Los Angeles 'Jewish' Mayoral Candidates Focus on Economy Not Ethnicity

Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel Spar Over Pocketbook Issues

Watershed Vote: Eric Garcetti, shown here voting with his wife, would be the first Jewish mayor of Los Angeles. But ethnic appeals don’t seem likely to play a big role in his run-off election against Wendy Greuel.
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Watershed Vote: Eric Garcetti, shown here voting with his wife, would be the first Jewish mayor of Los Angeles. But ethnic appeals don’t seem likely to play a big role in his run-off election against Wendy Greuel.

By Rex Weiner

Published March 08, 2013, issue of March 15, 2013.
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The municipal unions (teachers, police, fire department, utility workers) constitute a dividing line, too, but one that Jews are less involved with today than historically. Yet it lies at the heart of the campaign’s biggest issue: the city’s finances.

L.A. is broke. The candidates need the unions’ support to win, but they don’t want the voters to think they’re pawns in the hands of the unions with their demands on the city’s budget for wages and pensions.

This is what most concerns retiring L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. Widely admired by Jews from all the city’s sectors, Yaroslavsky has refrained from endorsing anybody. And in a recent statement, Yaroslavsky implied he was distressed by the whole race.

“In recent weeks, I have been open about my frustration at the lack of discussion in the campaign about the precarious state of the city’s finances,” Yaroslavsky wrote. “Those criticisms have not been exclusively aimed at one candidate. On the contrary, they have been aimed equally at all the major candidates who, in my judgment, have not realistically addressed what they would do about the city’s financial challenges.”

Of course, that’s easy for Yaroslavsky to say, now that he’s stepping away from the firing line into retirement from public office after four decades as the city’s most prominent and politically influential Jew.

“People ask me who I want, and I say, ‘Zev,’” former Beverly Hills mayor Jimmy Delshad said at a pre-campaign gathering of candidates, organized by the Iranian Jewish group 30 Years After. The first Iranian-Jewish chief executive of an American city, Delshad echoed many Jewish Angelenos in saying, “I was hoping Yaroslavsky would enter the race.”

If it proves anything about L.A.’s Jewish vote, the rise of Jewish candidates in 2013 coinciding with the community’s lack of clear preferences shows that what was once a reliable Jewish bloc has all but dissolved into the fabric of civic society, settled over with a sense of battles fought and won.

“We’re Angelenos,” political consultant Larry Levine said. “We may be Jewish, but we’re Angelenos. We’ve never had a Jewish mayor, and nobody seems to care.”

That may change, of course. “I expect that Jewish voters will be a big target in the runoff,” said Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Edmund G. “Pat” Brown Institute for Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, one of the losing candidates in the race may be heading toward a more intensively Jewish future than ever, precisely because she lost. When asked in February what she would do if she failed in her mayoral bid, councilmember Jan Perry, an African-American convert to Judaism, told the L.A. Jewish Journal that she would study to become a rabbi.

Contact Rex Weiner at weiner@forward.com


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