In a contest pitting two of Congress’ most influential Jewish Democrats against one another, Rep. Howard Berman has received the blessings of five top California Democrats in his bid to return to Washington as lawmaker for the San Fernando Valley’s newly created 30th Congressional District.
Berman’s coup comes on the heels of Rep. Brad Sherman’s release of a list of more than 120 endorsements from national and local political and community leaders, headlined by Bill Clinton, and including Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), and LA County Sheriff Lee Baca.
Berman’s catch, while smaller, comprises some of the state’s most powerful Democratic figures: California Governor Jerry Brown, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, LA County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, and Congressman Henry Waxman have all signed up as honorary campaign co-chairs for his re-election campaign. Their endorsements were announced on August 31.
Even with these figures supporting him, Berman, in an interview with the Forward in his Van Nuys office, candidly acknowledged he currently trails in the new district’s primary battle, scheduled for June 2012.
“If the election were right now, I would not win.” Berman said. “But I don’t feel like the underdog because I think I know how this is going to turn out.”
The U.S. Constitution requires the redrawing of congressional districts once a decade after the completion of the national census. In California, the redrawing was conducted by the California Citizens Redistricting Commission, a nonpartisan body, and approved on August 15. The new map dissolved two districts covering different portions of the San Fernando Valley, represented by Sherman and Berman, respectively. The result now pits the two Jewish lawmakers against one another within the borders of the new 30th, giving the emerging Valley’s Latino demographic a greater voice at the polls.
As ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Berman believes his record as a stalwart supporter of Israel, proponent of immigration reform and intellectual property protection will rally the Jewish, Latino and entertainment industry constituents who make up the majority of voters in the district.
Support from Hollywood is a key element of Berman’s strategy. His role on the subcommittee for intellectual property issues has earned him A-list friends such as Jeffrey Katzenberg, David Geffen and Steven Spielberg. The Dreamworks Studio triumvirate has announced a fundraiser in November at the Beverly Hilton where Berman hopes to raise at least $1M for his campaign.
“This is a jobs issue for the San Fernando Valley,” said Berman of his focus on intellectual property protection, “where an enormous number of people work in the movie music industry, computer software, video game, all the tangential industries—all of that depends on the protection framework that allows them to benefit from the creativity of those who write, direct, produce films and music. It’s an export issue.”
Berman’s support for Israel has included condemnation of the Goldstone report and his introduction of a House resolution in opposition to a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood. But Berman also claims a close relationship with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and confirmed that he recently met with representatives from J Street, the dovish pro-Israel lobby, who are pushing for a reboot of Middle East negotiations in line with the Obama administration’s terms announced last spring.
Sherman has so far not met with the group despite their efforts to set up such a meeting.
Berman sees his longtime support of immigration reform, going back to his days on the Judiciary Committee, as counting heavily with Latino voters who are influential in the new district. But Berman insists that, in his view, no single issue is pivotal to the campaign. “I believe the central issue is what we have done while we’ve been in congress,” he said.
Even so many politicos have expressed the hope one of the Valley boys—Berman or Sherman—for the good of the Democratic Party and the pro-Israel cause will yet abort the head-on collision, step aside and choose to run in one of the neighboring districts.
“I agree,” said Berman, smiling. “Each of us has a wonderful idea of what the other person should do. I think he’ll lose if he runs here.”
Rex Weiner is a Brooklyn-born, third-generation journalist who from 1992 to 1997 covered the entertainment industry as a staff reporter for Daily Variety, where his column, Lost and Found, appeared weekly. His articles have appeared in Vanity Fair, the Los Angeles Times Sunday magazine, The New Yorker, The New York Observer and LA Weekly, and he contributes regularly to Rolling Stone Italia. His screenwriting credits include “The Adventures of Ford Fairlane” (20th Century Fox), and he was one of the first writers of the TV series “Miami Vice.” He is a founding editor of High Times magazine and a co-author of The Woodstock Census (Viking, 1979), one of the key texts analyzing the impact of the ’60s generation on American society. He is currently based in Los Angeles and in the town of Todos Santos, Baja California Sur, Mexico, where his fluent Spanish and capacity for tequila come in handy. He can be reached at email@example.com.