July 24, 2008
If you want to really annoy Adeena Bleich, just ask her what it feels like to be a young Orthodox woman running for City Council. I know, because when we sat
down recently for lunch at Shiloh's, the first thing I asked her is what it felt like to be a young Orthodox woman running for City Council.|
She rolled her eyes like my teenage daughter Shanni does when I show off my knowledge of the latest music.
It's clear that Bleich is leery of being stereotyped, or worse, becoming some kind of political curiosity whose main calling card is her youth (she just turned 31), gender and Orthodox religion.
What she is, she says, is something a lot less dramatic: A hard-working individual who knows how local politics work and who wants to bring a new, practical attitude to serving the people.
All the people, of course.
Although she estimates that nearly half of the registered voters in her 5th District (which cuts a wide swath from West Los Angeles through Westwood, Pico-Robertson, the Fairfax area and right up to Sherman Oaks) are Jewish, she's savvy enough to realize that Jews alone won't carry her to victory. So Bleich, who is single and belongs to three Modern Orthodox shuls in Pico-Robertson (Young Israel of Century City, Beth Jacob Congregation and B'nai David Judea) wants to reach out.
She's not exactly a novice at this game. She spent years as City Council Deputy to Councilman Jack Weiss— and was knee-deep in the local dramas of neighborhood groups, pro-business groups and the maze of City Hall politics. She was also in the trenches with former Speaker of the California Assembly Bob Hertzberg when he ran for mayor of Los Angeles.
So she knows the lingo, and she also knows that she's up against some serious competition -- from, among others, former city councilman Paul Koretz and neighborhood activist Ron Galperin. But she has no qualms about asking for your vote, because, as she says, she's got some great things cooking for your district and your neighborhood.
But wait. Haven't we seen this movie before? Isn't that what they all say?
The truth is, I'm probably the worst guy to do a story on politicians, because as a rule, I can't stand them. Politicians remind me of one of my least favorite traits in people: When someone over-promises and under-delivers. (I once consulted with a politician in the heat of an election race, and I recommended that he be upfront with the voters and tell them what they should not expect from either him or the government. I never heard back from him.)
Candidate Adeena Bleich, earnest charm and all, overflows with promises. She says the Council Office should be the "Nordstrom of customer service" for the city -- nothing should be "too big or too small to do, or to help find the resource to redirect to".
She believes the council staff should be more proactive in the community and less reactive ("engage the community before they even call"); they should create public safety and community programs (example: free self-defense classes for teenagers and women with local karate studios), and education eco-programs in the schools where "volunteers teach and lead recycling and gardening and create clean-up and tree-planting teams for the neighborhood from both public and private school kids in the district."
She wants to set up an online community service guide, which includes "nonprofit, government and other local organization resources all in one place"; a mentoring/intern program between the local schools and local business people; innovative solutions "to get people out of their cars and increase public transportation"; a program to engage business owners to "make business corridors more vibrant and neighborhood friendly"; and so on.
As I listened, over three long sessions, to this litany of perfectly balanced promises, I was torn between admiration for the idealism of an aspiring young politician and my innate cynicism about politicians getting anything done.
I admit, however, that one thing cracked some of that cynicism: In the thousands of words Bleich shared with me about her dream political journey, she never dwelled on the notion of actually winning. In fact, there was hardly any talk of strategy or tactics. Instead, she talked mostly about ideas -- the ideas she wanted to implement as Council member.
Her campaign strategy seems to be embedded in those very ideas, which she plans to disseminate on her Web site (Adeena2009.com), and as she knocks on 10,000 neighborhood doors (not an exaggeration, she says) over the next several months.
When I asked her mother (a lifelong Orthodox Jew who lives in Connecticut) whether she could remember a story from her daughter's childhood that would give us a sense of what kind of politician she might be, she told me several, but one stood out.
In her early teens, Bleich was on her school's relay swim team. During one race against another school, the other team was way ahead of Bleich's team. By the time Bleich, who was swimming the last leg, got her turn, something improbable —and embarrassing -- had happened: The other team had already finished the race. Oblivious to any humiliation, Bleich dove in and eagerly swam the last leg. Without any second thoughts, her mother adds.
It appears, then, that Bleich's passion is in the doing. You start a job and you finish it. You make a promise and you keep it. You don't shy away from details. You knock on 10,000 doors if you have to. You keep your head on at all times. You fight for the little guy. And then, when your work is done, you let God worry about the winning and the losing.
If you ask me, it all sounds very Jewish. But shhhh, don't tell anyone.
David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and Ads4Israel.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.