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Shifting Gears

For Rob Reiner, there’s just no escaping it. Even after directing such movies as “When Harry Met Sally,” “The Princess Bride,” and “A Few Good Men”; even after championing a successful ballot measure to raise money and awareness for early-childhood development; even as he pilots another ballot measure to create universal preschool in the nation’s most populous state; even as his name is floated as a possible gubernatorial contender, there’s still always someone who sees him as Michael Stivic from “All in the Family.”

Last week, Reiner delivered the keynote speech at an Oakland, Calif., conference on social justice, sponsored by local temples. The final question from the audience was: “Being that people mellow over time, would Archie Bunker be proud of you today?”

Reiner, 58, reacted with a smile, but the question missed the mark. Archie may not be a hothead anymore, but Reiner is hardly the “Meathead” he once was either. That was two careers ago. Much as his interest in acting gave way to a career in the director’s chair, he told the Forward, his interest in directing now is yielding to a new passion: crafting public policy to benefit young children.

“It’s a selfish thing; it gives me an enormous amount of pleasure,” he said of his latest shift, though he sees a Jewish motivation for it, too. Reiner believes that centuries of discrimination have instilled in Jews a desire to help right society’s wrongs; his parents inculcated it in him, and now he wants to do the same for his three children.

Whatever the mix of personal gratification, Jewish duty and good parenting, this isn’t just a rich man’s hobby. No dilettante would endure the tsoris involved in brokering deals between business groups, labor unions, education experts and other stakeholders for nine months in order to birth a plan no one could oppose. Reiner now expects only staunch anti-tax ideologues will fight the measure he’s placing on June 2006’s ballot.

The measure would provide part-day preschool for all California 4-year-olds by levying a 1.7% tax hike on married couples with incomes higher than $800,000 and on individuals earning more than $400,000. Reiner says it’s a wise investment: Studies show that high-quality preschool boosts future academic performance.

Reiner’s first ballot measure, approved by voters in 1998, levied a 50-cent-per-pack cigarette tax to raise $600 million per year for early childhood health care, child care, education and other resources.

A Hollywood mogul with a knack for good government? No wonder his name comes up in conversations about the governor’s mansion. Reiner insists he’s already famous, already has a job, and is interested now in the nuts and bolts of early-childhood policy — an answer that is, of course, a dodge. “He’s really committed, he wants to make a difference… he’s very passionate about it,” said Rabbi Suzanne Singer of Oakland’s Temple Sinai, chair of the November 6 conference — and Reiner’s sister-in-law.

So it’s “All in the Family,” after all.

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