Christina Pascucci, 38, a former journalist for KTLA and FOX 11, is running to be the Democratic nominee for the late Dianne Feinstein’s Senate seat. She fancies herself as a political outsider hoping to reverse the “degradation” of California. And she didn’t know until her early 20s that she is of Jewish ancestry and has been on a journey of “self-exploration” regarding her Judaism.
Pascucci is running in a field that includes Representatives Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) and Katie Porter (D-Irvine), as well as former Los Angeles Dodgers baseball player Steve Garvey, a Republican. She has been endorsed by Rabbi Marvin Hier, the founder and dean emeritus of the Simon Wiesenthal Center; Pascucci told the Journal in a Zoom interview that she is honored to have Hier’s endorsement.
At a Jan. 7 #EndJewHatred rally in Los Angeles, Pascucci mentioned that her grandmother “was in Munich, Germany during the Holocaust and had to hide her religion to survive. And I just think of how many Jews around the world who don’t know their own story.” Pascucci told the Journal over Zoom that she was raised as a Christian and that her grandmother died when she was a baby. But when she learned of her Jewish ancestry, she “went on a mission of self-exploration to figure out as much as I could,” including going on a Birthright trip to Israel.
Pascucci was already familiar with the Jewish community, having grown up around the Jewish communities in Calabasas, Woodland Hills and the San Fernando Valley; additionally, she “had a serious boyfriend who was Jewish.” And every Christmas, her family would make latkes. “It’s pretty amazing to think how food is the thing that ties you to your past,” Pascucci mused.
The former journalist eventually became connected to Rabbi Chaim Mentz from the Chabad of Bel Air, who Pascucci described as a “second father.” “He has taken me under his wing and we go to his home with his beautiful family for Shabbat dinner, and we would do sessions on the phone where we talk about the history of Judaism and the Jewish people,” Pascucci said. “Just to try and learn, I go for high holidays to his temple.”
“[Rabbi Chaim Mentz] has taken me under his wing and we go to his home with his beautiful family for Shabbat dinner, and we would do sessions on the phone where we talk about the history of Judaism and the Jewish people,” – Christina Pascucci
Pascucci acknowledged that her “Christian upbringing will always be a part of me,” but so, too, is her Jewish ancestry. “To me Judaism … it transcends religion, it’s like a culture, a way of being,” she said. “The sense of family and togetherness is so beautiful to me. Especially now that I’m going to be a mom, this is something that I’m very excited to share with my own daughter.” Pascucci is seven months pregnant.
Pascucci decided to leave her journalism career and run for public office because she had “a front row seat to the degradation of our state” throughout her career as a journalist. “As I saw this more and more, I became increasingly frustrated,” Pascucci said. “I realized that we were having the same elected leaders who were part of the problem getting reelected and contributing further to the problem, and I had to step in and do something.” She believes the state needs leaders “who reject polarization by bringing us back to our ideals where we have decency and we reach across the aisle and we collaborate and we truly serve the American people.”
In Pascucci’s view, the “degradation” of California includes “how unaffordable it is to live here, how the border is complete chaos and not secure, how homelessness is rampant and we’re not taking care of our people.” She is called it a “travesty” that “60-70% of our kids aren’t reading at grade level.” “That’s like a national security concern, frankly,” Pascucci contended.
Additionally, Pascucci believes that mental health should be prioritized “in a way that can really move the needle” through “innovative new therapies like psychedelic therapy research that could really change the scope of how we deal with mental health.”
Another motivating factor for Pascucci to enter the race was learning that she was going to be a mother. “Her future and her generation’s future depends on us really stepping up and changing the trajectory of what we see now,” Pascucci said.
In October, Pascucci visited Israel with 30 Chabad rabbis, where they met with the families of hostages. “Their message really continues to ring true and reverberate in my brain of just, don’t forget us,” she said. “Keep sharing this story. It’s so important as the news cycle goes on that people don’t forget.”
Pascucci was in awe when watching the rabbis bring “a lot of joy” to Israel during a dark time in the country. “They would bust out their guitars, they would start singing,” she said. It was also special for Pascucci to be part of that group as a woman, as she was able to give an injured woman in a hospital a hug whereas the rabbis could not. “Having that contact was very powerful and profound,” she said.
Visiting the Western wall was such a powerful moment for Pascucci, given her family history and the current times, that she began “weeping.” That location was also where Pascucci was bestowed her Hebrew name: Hannah Esther.
Life in Israel during the war is similar to other “war zones I’ve been to, where people become almost used to the conflict,” Pascucci said, although there is “heightened tension … The pilot on El Al, when we landed, he had a very emotional message too,” she recalled. “He said something about, ‘We know that all other airlines have stopped coming here but we had to make sure to bring you home.’”
She also recounted seeing a playground in Sderot that was a “makeshift bomb shelter.” “It looks like a cute little caterpillar, but it’s actually a bomb shelter for them to go in in case there are incoming missiles,” Pascucci said, “and that’s a reality they deal with.”
Additionally, Pascucci arranged a meeting between one of the Chabad rabbis and a Palestinian who heads an organizationthat helps provide economic opportunity to children in Gaza. “It was a very tough, but important conversation to have and I think more of those need to be had,” Pascucci said.
If elected, how would Pascucci address the recent surge in antisemitism? “When you see that people are 70% more likely to spread an untrue story on social media than a true story — this is per an MIT study — that is a problem when you look at the conflict right now in Gaza,” Pascucci said. “I think misinformation threatens our democracy and having some sort of regulation around misinformation is an important step to take as one of many.” She also believes that educating people about antisemitism and treating antisemitic incidents as hate crimes are part of the solution to combating Jew hatred.
Pascucci described the December congressional hearings from the university presidents of Harvard University, University of Pennsylvania and MIT — two of whom have since resigned — as being “a painful reflection of the reality that Jews face across America today” and that “drastic steps” need to be taken for change on campus. “These kids are our future leaders,” she said. “So that’s a scary prospect to think that our future leaders have such profound misunderstandings when it comes to Jewish Americans.”
She urged for “all parties” to come to the table and “see the humanity in one another.” “If they had the discussion and heard from one another’s perspective, there’s so much that could come from that in a productive way,” Pascucci contended.
Asked if Congress should use federal funding as leverage for universities to take stronger action against antisemitism on campus, Pascucci replied that it should be “a case-by-case basis” but “everything should be on the table when you’re looking at something like this to show how serious it is.” The Journal also asked Pascucci about reports that MIT didn’t suspend students involved in an unauthorized pro-Palestinian protest because it would cause issues with their student visas, Pascucci replied that that too should be a “case-by-case basis, but if someone’s being explicitly antisemitic or saying something that would threaten genocide against Jews or anything that takes it to that level, I’m sorry but that’s a price that you’d have to pay for perpetuating hate.”
As for the current conflict, Pascucci called for “lasting solution” involving dialogue from all parties (i.e. Qatar and Jordan) and condemning Hamas. “It’s crazy to me that that’s even a controversial statement to make,” she said.
Pascucci’s pitch to the Journal readers: She supports “people over party,” which she says is what differentiates her from her “Democratic establishment opponents.” “If there’s anything that goes against their own party, they don’t want to call it out,” she contended, claiming her Democratic opponents cling to “their party allegiance to the death.” As an example, she argued that none of her opponents spoke out when pro-Palestinian protesters rallied outside of a home owned by the president of AIPAC in Brentwood during Thanksgiving, where the protesters threw smoke bombs and left faux dead babies on the driveway.
“We need leaders who will stand up for what’s right and call out things even if it’s within their own party, or if it’s something that might go against a narrative within their own party because that is how you build trust with the American people,” Pascucci said. “It’s incredibly important more than ever to build that trust, it’s at an all-time low in government and media. And so we must always speak up and stand for truth.”
Pascucci is “proud” of how her campaign has performed thus far. “Our message is really resonating with voters,” she said, arguing that people simply want someone who “has common sense around the foundational issues that can make life better,” such as the economy and “how people don’t feel safe.” “I’m very proud that out of nearly 30 people running, we’ve been polling, despite not being part of the establishment and Democratic machine,” she said. “I know that we are the underdog, but in politics anything is possible.”