October 19, 2000
Campaign 2000: Jewish Stake in the DA’s Race
Gil Garcetti is down but not out, at least among his Jewish supporters. With the district attorney race between Garcetti and Steve Cooley heating up, Jewish community activists are still strongly behind him, even as he faces what polls and pundits are calling a fight to the finish. "It appears to me that Garcetti hasn't handled cases properly, both with what happened with the prosecution of the LAPD fiasco and with O.J. Simpson," said a Jewish Democratic activist- and longtime Garcetti supporter- who spoke on condition of anonymity. "I think the buck falls with him. So I think that a change would be indicated. But I know very little about Cooley."
Another activist echoed these views. "Garcetti has been beating himself all these years. He makes these mistakes and opens himself for criticism for the positions he's taken, for example on the LAPD crisis. But he didn't lose the Simpson case. His people did. The top guy has to take the guff."
Still, there remains a powerful undercurrent of support for Garcetti in a battle that has drawn far less interest than the presidential race with which it shares the Nov. 7 ballot.
Garcetti has long enjoyed support of many in the community. His sensitivity to issues of tolerance and discrimination can be traced to his own background. His Mexican-Italian father was raised in Mexico, and Garcetti's mother is from a poor Arizona family of 19 children.
Garcetti's father, who never learned to read and write very well, was a gang member when he came to Los Angeles, and he was kicked out of every school he attended. "I grew up in South Central in a racially mixed and fairly poor neighborhood," Garcetti told the Journal. "But I had the luxury of having two parents. My father was a professional gambler and con man of sorts. He grew up with Mickey Cohen. They were good friends and did a lot of things together. My father eventually turned his life around, thanks to meeting my mother. After he came out of the Army in 1949, he became a barber on the corner of Washington and Vermont."
Garcetti credits his parents for encouraging him to work his way up the hard way. He received a scholarship to USC, where he met his wife Sukey, who is Jewish, 37 years ago. He went to UCLA law school and became active in Sen. Eugene McCarthy's presidential campaign in l968.
A centrist Democrat, Garcetti supports tough victims-rights legislation and three strikes. At the same time he advocates gun control and crime prevention for juveniles.
Asked what his major accomplishments were, Garcetti pointed out that his office has a 93 percent conviction rate. He also cited a major reduction in domestic violence and gang murders.
Despite his background and record, Garcetti, running for a third term, faces an uphill battle with a community that tends to take a more jaundiced view of him in the light of the Rampart scandal and the O.J. Simpson case and which may be eager to give a new face a chance. In June, his own pollsters gave Garcetti 31 percent of the vote and 46 percent for Cooley.
Nevertheless, he strongly believes he is going to win the election on the issues of crime prevention, gun control and his independence within the very political district attorney system.
"I'm supporting Garcetti," said Sheldon Sloane, a Jewish Republican, a former judge and former president of the L.A. County Bar Association in 1997. "He presents, in my opinion, the better image. He's better known in Sacramento and with the L.A. County Board of Supervisors. He works well with them. And he's been very successful in getting positive law enforcement legislation passed. Plus he has tremendous outreach programs. And if it ain't broke, why fix it?"
Richard Ziman, president of Arden Realty and a Democrat, said widespread Jewish support for the district attorney has not diminished. "I think the Jewish community is very much behind Gil because of his programs, because he has a 92 percent conviction rate, because he has really stepped in on the abused women issue very strongly. And he's probably got the highest conviction rate in gang-related murders of any major city in the country. And that's over 50 percent. He's very committed to issues concerning the Jewish community, especially regarding hate crimes."
Howard Welinsky, Democratic activist and former head of Democrats for Israel, agreed that Garcetti has strong Jewish support. "I don't believe there's any diminution in his support from us," he said.
If Garcetti is a familiar face to Jewish L.A., Cooley is trying to be, engaging in a long schedule of forums, speeches and debates around town. Cooley has been head deputy of the Los Angeles County district attorney's well-regarded Welfare Fraud Division. He is the former head deputy district attorney of the Antelope Valley and San Fernando branch offices and the founding deputy-in-charge of the district attorney's Major Narcotics Section. "All three living DA's have endorsed me," he pointed out, "as have virtually all the newspapers. I'm right on the issues, I'm right on character, and people want a change." Cooley is a moderate Republican whose positions are not ideologically predictable. He opposes some of Garcetti's juvenile crime-prevention programs and ridicules some municipal gun-control laws as ineffective. At the same time, he opposes life imprisonment for third-strike offenders who did not commit a violent felony for the third strike.
Where Garcetti is most vulnerable, on the Rampart scandal, Cooley is relentless. "The deputy DA, Michael Cloud, in 1997, spotted Rafael Perez as an officer not to be trusted," he said. "He tried to document his concerns and nothing was done. ... We weren't there to investigate, to evaluate."
Cooley said that he wanted to expand efforts against hate crimes countywide by training deputy DA's to combat it and by expanding the concept of criminal syndicates to encompass hate groups. " I don't think Garcetti understands the concept of criminal syndicates and how to use conspiracy laws against them," he said.
Although he is a Catholic, Cooley recalled that he joined Zeta Bata Tau, a Jewish-founded fraternity, when attending Cal State University in Los Angeles. "I had joined a very ethnically diverse local fraternity, with Asians, African Americans, Jewish guys, Catholics and Latinos. We went on a search for a national fraternity to affiliate with. We selected Zeta Bata Tau because they were the only fraternity in our view that had historically stood for something important to us: they were affirmatively anti-discrimination from their founding days back at CCNY."