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Is It Good for the Jews?

Jim Hahn may be having trouble finding people to vote for him, but public endorsements, it seems, are less of a problem. Last week, we learned that the Hahn folks published a list of endorsers that included people who actually supported another candidate. The erroneous ad ran in the immediate pre-primary issue of The Jewish Journal, and it was the Journal that broke the story that six of the “endorsers” in fact supported Bob Hertzberg and that several of them had had their signatures forged on Hahn endorsement cards. Not surprisingly, some of the “signatories” convened a press conference last week to lambaste Hahn, both for the misrepresentation and for the Hahn campaign’s efforts to lay the blame on the late Joseph Klein, a leading figure in the Orthodox community, who died in June of 2004. The signature gathering, said Hahn campaign consigliere Kam Kuwata, had been Klein’s department — an assignment of blame that only further infuriated some Jewish leaders. Hahn needs a further Jewish problem just now like a loch in kop (a hole in the head). Among the 14 percent of primary voters who were Jewish, according to the L.A. Times exit poll, Hahn placed third, with 17 percent of their vote, behind the Jewish Hertzberg, who won 47 percent, and Antonio Villaraigosa, who won 27 percent. If Hahn is to have any shot at all in his showdown with Villaraigosa on May 17, he needs the lion’s share of Hertzberg’s Jewish voters. That’s certainly not likely to happen on the Westside, where Villaraigosa ran even with Hertzberg among Jewish voters (he got 36 percent support to Hertzberg’s 37 percent). But even in the Valley, where Hertzberg pulled down a hefty 56 percent of Jewish voters, Hahn (with 12 percent) ran a distant third to Villaraigosa (with 18 percent). In theory, Hahn’s in the hunt for Valley Jewish voters, who are more centrist than their south-of-Mulholland counterparts. Practice, though, may prove difficult. Just last week, Keith Richman — the moderate Republican (and Jewish) Assembly member from Granada Hills, who’d been a leading Valley secessionist and Hertzberg backer — endorsed Villaraigosa. It may not have been a perfect ideological fit, but ideology goes only so far in city politics. Hahn, after all, led the charge against Valley secession, waged a fierce campaign against Hertzberg, and is damaged goods to boot. Villaraigosa, for his part, actually got along well with Republicans in the state Assembly, and is looking increasingly like a winner. All of which helps to explain not just Richman’s endorsement, but the speed with which it came. Hertzberg ran such a close race with Hahn that some postmortems from disgruntled Bobophiles are surely in order, and Joel Kotkin turned out a classic one last week, also in The Jewish Journal. Kotkin didn’t go after Hahn, however, but rather his own people, and mine: the Jews. The problem, he wrote, was that Jews failed to support Hertzberg in numbers as high as those with which Latinos supported Villaraigosa or blacks supported Bernie Parks. This “defection,” as he termed it, marked “a signal defeat for the future of Jewish influence in Los Angeles.” Kotkin is an eminent L.A.-ologist, and the author of The City: A Global History, a synoptic history of cities coming from Random House next month that I quite admire. As a big-picture guy, comparing the Chinese and European cities of the year 1000, Kotkin is nuanced and authoritative. It’s only closer to home, as he crosses Mulholland Drive, that he loses his bearings. Not that Kotkin misunderstands the difference between Valley Jews and cityside Jews; he gets much of that crucial distinction absolutely right. Valley Jews, he notes, live in middle- and upper-middle-class families, and are more likely to run local businesses than their cityside counterparts. Cityside Jews, I would add, tend to be both richer and poorer than their Valley neighbors — both younger, single and more boho, and older, richer and more established. The percentage of businessmen is lower; the percentage of professionals is higher. Theirs is a more cosmopolitan existence and a more liberal politics than those of their Valley landsmen. What’s surprising is Kotkin’s surprise — or maybe it’s just dismay — at their voting habits. Liberal, cosmopolitan Jews in the United States have been voting for liberal, cosmopolitan candidates for the past 100 years. Thus they helped make Tom Bradley mayor 32 years ago, as they will likely help make Villaraigosa mayor in May. Yet Kotkin finds their failure to vote for Hertzberg “puzzling.” But Hertzberg made a strategic decision to run to the right, to seek Republican support, to drape himself around Arnold Schwarzenegger. That cut both ways for Hertzberg — a plus in the Valley, a minus in Brentwood and Silver Lake. What’s the news here — that liberal Jews vote ideologically? It’s a mark of ethnic security, I’d argue, not self-hatred, that has led Westside and West Valley Jews to elect such non-Jewish liberals as Tom Hayden and Sheila Kuehl to legislative positions over the past two decades. The creation of an America in which minority groups are secure enough to vote their ideology rather than their identity is something, I’d think, that all but the most sectarian Jews would applaud. Kotkin’s chief concern is that this failure of Jewish solidarity at the ballot box portends the end of Jewish influence in Los Angeles. In fact, Los Angeles has five Jewish members of Congress — Henry Waxman, Howard Berman, Jane Harman, Brad Sherman and Adam Schiff — two of whom (Harman and Schiff) represent districts with rather small Jewish populations. Apparently, cross-ethnic and cross-religious voting isn’t limited only to Jews in the new Los Angeles, for which a climate of tolerance that Jews have helped foster is partly responsible. The choice for L.A. Jews isn’t between influence and impotence. It’s between wielding influence in a progressive coalition or a conservative one — or, when it comes to the Villaraigosa-Hahn race, between a progressive coalition and a corrupt embodiment of the status quo. Which is one more reason why Villaraigosa — with substantial Jewish backing — is likely to be our next mayor.


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