December 17, 2018

Catching up with Brad Sherman

Democratic Congressman Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) is renowned for his meticulous attention to his district’s concerns. On weekends, he often hosts town meetings and listens to many constituent complaints.  Now he’s one of the unhappy constituents, as well he should be.

When Sherman, his wife, Lisa, and their daughters, Molly, Naomi and Lucy, moved to Porter Ranch in the northern San Fernando Valley, “We didn’t know we would be part of a gas leak,” he told me. But they were, beginning late last year, when methane leaked from a Southern California Gas Co. well. Scientists found it to be the largest methane gas leak in history, with 100,000 tons of methane released into the air. Several thousand people evacuated their homes.

I hadn’t talked to Sherman since his winning campaign against Rep. Howard Berman in 2012, and I was curious about how he’s been doing since his victory. He was in the news last year for opposing President Barack Obama’s Iran deal, and he is now backing Hillary Clinton for president.  All are newsworthy, but what intrigued me was that he lived so near the gas leak.

“We got a big filter for the living room,” he said.  “We spend a lot of time in D.C. I don’t know what we would have done if we spent 30 days a month there.”

Sherman moved quickly to help fellow Porter Ranch residents, who evacuated their homes by the thousands. He held a town meeting at Granada Hills Charter High School and another by phone. He helped families who weren’t getting return phone calls from the gas company. His office also assisted residents with gas company reimbursements for air filters and living expenses. He steered businesses to government assistance programs. And he introduced legislation strengthening well-safety standards.

With the leak sealed, the Sherman family is remaining in Porter Ranch. “We’re not moving,” he said. “We’re waiting to see if the home is safe, and we will keep running those big filters.  Most of our neighbors have moved back. Different people have different thoughts. There’s a lot of anger. It depends on where you go.”  

People are mad about waiting for reimbursements from the gas company for costs from being displaced, as well as other expenses. “On the other hand, you go to the town center and every parking lot is full. This is not a ghost town,” he said.

Sherman’s work in Washington, D.C., involves a lot of issues. He spent months before the gas leak on international affairs, joining other Jewish lawmakers in voting against the nuclear deal with Iran, which was strongly opposed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. California’s two senators, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, supported the president, as did Los Angeles Rep. Adam Schiff, top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. All are Jewish.

Sherman said that in implementing the nuclear deal, Obama is giving away more than he said he would, Sherman said. “The administration needs to be pushed to make sure the Iranians deliver what they promised and that we don’t deliver more than what we promised.”

Recently, he wrote Obama complaining that the administration was going back on a promise that Iranian banks would be limited in their dealing with American financial institutions. While the letter, written in a somewhat chilly tone, won’t make him friends in the administration, it will help him among those of his constituents who are pro-Netanyahu. “I am pro-Obama, but I am not pro-Iran,” Sherman said.

He is also pro-Clinton, even though Hillary Clinton as secretary of state supported the Iran nuclear deal and helped to negotiate it.

But Sherman said he trusts Clinton more than her Jewish opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders, on Israel. Like many strong Israel supporters, Sherman didn’t especially like the way Sanders called for an even-handed approach in dealing with Israel and the Palestinians. Sanders, debating Clinton in Brooklyn, said, “There comes a time when if we pursue justice and peace, we are going to have to say that Netanyahu is not right all of the time. … All that I am saying is we cannot continue to be one-sided. There are two sides to the issue.”

Sherman said he has known Sanders for years. When Sanders was representing Vermont in the House, they served together on the financial services committee and co-authored a bill to break up banks that are too big to fail.

“I have also worked with Hillary Clinton,” Sherman said. “I think she has a better understanding of the issues Israel faces and the Middle East. So much of the world is anti-Israel,” he said, “and so it is necessary for the United States to be pro-Israel to even things out. Israel doesn’t need a broker. Israel needs a friend.”

With Sanders pledging to fight on for the nomination, the issue will undoubtedly resonate in the California primary, at least in Los Angeles, where a diverse Jewish population stretches from the Fairfax District to Porter Ranch.

The Porter Ranch controversy subsided when the leaking well was capped. The Jewish community’s disagreement over Israel and its Likud government won’t subside, and Sherman will be in the middle of it. 

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, 2009).