June 7, 2001
Who's the big winner in Tuesday's Los Angeles mayoral election? My bet is real estate developer Steve Soboroff. James Kenneth Hahn may be an old-line Democrat, but he benefited mightily from the silence maintained by the wealthy Republican businessman, who had come in third in the April primary.
Soboroff's refusal to endorse former Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa, as Soboroff's political mentor Mayor Richard Riordan did, was an artful way of leaving his white conservative supporters in the Hahn camp, or letting them stay home.
The Los Angeles Times exit poll confirms the Steve Effect. Fully 26 percent of Hahn voters came from Soboroff, the largest group among the six primary candidates. By comparison, fence-sitting was the tendency for supporters of veteran Valley City Councilmember Joel Wachs, who had endorsed Villaraigosa; they split about 3 to 2 for Hahn.
As for Jewish voting patterns, I won't be shocked to find larger numbers for Hahn. Yes, the younger liberal core probably held firm. But as Election Day approached, and the campaign took a snide turn, it was clear many were seeking an out. You could feel the fear level rise.
Even two weeks ago, there was a heartfelt desire for coalition with Los Angeles' largest rising ethnic majority. That desire remains, but given the well-publicized split in the Latino community political hierarchy around Villaraigosa, voters lost the guts for the brave act. Sadly for Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and Jewish community leaders who went out on a limb, Antonio is now being seen as one who created his own demise. We'll see how this plays out in the world of ethnic bridge-building.
The legacy of beloved Supervisor Kenny Hahn, the new mayor's father, is an old-line paternalism that has always meant less to Jewish voters than to blacks. So, as of now, the black-Jewish coalition is dead, and the Latino-Jewish coalition is back to the drawing board.
But this point can be made: Our electorate is now far older than the average Los Angeleno -- less prone toward risk-taking. At the Westin Bonaventure Hahn headquarters on election eve, Valley Councilmember Hal Bernson stood out among the crowd of blacks and Koreans. Yet the Jewish conservative flank of representatives is growing, with the addition of police advocate Dennis Zine, who defeated Judith Hirshberg in the 3rd District of Tarzana. Zine replaces Laura Chick, the new city controller. In such a mix, will we recognize our own representatives in city debate?
That's the vacuum that affable, business-oriented Soboroff may fill. Wachs is leaving Los Angeles to head an arts foundation in New York. Riordan is turning his attention toward a possible run for governor. This leaves Soboroff, the former parks commissioner under Riordan, with nothing but time and opportunity, not to mention an audience wanting his ideas on solving, say, traffic congestion.
On the radio on Election Eve, Soboroff could be heard positioning himself as experienced in the serious business decisions that neither Hahn or Villaraigosa understood.
The biggest loss Tuesday? City Councilmember Mike Feuer of the 5th District, defeated in the race for city attorney by Rocky Delgadillo, in an astounding upset for those who care about good government. Arguably, Feuer was born to be city attorney, having started out in the estimable Bet Tzedek, the nonprofit legal institution that represents seniors, Holocaust survivors and others in need.
Pin Feuer's loss to Riordan's money and the billboard industry's support for Delgadillo. Feuer's moving on from City council signals the end of an era, the braided candle of political liberalism and law reform that has run through Westside Jewish politics since the days of Roz Wyman, through Zev Yaroslavsky.
Federal prosecutor Jack Weiss has defeated State Assemblyman Tom Hayden, though only 289 votes separate the two.
At Westwood Brewing Company, Weiss took a shot not only at Hayden but at the liberal Old Guard now being replaced. Noting that Hayden's ad campaign focused on his own reputation as a maverick, Weiss asked, "How long can Hayden run on events that happened three months before I was born?"
Weiss has become more than anti-Hayden; his campaign rose from nowhere by emphasizing his commitment to the local neighborhood. Yet, one can only hope that Weiss appreciates the role of the 5th District in shaping a politics that is concerned with larger issues than whether Westwood has a supermarket.
All politics is local, but Jewish politics has a universal flavor that serves everyone well.
Finally, near midnight, Mayor Riordan himself bounded into Anna's Italian restaurant on Pico, to congratulate Marlene Canter on her 4th District school board victory.
"For the children!" he cheered. Canter, a businesswoman with experience in teacher training, spent nearly $2 million to defeat incumbent Valerie Fields. This victory, too, marks a change in the community agenda. Once upon a time, Jewish politics was synonymous with unions, especially the teachers' union, which gave so many of us a stab at job security.
But school board member David Tokofsky, a supporter of Canter's, said it right when he insisted that the new board's first priority is upgrading teacher skills. Job security for professional staff means nothing if our children don't learn.