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!
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • 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.