Los Angeles — “The Kosher Burrito — that’s me,” Los Angeles City Council member Eric Garcetti exclaimed with a toothy grin.
Noshing on chocolate chip rugelach, Garcetti invoked the landmark fusion fast-food joint known for its signature pastrami taco dish to underline the mixed heritage that he hopes will help propel him to City Hall as L.A.’s first Jewish mayor.
Garcetti, who served a decade in the City Council and six years as its president, touts his record of public service as the main reason to elect him mayor in June 2013. But it can’t hurt to invoke his unusual background in a city where Latinos comprise nearly half the population and the 6% that are Jews customarily deliver as much as 20% of the vote.
The product of a Mexican family of Italian extraction on his father’s side and Russian Jews on the maternal side, Garcetti, 41, is a fourth-generation Angeleno. Both sides of his family came to L.A. in the early 20th century, fleeing the Mexican Revolution on one hand and conscription for the Russo-Japanese War on the other. Both settled within blocks of one another in East L.A.’s melting pot Jewish-Latino neighborhood of Boyle Heights.
Early polls show Garcetti, one of three declared mayoral candidates, in a good position to take over when current mayor Antonio Villaraigosa departs after his second, and final, term in office.
He’s far from alone in courting the Jewish vote. His two declared challengers — African-American City Councilwoman Jan Perry (a convert to Judaism) and City Controller Wendy Greuel (married to a Jew) — also have pretty strong credentials in that department.
The 800-pound political gorilla in the room is L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, one of the city’s best-known politicians. The 63-year-old Yaroslavsky has not decided whether to join the race. The veteran politician and legendary champion for Soviet Jewry is widely perceived as the front-runner in the race should he choose to run.
Garcetti’s L.A. Jewish roots match Yaroslavsky’s, and then some. His maternal grandparents, Louis and Julia Roth, were Labor Zionists and founders of Louis Roth Clothes, which ran the first union shop in L.A.’s garment industry. Not far from there, Garcetti recalls, at the home of his Mexican grandparents, he enjoyed bowls of homemade menudo served on Sundays.
He is fluent in Spanish and acknowledges knocking back at least one tequila shot with Villaraigosa on a jaunt showing off the nightclubs in the Hollywood precincts of his district. He also attends services at IKAR, the congregation founded by Rabbi Sharon Brous, a charismatic figure in L.A.’s Jewish community who counts a number of entertainment industry movers and shakers as regulars in her synagogue.