Jan Perry Seeks Higher Calling

Black Councilwoman Wants To Be L.A.'s First Jewish Mayor

Seeking Success: Councilwoman Jan Perry says she has ‘always been a seeker.’ That impulse led her to convert to Judaism three decades ago, and fuels her run for mayor of Los Angeles.
Courtesy of Jan Perry
Seeking Success: Councilwoman Jan Perry says she has ‘always been a seeker.’ That impulse led her to convert to Judaism three decades ago, and fuels her run for mayor of Los Angeles.

By Rex Weiner

Published January 01, 2012, issue of January 06, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

“I’ve always been a seeker,” Councilwoman Jan Perry told the Forward during a recent interview over dinner.

The African American politician was responding to a question about her conversion 30 years ago to Judaism. But her comment could also have applied to why she was running for mayor of America’s second-largest city.

Perry was dining not far from her downtown office at the core of the 9th District, which she represents. Wearing a demure black dress and a large-beaded necklace, she perused the menu at Kendall’s Brasserie at the L.A. Music Center, while the supper crowd exited to catch the musical upstairs at the Ahmanson Theatre. As the restaurant hubbub shushed to a whisper, the councilwoman quietly ordered, and slyly requested that her shamelessly calorie-rich choice be off the record.

Jan Perry
Courtesy of Jan Perry
Jan Perry

If Jan Perry wins L.A’s mayoral election in 2013, the 56-year-old, three-term City Council member will make history as the city’s first woman mayor. A victory would also make Perry L.A’s first Jewish mayor.

The fact that Perry — who has been endorsed by Rep. Maxine Waters, former police commissioner Bernard Parks and former congresswoman Yvonne Burke, among others — is also African American may seem an unusual twist. But in the transracial, transcultural mix that is today’s Los Angeles, it actually places Perry solidly within the norm of Democratic mayoral hopefuls heading for primary balloting in June.

The four declared candidates, who enjoy an electoral edge over the GOP in this predominantly Democratic city, boast a variety of twists on Jewishness that could ultimately factor into voters’ choices — or not.

Contenders include Perry’s City Council colleague Eric Garcetti, whose lineage is Jewish and Latino; city Controller Wendy Greuel, a non-Jew married to a Jewish filmmaker, with a following among the Hollywood elite; and Deputy Mayor Austin Beutner, a Michigan-born Jewish investment banker and millionaire philanthropist who counts former Mayor Richard Riordan among his endorsers.

“These candidates all have overlapping constituencies,” said Raphael Sonenshein, chairman of the political science department at California State University, Fullerton, and a close observer of Southern California politics. He reckons Perry has “reasonable prospects” of winning. The fact that she is Jewish, in his opinion, “doesn’t hurt,” especially in a city where Jews are 6% of the population but often contribute 16% to 18% of the vote. But the real question is: Will it help?

Perry’s early years were shaped by the progressive politics of Cleveland’s East Side suburbs, where she grew up amid post-war optimism and the rise of a new black middle class. Her father was an attorney who worked for Carl Stokes, the nation’s first black mayor of a major city. Her mother, with a master’s degree in medical social work, helped lead the local push for fair housing laws. Getting out the vote on a local level, and getting behind the 1960s civil rights movement on the national level, were family activities.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • The real heroines of Passover prep aren't even Jewish. But the holiday couldn't happen without them.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.