan Powell said. “Especially surrounding Israel’s 60th anniversary and everything that is happening in Sderot, this is just the right time to go.”

Villaraigosa has worked hard to establish a relationship with L.A. Jewry and has extended those efforts to Israel, rallying in front of 6505 Wilshire Blvd., the home of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, during the 2006 war with Hezbollah and occasionally speaking by phone with Sderot Mayor Eli Moyal and raising money for after-school programs at the Consulate General’s “Live for Sderot” concert. The mayor is expected to dedicate a new computer room in that city, which continues to be shelled daily by Qassams from Gaza, though for security reasons Powell would not confirm this plan.

Villaraigosa’s delegation, which is scheduled to visit Israel June 11-18, will include City Councilmen Jack Weiss and Dennis Zine; Department of Water and Power CEO and general manager David Nahai; and Alan Rothenberg, president of the Los Angeles World Airports Commission. The group is scheduled to meet with the most prominent Israeli politicians — Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, President Shimon Peres, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu, to name a few.

The focus of the trip is counterterrorism and green technology, and the Angelenos hope to bring back strategies to improve Los Angeles’ homeland security and environmental sustainability, particularly water conservation. In March, the mayor’s office participated in a “green exchange” that, through The Federation’s Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership, brought about a dozen Israeli environmental leaders here. With similar climates and lack of available water, Los Angeles and Israel have a lot in common environmentally.

They also both have seriously toxic rivers, and Villaraigosa is scheduled to participate in the signing of a “sister river agreement” to restore both the Los Angeles River and the Yarkon River in Tel Aviv.

— Brad A. Greenberg, Senior Writer

American Jewish Committee Reaches Out to Asian Pacific Leaders

When Chinese officials tell James Busis that Jews are shrewd businessmen and control the American economy and government, it’s not anti-Semitism but a heartfelt compliment.

But this naive view can backfire, as when the Chinese blame “Jewish control” of the Federal Reserve Board for U.S. pressure to raise the value of the yuan against the dollar to narrow the trade imbalance between the two countries.

The same belief in Jewish power, with its mixture of awe and resentment, prevails in Japan, Korea and much of Asia, says Busis, who last year became director of the Washington-based Asian Pacific Institute of the American Jewish Committee (AJC).

A native of Pittsburgh and long active in its Jewish community, Busis, 52, came to the job with an extensive background as an American business executive in Japan, Indonesia and Singapore.

He believes that this kind of experience is vital to an understanding of his “territory,” which encompasses most of eastern Asia, India, the Pacific Islands, Australia and New Zealand.

“We’re approaching the Asian century, when the region’s dominant economic power will be followed by political and military influence,” he said during a visit to Los Angeles. “These developments will impact all other countries, including Israel.”

In contrast to dealing with Europe and the Middle East, eastern Asia comes without the baggage of traditional anti-Semitism, despite a larger concentration of Muslims in the region than in the Middle East.

There was a rash of anti-Semitic publications and comic books in the 1980s and ’90s, particularly in Japan, but this “fad,” fed by complete ignorance of Judaism, has largely disappeared, said Neil Sandberg, the AJC’s veteran Asia expert and a consultant to the institute.

Sandberg also encountered the delusional Asian estimate of Jewish clout, and a concomitant conviction that he, as representative of an influential Jewish organization, could dictate American policy.

When Sandberg demurred that American Jews weren’t all that powerful, his listeners smiled politely while remaining unconvinced.

Busis points to three segments of Asian society with their different views of the West.

  • The large Muslim population, which listens to Al Jazeera and is influenced by the attitudes of its Middle Eastern co-religionists, tends to be anti-Israel and suspicious of the United States.
  • A modern business-oriented class, which is generally pro-Western and eager to trade with America. Its members admire President Bush for his free trade policy and access to American markets.
  • A conservative segment that identifies with the Third World, especially in India, still bears resentment toward its former colonial masters, and is suspicious of the United States and Israel.

Although AJC’s main overseas activity is still oriented toward Europe, with several offices there, it has one Asian office in Mumbai (formerly Bombay). The organization is increasingly cultivating Asian opinion leaders.

Under AJC’s long-running Project Interchange program, the Asia Pacific Institute took two groups to Israel last year.

One was for Indian Muslim leaders, who participated in a weeklong educational seminar, the second for a delegation of Indonesian journalists.

AJC’s outreach to the Orient has been funded mainly by Pacific-oriented Jewish businessmen in Los Angeles, but New Yorker Marvin Kimmel recently signed a check for $2.5 million in support of the Asia Pacific Institute.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Mayor implores people of faith to fight homelessness


“Local communities have to provide services and supportive housing. We can’t be a city that grows in one part and leaves people destitute in another,” Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa told a crowd of more than 300 at Leo Baeck Temple on Sunday.

Teachings from the Torah, as well as triumphs on the football field, set the tone for a conference on homelessness, which also included County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky; Ed Edelman, retired county supervisor and special representative for homeless initiatives for the City of Santa Monica; L.A. City Council Member Bill Rosendahl; and a panel of agency leaders, ready to enlist the conference participants in a wide range of activities.

“Homelessness is curable and we must cure it,” Leo Baeck Senior Rabbi Kenneth Chasen said in his welcoming remarks. “Jews know too well the experience of being strangers and outsiders. We have lived in countless places where there were no homes for us.”

More than 90,000 homeless people live in Los Angeles County, about 15,000 of them in downtown’s skid row.

“Los Angeles has the dubious distinction of being America’s homeless capital,” the mayor said, adding that the city is also home to 262,500 millionaires.

The mayor emphasized that homelessness is pervasive throughout the county.

“We have 15 council districts and 87 neighborhood councils, and at the end of the day we have to articulate a common vision…. Every neighborhood has the responsibility to bear the challenge of homelessness,” Villaraigosa said, citing studies showing that contrary to residents’ fears, property values do not fall, nor does crime increase when supportive housing is provided for the previously homeless.

Rosendahl cited a recent survey that had found scores of homeless people in West Los Angeles as well as Venice. Yaroslavky, emphasized that religious communities, which share a vision and passion for social justice can play a key role.

“The county has allocated $100 million for homelessness,” he said. “At one point that was as unlikely as UCLA beating USC in football. For the first time in my career, the political landscape is right for tackling this issue.”

A panel of directors of programs that provide services for the homeless provided the audience with specific programs that could use their services.

Adlai Wertman, the CEO of Chrysalis, which finds jobs for as many as 2,000 homeless people each year, left a career on Wall Street to work with the homeless.

“Why?” he asks. “First and foremost because I’m a Jew. I’m a wannabe rabbi. I spend four or five hours a week studying Torah; it was hard for me to read about the duty of taking care of the poor and the hungry without taking action.”

The New Direction Choir, composed of previously homeless veterans who’ve worked with the New Directions orgainzaton, had earlier provided concrete evidence through song and testimonies to the successes of their programs.

“I am a member of this congregation,” said Toni Reinis, executive director of the New Directions. “So I have to cite something. Our tradition teaches us that the recognition of injustice is not sufficient. Awareness must be followed by action. Real tzedakah is only committed through our acts of righteousness.”

Reinis urged members of the audience to stop by the Veteran’s Village Diner on the grounds of the Veteran’s Administration in West Los Angeles, which serves breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday.

Joel Roberts, the CEO of PATH, People Assisting the Homeless, introduced Mary Erickson of Imagine LA, a group whose goal is to help every faith-based community in Los Angeles to “adopt” one of the city’s 8,000 homeless families for a two year period.

The conference was spearheaded by Ralph Fertig, a professor at the USC School of Social Work. Fertig, who has long been active in the struggle for human and civil rights, joined Leo Baeck two years ago because of its tradition of social justice programming. The ex-Freedom Rider and civil rights lawyer approached the temple’s rabbis in the hope of engaging the congregation in issues of homelessness.

“We decided a conference would be the perfect opportunity to get our members’ sleeves rolled up,” said Rabbi Leah Lewis, who was also a key organizer.

“We though this could be a launching pad for more involvement.”

After the presentations, Edelman and Fertig urged everyone to sign up as volunteers. Their exhortations were echoed by Lewis in her concluding remarks.

“The Chanukah season is our time to re-dedicate ourselves to stand up for what is right,” she said. “The Macabees were not deterred by the enormity of their task. Like the Macabees, we move forward one step at a time. For us at Leo Baeck, partnering with all these agencies is our congregational first step.”

“There is no community or city or region in the country that has dealt successfully with homelessness without the full participation from religious communities of all faiths standing up for community responsibility,” said Torie Osborn, Villaraigosa’s senior adviser on homelessness.

“I’m especially delighted about the religious community coming together with the city and county,” Chasen said as the congregants moved to an adjoining room where tables were covered with snacks, literature and sign-up sheets.

“The remarkable thing is that both Mayor Villaraigosa and Supervisor Yaroslavsky came,” he said. “The city and the county have not always worked together on homelessness. It’s a great sign of successes to come.”

Shoah lessons drive curriculum


The Holocaust will play a major role in educating teens at a new Green Dot charter school in Exposition Park. The entire staff of the Animo Jackie Robinson High School — seven teachers and two principals — has been trained to teach a curriculum by Facing History and Ourselves, a Boston-based organization that uses the Holocaust to help kids understand the impact of moral choices they make daily.

“In making our school a Facing History high school, we are saying ‘what if we could really shape all the curricular components with this vision? What would happen with kids from the inner city who are really struggling with moral choices, and who often have no idea what it means to have remorse for your actions?'” said assistant principal Kristen Botello.

 
The school has written a four-year curriculum that integrates the Facing History approach through several disciplines, including English, history, science, art and community service. Animo Jackie Robinson is the first school in Los Angeles to adopt Facing History as an underlying educational philosophy.

 
The school opened this year with 147 kids in ninth grade; 18 of them are African American and the rest are Latino. Grades will be added over the next three years until there are 600 ninth- to 12th-graders, and all teachers hired will be trained by Facing History.

 
“I believe the thought processes that result from Facing History affect the kids not only in terms of learning the content of the Holocaust, but in looking at human behavior and the specific, personal events where individuals had to make choices, and how individual choices impact history,” Botello said.

 
Botello taught English at Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights for 14 years, 11 of them using the Facing History curriculum. She says she can always spot kids who had Facing History teachers.

 
“You can just see it in the way they behave, the way they treat each other and the tolerance levels they have for people who are different, not just in terms of race or ethnicity, but in terms of disabilities or challenges,” she said.
The Jackie Robinson educators were among 30 LAUSD teachers who participated in Facing History’s five-day September institute called “Holocaust and Human Behavior,” held at Mount St. Mary’s College Doheny Campus.

 
Around 1,500 teachers in Los Angeles have been trained by Facing History.
 
For information, visit www.facinghistory.org or www.greendot.org.

 
A helping foot
 
As they have been for the past 14 years, about 250 kids and families will lend their feet to AIDS Walk Los Angeles Oct. 15 as part of Kids Who Care, a team made up of kids from more than a dozen schools, including Stephen S. Wise Day School and Milken Community High School.
 
Last year, Kids Who Care raised $65,000, placing it fifth among the top AIDS Walk fundraisers, most of them corporations.

The team was founded with 25 walkers in 1992 by then-8-year-old Leo Beckerman, a Stephen S. Wise member. Since then, Stephen S. Wise families have raised more than $500,000 for AIDS Walk Los Angeles, now in its 22nd year.
 
The money funds direct services, prevention education and advocacy on behalf of people living with HIV/AIDS in Los Angeles County.
 
There are approximately 55,000 people living with HIV in Los Angeles County, and there are 1,500-2,000 new infections each year.
 

For information visit www.WiseLA.org or www.aidswalk.net/losangeles.

 
Family dinners = better grades + better behavior
 
First ladies Maria Shriver and Corina Villaraigosa helped kick off Family Day at Thomas Starr King Middle School near Griffith Park Sept. 25. The Safeway Foundation launched a $2 million public service campaign to encourage families to eat dinner together.
 
The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University founded Family Day in 2001 — and this year 600 cities participated. A CASA study found that compared to kids who have fewer than three family dinners per week, children and teens who have frequent family dinners are at 70 percent lower risk for substance abuse; half as likely to try cigarettes or marijuana; one-third less likely to try alcohol; and almost 40 percent likelier to say future drug use will never happen. The report also found that teens who have frequent family dinners are likelier to get better grades in school.

 
For information visit www.safeway.com or www.casafamilyday.org.

 
The next step for girls: Israel
 
The Orthodox Union’s (OU) Machon Maayan one-year program in Israel opened with its first class of 39 women, many of whom have scant Judaic studies background.
The post high-school seminary in Beit Shemesh — a half hour from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem — attracts girls who graduate from the National Conference of Synagogue Youth, the OU’s outreach youth movement, and want to continue in their Jewish studies.
 
“Where we stop, programs like Machon Maayan continue,” said Rabbi Steven Burg, National Director of NCSY, who was formerly the movement’s West Coast director.
For more information go to www.machonmaayan.org.

 

Sderot Attack Interrupts Villaraigosa’s Call


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

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

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

The conversation barely got beyond the introductions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Competing Moments of Truth on Schools


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Competing Moments of Truth on Schools


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Jewish Groups Take Pro-Immigrant Stand


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Definite Maybe


As Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa swirled through both Washington and Los Angeles this year, a media darling wherever he went,

I contemplated a core mystery: Can Los Angeles’ schools be fixed by a man who loves to be loved, who with his union allies opposed education reform and whose wife is an educator with no presence in the fight for reform?

The surprising answer is maybe — if his current independent streak holds.

It is typical these days in speeches by the bustling, well-spoken Villaraigosa to hear a quick civics lesson from him about the profound troubles in public schools and the way these troubles harm the viability of Los Angeles.

He asks, “How could we do worse?”

He should know. He dropped out of troubled Roosevelt High School, then eventually persevered to earn a law degree. It wasn’t easy. Infamously, he failed the California Bar Exam several times. But before you snicker, remember that a disastrous school system saddled him with enormous academic deficits — yet he refused to be its victim.

Now, like mayors in Chicago, Detroit, New York and Cleveland, Villaraigosa wants the power to run the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) of 727,000 students, encompassing several cities and two dozen unincorporated communities.

Some are asking why anybody would want to run a district I dubbed, “Los Angeles Mummified” — a name that resonated for many. The better question is, can the schools be helped by a man who, despite his youthful travails, spent his adulthood on precisely the wrong side of the education wars?

As a state legislator, Villaraigosa joined California’s consistently anti-progressive “liberal” legislators to oppose Proposition 227, the ballot measure that ended the disastrous experiment known as “bilingual education.”

What if Villaraigosa’s views — that English immersion would hurt students — had prevailed?

Luckily, clear-eyed California voters ignored the nearly unanimous opposition from politicians. Today, English-language reading and writing skills are improving dramatically among Latino children.

Nor can Villaraigosa take credit for the tough subject matter “content standards” imposed on California’s whiny school districts by Sacramento. Those standards were embraced by the State Board of Education under a surprisingly fearless Gov. Gray Davis, despite claims by the Legislature’s powerful Latino Caucus — of which Villaraigosa was a member — that the standards were just too hard. Under the standards, designed to halt widespread dumbing-down by teachers, California students are clearly improving.

These and other fundamental reforms, fought by teachers unions which are the mayor’s longtime allies, are producing a quiet miracle. After two decades of decline that left California near the bottom among the 50 states, public schools are improving.

Today, L.A. Unified is cited by serious reformers as an example of how a troubled urban district can help its teachers turn things around. LAUSD has miles to go. But in many innercity grade schools, where Superintendent Roy Romer has focused tremendous effort, test scores are approaching levels more typical of the suburbs.

That’s huge. Low-income, minority students are starting to succeed. This, even though roughly 50 percent of L.A. students arrive speaking Spanish or another language (by comparison, only about 16 percent of students in New York City schools arrive speaking a language other than English.)

This turnaround happened in the wake of years — even decades — during which the unions and political groups (with which Villaraigosa was allied) blamed low achievement on insurmountable social ills, particularly poverty, that nobody could fix. The unions fought basic reading reforms, insisting students should work “at their own pace.”

They were tragically wrong, and many Los Angeles teens were left functionally illiterate. Today, with reading reforms now firmly in place, children are enjoying big leaps in reading ability, despite the hardships of poverty. Belatedly, some union leaders — and many teachers — understand and appreciate the importance of these reading reforms. Other union honchos are merely simmering over their political defeats, all too ready to make new missteps in the mission of teacher job protection or, laughably, in the name of helping students.

If he takes over the schools — a very big if — Villaraigosa’s biggest challenge will be to come to grips with how wrong he and his friends were. Although Villaraigosa has criticized Romer, the truth is that Romer, the former Democratic governor of Colorado, stood up to his own natural allies. In his former life, Romer was staunchly pro-union as a politician.

Romer’s efforts in Los Angeles, along with those of former school board President Caprice Young and no-nonsense current board member Mike Lansing, are among the reasons I rarely call the place L.A. Mummified anymore.

Yet Villaraigosa has taken Romer to task for, among other things, failing to stem the dropout rate. On this count, Villaraigosa’s lack of experience in the education wars really shows.

The semi-illiterate dropouts common today were little kids 10 years ago, subjected to endless fads enacted under former school board presidents, such as Jackie Goldberg, and past superintendents, such as Sid Thompson.

Romer tried to undo much of that, by getting teachers to focus heavily on solid, basic skills. In an ironic twist, now-state Assemblywoman Goldberg’s name recently surfaced as a possible replacement for Romer when he retires. Goldberg has spent much of her time in Sacramento fighting to weaken reforms in reading, English immersion, math, science, testing and content standards that Romer has championed.

With such struggles still facing the schools, Villaraigosa’s own weak history in this field doesn’t inspire confidence. What inspires confidence, however, is the manner in which the mayor has proved himself independent of City Hall unions and thus of his past as a labor organizer.

Likewise, he parted company with the powerful Los Angeles Teachers Union in this week’s special election, endorsing a different candidate than the union in the Tuesday primary for an open school-board seat.

If a leader with Villaraigosa’s energy can learn from his mistakes and maintain the independent quality that has helped make him a media darling, he can be a positive force for improving L.A. schools — whether he wins the power to call the shots or not.

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

The Circuit


Supercause for Super bowl

Goodies abounded on Super Bowl Sunday as, for the 20th consecutive year, “Doctor to the Stars” and Fulfillment Fund founder Gary Gitnick, chief of the Division of Digestive Diseases at UCLA School of Medicine, and his gracious wife, Cherna, opened their home to more than 200 friends for their annual Super Bowl party. What started out as a social gathering has turned into a springboard for educational supporters to speak at halftime to the guests, cozying up in the Gitnicks’ living room where the dress is casual and so is the atmosphere.

Celebs like Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and wife, Corina, stopped by to chat and speak at half time with Police Chief William Bratton, Superintendent of Schools Roy Romer, state Sen. Liz Figueroa (D-Fremont), Councilwoman Wendy Greuel, Fulfillment Fund CEO Andrea Cockrum, producer Sandy Climan, UCLA Chancellor Albert Carnesale, Councilwoman Janice Hahn and Darrien Iacocca with Charlie Knapp.

Chasen’s former captain, Arli, served up its famous chili but it was the dessert table that really hit home with cream puff poppers, triffle, a selection of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream with assorted toppings, cakes, brownies and luscious candies. The full house was a testament to not only the Gitnick’s well-deserved popularity, but proof that, “if you feed them, they will come.”

Sparkle and Shine

The night was all aglitter when Harry Winston launched its new 6,000-square-foot Beverly Hills flagship salon. The event, filled with gawkers and gawkees was hosted by Harry Winston chairman Ronald Winston, son of the founder, and producer Jeffrey Katzenberg, chairman of the board of the Motion Picture and Television Fund Foundation. The evening was a tribute to the fund and a portion of the proceeds of sales went toward the charity.

Long known as the jeweler to the stars, Harry Winston jewels are always prominent on awards nights and adorn the biggest celebs.

The plush new salon was designed by world-renowned architect Thierry Despont, whose legion of credits include the Carlyle Hotel in New York and Claridges in London, as well as the interiors of the decorative art galleries at the Getty Museum. The grand chandelier was inspired by an over-size piece of jewelry originally created for an Indian maharaja by Harry Winston.

Guests were also treated to a glimpse of some legendary gems, including the Lesotho Diamond, weighing 71.73 carats.

Read On!

More than 120 enthusiastic students from Los Angeles Open Charter Elementary School received a special visit from Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa for the local celebration of Scholastic Read for 2006. Millions of children, parents and teachers worldwide joined together to read for 2,006 seconds (approximately 33 and a half minutes). With Villaraigosa at the helm, however, and a big book donation to celebrate, the event lingered well past the 33-minute mark. Paul Koplin, vice president of the board of directors of the Literacy Network of Greater Los Angeles, was on hand to thank Villaraigosa for a 500-book donation to help the organization’s literacy providers celebrate reading for years to come.

“We’re having a great time with the mayor during this celebration of reading and are grateful to him for choosing the Literacy Network to receive these books that will be distributed among several of our over 250 literacy providers,” Koplin said. “Actually, we’d love to have him read with us more often!”

The Literacy Network of Greater Los Angeles is dedicated to eradicating illiteracy, and links volunteers, learners, donors and teaching materials with approximately 1,100 adult, family, workplace and children’s literacy program sites in Southern California.

Kick It Up

Uber boxing manager Jackie (what’s a nice Jewish girl doing in a profession like this?) Kallen cut the ribbon as the doors opened at the new Lennox Boxing Club in South Los Angeles. L.A County Sheriff Lee Baca and Kallen held a ribbon-cutting press conference at the gym to celebrate the boxing program for innercity youth, which the Sheriff’s Department will oversee. For more information on the program, call (323) 242-8784.

 

Villaraigosa a Yemenite?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Little Scandal Becomes Big Deal


The still-simmering flap over forged endorsements for Mayor James Hahn is the classic scandal that didn’t have to be. A little more than a week ago, this incident grew from niche story — something that only Jewish Journal readers might notice — to the week’s hottest local political fracas, with widespread coverage in newspapers and on radio and TV.

And it was the Hahn campaign that made this happen.

This episode began as the tale of an odd mistake. Some of the same names appeared on endorsement lists of Hahn and of one of his challengers, Bob Hertzberg. The Hahn list appeared in published advertisements, including in The Journal. Six people on Hahn’s list complained in a letter that they are not supporting the incumbent mayor. The Hahn campaign noted that its ad was based on signed endorsement letters, but also said that it would remove the six names.

So far so good for the Hahn campaign.

It’s what transpired next that incensed a portion of the Jewish community that could have supported Hahn in the May 17 runoff. At this point, the mayor’s lieutenants had the option of apologizing profusely and carefully double-checking all potentially suspect endorsements, just to be sure.

Instead, some say, Hahn’s campaign staff, notably veteran political adviser Kam Kuwata, adopted an approach that came across as cavalier and insensitive. It started with Kuwata’s presumption that producing the endorsement forms would settle the issue — that citing these forms was all he needed to do.

Journal reporter Idan Ivri showed the letters to the people who purportedly signed them. They said their signatures had been forged. Kuwata downplayed that issue, while insisting that the strange occurrence was limited to those who signed the letter. Yet the problematic endorsements began to grow in number. To date, community leaders have specified 30 false endorsements. As of this writing, The Journal has contacted about one-third of these individuals — all of whom insisted they never endorsed Hahn.

Kuwata cemented this public-relations debacle when he identified the source of the documents as Joe Klein, who died last June at age 69.

So, if you’re keeping track, the Hahn campaign’s first message was: These complaints are no big deal, not worth bothering with. The second tack was to blame a revered member of the Orthodox community, who’s conveniently not around to defend himself.

If Klein had left behind a signed confession attesting to the forgeries, it still would have been bad politics for the Hahn campaign to hide behind his tombstone.

As it happens, many of the bad endorsements were those of people who’d supported Hahn — often at Klein’s behest — in 2001. The 2005 campaign, however, included Hertzberg, a Jewish candidate who appealed to these voters on key issues, not to mention a Hahn who’s been tarnished by ongoing corruption investigations.

The fake endorsement issue didn’t hurt Hahn in the March 8 primary, because the news emerged too late. Hertzberg narrowly missed the runoff. But the flap surely presents a gift to City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa, who’ll face off with Hahn on May 17.

The damage done is embodied in Dr. Irving Lebovics, a dentist who chairs Agudath Israel of California, an Orthodox group. Lebovics is among those who say his signature was forged on a letter endorsing Hahn. He’s unhappy about that, but he’s especially upset at what he regards as the outrageous vilification of Klein.

“It’s a matter of integrity,” he said. “Integrity is very important to me.”

Lebovics has nothing against Hahn’s performance as mayor; he’ll even allow that Hahn’s been a good mayor, but he’s now leaning toward Villaraigosa. Lebovics attended a hastily called Friday press conference at which he was among four Orthodox Jewish leaders who defended Klein and criticized Hahn. Lebovics declined to state his preference for Villaraigosa while tape was rolling, because he didn’t want the focus to stray from his issue with Hahn’s campaign.

Another speaker was Rabbi Steven Weil of Temple Beth Jacob, who clearly was angry about the alleged forging of his own signature. He, too, evinced no interest in promoting Hahn’s challenger, whose name he pronounced as “Villagarosa” in response to a reporter’s question.

But this event wasn’t entirely without political orchestration. The sound system was provided by the Villaraigosa campaign. And the master of ceremonies was City Councilman Jack Weiss, a Villaraigosa stalwart. Reached earlier by phone, the press deputy for Weiss referred to the press conference as a “Villaraigosa event” that was unrelated to the official business of the council office.

Kuwata of the Hahn campaign fired back at Weiss, calling reporters’ attention to thousands of dollars in fines that Weiss faces for mistakes made in his 2001 City Council campaign. That got reported, too, but didn’t have the legs of the dodgy endorsements, which made it on at least two TV stations’ newscasts, on two radio stations, and into the pages of the Daily Breeze and the Los Angeles Times.

At this juncture, Hahn hopes for a tight race — that would mark an improvement over his lagging second-place primary finish. And if it’s close, last week’s missteps could cost him. Members of Orthodox congregations tend to vote, and they respect their leaders’ endorsements — their real endorsements, that is.

In 2001, Hahn won over substantial numbers of Anglo, moderate and middle-class voters with a campaign that subtly reminded them that Villaraigosa had dark skin. The campaign also painted Villaraigosa as too liberal overall and too dangerous on matters of crime.

In 2005, despite his second-place primary finish, Hahn could yet prevail, but it’ll be more difficult to win with a similar campaign. For one thing, Villaraigosa plans to fire back with City Hall corruption allegations. And now he’s got additional ammunition provided courtesy of the Hahn campaign.

Third-place finisher Hertzberg hasn’t made an endorsement, but his legions already are debating where to go. They include affordable-housing developer Stanley Treitel, Klein’s brother-in-law. Treitel is no Westside lockstep liberal. For one thing, he supports vouchers for private schools, because he’d like government subsidies to help pay for children who attend Orthodox academies.

Could Treitel possibly go for Villaraigosa, the teachers union favorite, the ultimate anti-voucher man?

Yes, he could. And now he does.

Mayor’s Race Role


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s going to be a real horse race.


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

Why I Support Villaraigosa


I first met Antonio Villaraigosa some seven years ago, while he was campaigning for the California Assembly. I was immediately impressed with the depth of his convictions, the breadth of his background and his natural ability to build consensus. He had done so much, and yet he was so young. There was something special about Antonio.

He has strong beliefs that are well-thought-out and passionate. Having served as the local chapter president of the ACLU and on the MTA board as a labor organizer for teachers and government workers, he has developed a strong and diversified background.

Later in the spring of 1995, newly elected Assembly members Antonio Villaraigosa and Bob Hertzberg appeared at a meeting of Democrats for Israel to talk about Latino-Jewish relations. Who knew at the time that each would be Assembly speaker? Each would finish each other’s sentences. Antonio displayed a genuine affection for the Jewish community and a natural ability to build bridges.

In 1997 The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles sponsored a Golden Anniversary Mission to Israel with 400 people. Antonio, then the majority leader, went on the trip as part of the Jewish Community Relations Committee group. He displayed an avid fascination and genuine curiosity. Two years later, he went back to Israel with the Anti-Defamation League. His service as Assembly speaker — by far one of the most productive in the modern term-limit period — speaks loud and clear why he should be mayor.

His speakership began with Republicans being treated fairly; each committee had a Republican vice chair. There was a true sense of bipartisanship. Republican leader Scott Baugh said, “Antonio Villaraigosa has been widely credited with reclaiming the stature of the speakership and reinforcing the standing of the Assembly; he has been acknowledged for restoring civility to the conduct of legislative business and for establishing a tone of cooperation and bipartisanship that endures today.” Senate Republican Leader Jim Brulte said, “People who served with Speaker Villaraigosa know that he went out of his way to accommodate Republicans.”

What has impressed me about Antonio is his courage to stand tall against powerful interests as he pursues what is right. I saw this firsthand. A bill was flying through the Legislature, pushed hard by agricultural water interests, that would have been costly to every segment of education, from kindergarten to the university system. The bill was in the last committee of the Assembly.

People representing various aspects of education asked him to help. Antonio analyzed the public-policy issues of the proposal and decided to stop the bill. He stood up to those powerful interests and helped public education with the power of his speakership and his will.

The job of Los Angeles mayor is a difficult one. Frequently, contentious interests cancel each other out, and nothing gets done. An effective mayor has to bring communities, elected officials and others together to solve problems. In Sacramento, Antonio Villaraigosa has done this many times during his tenure as speaker and majority leader. His list of accomplishments fills 11 pages on his Web site: a 35 percent reduction in the car tax; the first on-time budget in many years; establishing the Healthy Family Program for 250,000 children of working-class families; the extensive education program; the joint-authored largest school bond in the history of the United States — $9.2 billion; legislation lowering class size; significant hate-crime legislation; significant gun-control legislation; and a $2.5-billion park bond, the largest in U.S. history.

More money than ever, over $20 million, went to various Jewish institutions. Significant legislation addressed Holocaust survivors.

But what is more important: what will he do? Villaraigosa has an extensive plan for action in many areas and in much detail.

Antonio Villaraigosa believes that economic development and good quality of life must go hand-in-hand in Los Angeles. He will be business-friendly and protect communities at the same time. He advocates refinements to current policies that will focus city energies and resources on encouraging entrepreneurial activities, creating good-paying, career-oriented jobs and coordinating efforts to benefit neighborhoods that have not consistently benefited from economic growth. He has always been a strong protector of the environment.

As a former member of the MTA and RTD boards and the Assembly Transportation Committee, Antonio has more hands-on experience with transportation issues than any major candidate for mayor of Los Angeles in modern times. He is an advocate of coordinated planning to move people and to reduce traffic congestion in Los Angeles, using buses, light rail and traffic management techniques.

Antonio believes that effective community-based policing provides mechanisms for breaking down traditional barriers between the police and the communities they serve, creating a partnership that can reduce crime and enhance community involvement.

I have been active in politics my entire life, and have supported many candidates. It has been a long time since I have supported a candidate with as much unrestrained enthusiasm and personal commitment.

Having personally witnessed him in action, many times displaying courage and a passion for outstanding public policy, I know Antonio Villaraigosa has the capacity to be a great mayor. As I have been telling my friends for the last two years, for those who are looking for the next Tom Bradley, his name is Antonio.