Los Angeles — The prospect that Los Angeles will get its first Jewish mayor increased sharply after the votes were counted in the city’s recent non-partisan primary election. But whether Jewish issues will play any part in the next round of campaigning is about as uncertain as the identity of next year’s Oscar host.
The primary results left former City Council member Eric Garcetti, who received 33% of the vote, facing off against City Controller Wendy Greuel, who garnered 29%, in a run-off scheduled May 21. Garcetti, who is Jewish via his family’s maternal side and a member of IKAR, a trendy L.A. congregation, is perceived as the front-runner. Greuel, who is married to a Jew and whose son is enrolled in Hebrew school, has expressed her interest in conversion as “something I would like to do.”
But it remains to be seen whether either candidate will now court the city’s influential Jewish vote more aggressively than he or she did during the primary.
While both Greuel and Garcetti have cited their Jewish family ties and have made campaign stops at many of L.A.’s synagogues, neither has made a special appeal to Jewish groups. A search of the supporters listed on each candidate’s website fails to turn up a single rabbi or Jewish organization. That contrasts with last year’s congressional race between Democrats Brad Sherman and Howard Berman, in which support for Israel and Jewish interests was a part of each candidate’s stump speech.
One possible reason for this reticence is the difficulty in identifying just what those municipal Jewish interests are. The Jewish vote in L.A., largely Democratic, is divided vertically and horizontally between the classes and the masses, but in a manner unique to this company town.
On the horizontal plane, there is on one side the “friends of David, Steven and Jeffrey,” as locals dub the entertainment industry clique gathered around the DreamWorks Studios power trio of David Geffen, Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg. Its leaders have endorsed and contributed generously to Greuel, who once worked for DreamWorks.
On the other side there are younger entertainment industry folks — musicians, comedy writers and other less prominent creative types who are concentrated in Garcetti’s Eastside City Council District 13. They are the equivalent of New York City’s Brooklyn hipster enclave, and many of these individuals are campaigning for Garcetti. TV producer and filmmaker Jill Soloway, who is a force behind the alternative group Eastside Jews and recently won a Sundance Film Festival award, is among his East Side boosters.
A pre-election poll conducted by the L.A. Times and the University of Southern California showed Garcetti with an advantage on the Eastside, where he and his wife live; Greuel, meanwhile, has an edge in the Valley, where she resides with her film producer husband and their young son.
That plays up a divide on the vertical plane, which pits those “below the line” (Valley) against those “above the line” (West Side). In L.A.-speak this translates as the “working class” of the entertainment industry (crew, visual effects, catering and other services) versus “the upper class” (cast, producers, writers, lawyers, agents). Complicating this construct are guild affiliations, income levels and the traditional Jewish sentiment for unions.