Jewish Journal


March 27, 2008

Black sheep might join family’s political flock


Josh Lowenthal. Photo courtesy Long Beach Press Telegram/Stephen Carr

Josh Lowenthal. Photo courtesy Long Beach Press Telegram/Stephen Carr

Josh Lowenthal is the self-styled black sheep of his family. Not that he hasn't done well or made his parents proud. Lowenthal attended Cornell, lived in Israel and has made a bundle as both a telecom entrepreneur and the owner of a popular Long Beach nightclub.

It's just that to this point, he's the only adult in his family who hasn't held elected office. Father Alan is a state senator and mother Bonnie a Long Beach councilwoman; so, too, is sister-in-law Suja, who is married to Josh's brother, Dan, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge.

But that could soon change.

Lowenthal has long been involved in Long Beach civic life and activism, most notably as the president of Children Today, a charity for the homeless. Recently, he emerged as a potential candidate for the Long Beach school board.

"He's made for doing important things, and I think his greatest strength, frankly, has to be his commitment and loyalty and belief in his own community," said Norman Fassler-Katz, who was the executive director of the defunct Camp Komaroff in Lake Arrowhead when Josh was a kid and now serves as a consultant to his father.

"These are not just empty, rhetorical kinds of words when Josh talks about the kind of place he wants to live in, the kinds of things people should do for each other. These are the things he is made of," Fassler-Katz continued. "He has class, he has compassion and, I know it sounds trite, he has this clear vision of making things better."

The school board scenario, however, requires a bit of devil's arithmetic.

First, and most importantly, the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce would need to succeed in recalling the current representative for Long Beach Unified's Third District. That's Michael Shane Ellis, whose troubled tenure has been well documented in the local papers: sparse meeting attendance, failure to file financial disclosures and an arrest on suspicion of drunk driving -- and on a school night to boot.

The Long Beach Chamber, which quite oddly was the group to test Lowenthal's interest, has until mid-May to gather the needed signatures to qualify a recall for the November ballot. If Ellis, whom Lowenthal called a "cancer," were ousted, Lowenthal would need to move into the Third District, a school board seat held by Suja Lowenthal until she left for the City Council.

"We like a lot of the things that he does, and we like him as a business owner," said Randy Gordon, chamber president and CEO. "Whether we will ever endorse him is another matter, and we will address that matter down the road. Right now, we are trying to gather the signatures and get this guy [Ellis] out of office, because if we don't gather the signatures, there will be no recall election."

Ellis did not respond to a request for comment. But if all the puzzle pieces fit into place, it would be a long time coming.

Lowenthal, 38, grew up in a progressive Jewish family, the kind of home that sang Bob Dylan songs on Shabbat. His parents, now divorced, both taught psychology at Cal State Long Beach and were active in the community. On returning home in the afternoon from public school, he'd encounter community meetings in his living room, often organized by his mother to address homeless issues.

"There is a deeply felt sense of tikkun olam [heal the world] that is based in that family in ways that I wish all families would emulate," said Assemblyman Mike Feuer, whose then-L.A. City Council staff Josh Lowenthal joined after returning from Israel in the mid-'90s. "It may not be always exclusively stated, though it is evident in the way they live, but one mission in life is to reach out and help other people. It is more than a political imperative for that family. For the Lowenthals it is a moral imperative."

The clearest example of this in Josh Lowenthal's life can be found in a social service building with an industrial façade in the Port of Long Beach. The Long Beach Multi-Service Center is provided by the city to 14 agencies, including Goodwill, the Long Beach Rescue Shelter and Children Today. Here the homeless come to shower, do their laundry, check their voicemail, meet with social workers or, particularly in the case of children, simply get off the street.

Last month, Children Today served 762 children. Six weeks to 6 years old, they met from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. with caregivers who help them cope with losses as seemingly trivial, though not insignificant, as their toys and as traumatic as a family member.

"It's day care with a therapeutic component," said Dora Jacildo, the charity's executive director.

Children Today started in 1997, and Lowenthal joined the board four years later. It provided a channel for Lowenthal, who by the end of the dot-com boom was doing quite well, to give back to the people he thought needed the most help.

"Bye Josh!"

"Bye Josh!"

"Bye Josh!"

The toddlers parrot their teacher as he walks in and out of their classroom on a recent visit. Lowenthal wears a gray pinstripe suit and light-blue shirt, his beard trim and his prematurely gray hair gelled and spiked. He speaks as proudly of Children Today -- the only homeless program accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children -- as he does of the telecommunication companies he started or his nightclub, Sachi.

"For him, it's a world of promise. And he looks for vehicles to bring that promise to fruition," said his mother. "He experienced so much support as a youngster growing up in Long Beach, and I think he is trying his hardest to give back."

And if Ellis isn't recalled, this certainly won't be the last time Josh Lowenthal is mentioned as a political candidate.

"I don't have to be an elected official," he hastened. "I really believe there are two types of elected officials: There are those who want to do something and those who want to be something. I really want to do something -- and will, whether elected of not."

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