And Then There Were Three…

The Jewish Federation of Los Angeles will select its next President in the coming two weeks, and according to multiple sources, the choice is down to just three names.

The new president will oversee the largest Jewish organization in the region, and one of the largest non-profits of any kind in Los Angeles.  The Federation, with an annual campaign of some $50 million, funds social services and conducts its own outreach and programming efforts for both Jews and non-Jews locally, in Israel and elsewhere.

According to several sources, the pool of dozens of applicants has been whittled away in the course of an almost year-long search process to three leading contenders (in alphabetical order):

Joshua Fogelson, executive dorector of the Minneapolis Jewish Federation.

Jay Sanderson, CEO of JTN, a non-profit Jewish television production and digital media company based in Los Angeles.

Jack Weiss, former Los Angeles City Councilman.

Asked whether there isn’t a fourth candidate or a dark horse, one person close to the process said, “Those are the names they’re working with.”

The new candidate will replace John Fishel, who resigned January 2009, amid speculation that Board Chairman Stanley Gold, the lay leader of the non-profit, was pushing for a change at the top.

Fishel will remain at his post until the end of this year.

While the handful of people on the selection committee have kept mum on the possible candidates, the long process of interviews and introductions have enabled many others to ascertain who the lead candidates are.

If the LA Jewish community had its own Off Track Betting, handicapping the winner in this race would be big business.  The speculation in shuls, cocktail parties and banquets, follows a pattern of on the one hand/on the other hand:

• Fogelson is an unknown locally, and Gold and others close to the process said early on the next president would either come from within the community or be very familiar with it.  On the other hand, Fogelson is someone with years of hands-on Federation experience.

•Sanderson has decades of experience and contacts in the LA Jewish community, where he raised millions for JTN. He is a close acquaintance of Gold and incoming board chair Richard Sandler, and Gold’s daughter sits on the board of JTN.  Sanderson was also said to have presented a “compelling strategy” for integrating the Federation with new media.  On the other hand, JTN is not as high profile an organization or business as other Jewish groups.

•Weiss has superior name recognition after serving as a City Councilman in the city’s heavily Jewish 5th District.  He has been active in support of Israel while in office, and has an impressive educational and work background: Princeton, Irell & Manella, the US Attorney’s office. On the other hand, as a politician he has naturally gathered his share of enemies, having survived a recall movement in 2007. 

According to one source, Federation leadership will choose the next president by the end of this week.

“They want to get it done before Rosh Hashana,” the source said.

Whoever is selected, he—all the known finalists are men— will be faced with the daunting task of boosting the Federation’s sagging profile, raising money in a crippled economy, and rethinking the future of an umbrella charity in an age of directed giving.  Though the job pays well—Fishel received $410,000 in salary and benefits in 2006—it is known to be relentless.  Weiss himself once called Fishel—the man, he, Sanderson or Fogelson will succeed—“the James Brown of the Jewish community; the hardest-working man in L.A. Jewry.”