March 7, 2002
Say what you will about Richard Riordan's abortive primary strategy, and the way he naively stepped into Gov. Gray Davis' trap, but Riordan certainly understood one of his key customers: the Jewish electorate. Too bad we'll never see the Davis/Riordan face-off that would have told us so much about ourselves.
I make no claim to understanding the doctrinaire conservative rank-and-file Republicans who gave millionaire Bill Simon, Jr. his Tuesday night victory. But, I do know a bit about the socially liberal voter who was the target of the former Los Angeles mayor: he was aiming right at people like me. (Too bad voters no longer have the open primary.)
In Los Angeles County, election results show Riordan led Simon 48 to 41.5 percent. Davis pummeled Riordan with $10 million in TV ads questioning his philosophy and accusing him of not being a good enough Republican. That's exactly why Riordan won Los Angeles' liberal heart. Whatever his managerial skills and his actual performance as a mayor, Riordan represents a kind of political tolerance that indeed has turned Los Angeles, and certainly its Jewish community, around.
I remember the shock waves that went through Jewish Los Angeles during the first Riordan campaign, against City Councilmember Mike Woo. To leave the liberal nest, Jews had to make peace not only with the memory of their parents and grandparents, but also with the new post-riot social reality that put public safety, not union affiliation, high on the political agenda. They accepted as their political ally a mayor who was good friends with the cardinal.
In this, Riordan is precisely the same kind of crossover guy as Rudy Giuliani. Riordan's primary platform offered exactly that kind of opportunity to break down rhetorical barriers as had happened in pre-Sept. 11 New York: suburban interests shaping urban politics. It's a kind of political calamity that Giuliani opted to befriend his former employee Simon, who worked for him in the Justice Department. Riordan's message was risky and powerful (even if his timing was wrong): why can't we disagree on social issues -- abortion and the death penalty -- while addressing the crucial problem of time -- education. Not for nothing is Pat Brown Riordan's favorite California governor.
I know many Angelenos who think Riordan's legacy amounts to little, but he can take credit for creating the socially graceful political climate that has been Los Angeles for the last eight years. That matters, too.
The fact is, though I have never voted for a Republican candidate for governor, Riordan would have had a good shot at my support. Not living in the city, I missed a chance to vote for him for mayor. Breaking a barrier can be good for the soul.
At press time, Wendy Greuel was 55 votes ahead of Tony Cardenas to replace Councilmember Joel Wachs, who had represented the East Valley for more than 20 years. The 2nd District seat was once the heartbeat of the Valley Jewish community; as the district map is redrawn, this seat may be doomed to be a continuing battleground between competing Anglo and Latino interests. At Greuel headquarters, I heard smart people discussing whether it really is better to have districts that are all-city or all-Valley. Underlying that question is a bigger one: How can we use the wisdom of two great communities, Latinos and Jews, for our city's best interests?
The race to fill the 40th Assembly seat (Sherman Oaks) now being vacated by Speaker Robert Hertzberg shows how even two Jews can have a dogfight. Lloyd E. Levine, 33, son of veteran political consultant Larry Levine, defeated Andrei Cherny, 26-year-old former speechwriter for Al Gore and Hertzberg's heir designate by a little more than 1,200 votes. The bad blood between the two led to last-minute charges that Cherny had sent a mailer with racist overtones misrepresenting Levine's record. Levine countered that Cherny was for privatizing social security, the third rail of American politics.
Politics offers a continual opportunity to rise above self-interest and bad behavior into leadership. One hopes for better in the months to come.