For Beth Krom, politics is personal.
After Krom testified, one city council member loudly criticized her, which she said felt was disrespectful of public opinion.
So Krom converted her anger into action. Four days before the county registrar's filing deadline for city council candidate, Krom started holding ice cream socials and walking Irvine's neighborhoods, trying to learn constituents' needs. Krom joined Larry Agran's anti-airport, Great Park initiative-slate, which also included Chris Mears. At the time, Agran was running for the first of what would be two, two-year terms as mayor.
Today, facing her third election, this time to succeed her political ally as mayor of the county's largest city geographically, Krom, 45, is the county's highest-profile Jewish candidate. Her broadened goals now include ensuring that the promise of the former military base is not squandered for commercialism and that Irvine's electorate receives appropriate consideration on regional issues such as transportation, housing and the environment.
"I think I've become an important voice in demonstrating how the dots connect," said Krom, who, along with her council colleagues, shares responsibility representing city interests before other government entities.
In the nonpartisan Nov. 2 election, Krom's principal opponent is City Councilman Mike Ward, and she again is running on a ticket with Agran, who is seeking to be returned to the city council. But Mears, a former Agran loyalist who is not seeking re-election, now accuses Agran of using his mayoral post to enrich political friends, an allegation first reported in the O.C. Weekly in August. Agran calls the criticisms baseless and politically motivated.
Krom feels certain the mudslinging is meant to dirty her reputation, too, and suggests her opponent is getting behind-the-scenes aid from the local Republican Party.
"Every campaign has gotten a little nastier," said Krom, a Democrat, who is also opposed by newcomers Earle Zucht and Steve Choi. Among Irvine's registered voters, Republicans outnumber Democrats 3 to 2. Krom expects to spend $100,000 campaigning.
"What tarnishes the ticket will inevitably tarnish her," said Mark Petracca, a UC Irvine professor of political science, who was appointed by Mears to Irvine's Planning Commission, which he now chairs. Voters may not pay attention to local races, he said, but Krom's opponents will likely distribute news stories about the allegations through direct mail, the primary way voters are going to learn about them.
"Councilmember Krom is whistling past the graveyard if she thinks the issues raised by Mears [and others] aren't going to be central to the campaign,"
"Conventional wisdom is that suspicions are not good," agreed Scott Spitzer, an associate professor of political science at Chapman University. He believes Krom cannot escape fallout from a political ally accused of cronyism, even if the charges are unsubstantiated.
"But it could cut the other way," Spitzer said, where Krom stands to benefit "if people are fed up with negative campaigns."
Krom's civic education was by osmosis, faithfully watching the 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts in Buffalo, N.Y., to get a glimpse of her little-present father, the local anchorman. Her mother took Krom canvassing with the League of Women Voters. A former teacher for the blind, Krom helped her husband, Solly, in his optometry practice until illness forced him to retire. They have three children.
Within the Jewish community, Krom easily is the most visible elected official, participating in an official capacity at numerous events at Tarbut V'Torah Community Day School and the Jewish Community Center, now both in Irvine. She is a member of Tustin's Congregation B'nai Israel, a Conservative synagogue.
Judaism informs Krom's political approach. "I believe faith is a feature of one's life that provides a framework about how to be a good human being," she said. "If we looked for the common thread, we would be able to use our energy more productively."
Political life gives Krom that opportunity. She relishes her role fostering community among Irvine's diverse ethnic populations. In July, for example, she wrote an article advocating civic engagement for Payam-e-Ashena, which means "familiar message," an English-Farsi community paper.
"She has a good reputation with the Persian community," said Javad Mostafavi, who since 1987 has published the monthly circulated to 10,000 Iranian-born residents mostly in South County.
On her own street, Krom lists her neighbors as Algerian, Hispanic, Egyptian, Orthodox Jew, Asian-Hispanic and East Indian.
"You can experience the world without ever leaving Irvine," she said. "If we could learn to respect that and not be threatened by it, I think the world would function better."
County property deeds once included whites-only sale restrictions. Today, a third of Irvine's 171,000 residents are Asian.
"It's not a source of strife," Krom said. "We're all struggling against the same complicated energies. If we only see things that divide us, we're missing an opportunity."
Irvine's voters will decide Nov. 2 if Krom gets another chance.
Political Forums Set for October
Four political forums that promise to refract election issues through a Jewish lens are planned around the county in October.
"Election 2004: What's at Stake for Israel and Jews?" brings together panel of professors, journalists and lobbyists that will take questions at the upper campus of Irvine's Tarbut V'Torah Community Day School on Oct. 11 at 7 p.m. Moderating the event will be Rabbi Marc Dworkin, local chapter director of the American Jewish Committee, the event's co-sponsor, along with the Federation's community relations committee. The panelists will explain issues of consequence to Jews on either side of the political spectrum, Dworkin said.
Panelists include Marc Ballon, senior writer of The Jewish Journal of Los Angeles; Daniel Sokatch, executive director of the Progressive Jewish Alliance; David Suissa, publisher of Olam magazine; political scientists Raphael Sonenshein and Alan Fisher, of Cal State Fullerton and Dominguez Hills, respectively.
Similar forums, organized by the Republican Jewish Coalition's local chapter, are to be held at Anaheim's Temple Beth Emet on Oct. 10, at Newport Beach's Temple Bat Yahm on Oct. 24 and at Laguna Woods' Temple Judea Oct. 12.
Ernie Gottheim, Judea's president, will moderate the 7 p.m. forum. Opposite sides of the political spectrum will be represented by Larry Greenfield, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, and Edward Tabash, of the National Jewish Democratic Council. Admission is $2. l