February 24, 2000
State Races Get Hot
As I made the rounds of endless cocktail parties and debates two weeks before March 7 primary day, I could see that the Jewish community has little reason to cheer term limits, just as it will not likely salute restrictions on campaign contributions, if that should ever come to pass. The Jewish community has spent much of the past 30 years learning the effective use of government for the wider public good. The race between Assembly members Wally Knox and Sheila Kuehl to replace State Senator Tom Hayden is another case of chopping our institutional wisdom at its root. Newly-installed Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg, already regarded as one of the most effective and professional legislators of his generation, will be term-limited out of office at the next election term.
As it is, the Knox/Kuehl fight is being waged as gingerly as two hard-hitting adversaries can make it -- velvet on steel.
"Time after time we agree on much," Knox told the Sherman Oaks Property Owner Association last week. "We are strategic allies."
Nevertheless, much of this newspaper's readership lives in State Senate District 23, extending from Sherman Oaks to Westlake and Malibu, in which 25 percent of the electorate is Jewish. So how will you likely vote?
The answer is, probably with much pain.
The assets of both candidates -- two Harvard Law graduates, both well-known in the Jewish community, with vast identification on liberal issues, are easy to enumerate. Since you've received their mailers, too, I'll just say that what impresses me about each is as follows:
Knox, a former labor lawyer, has a gut instinct for high-profile consumer issues like saving the 310/818 area codes and studying the car-choked 405/101 freeways. He acted fast on gun control, especially after Buford O. Furrow, Jr. opened fire on the North Valley JCC. He played a key role in legislation enabling Holocaust survivors and their families to recoup on European insurance policies. In the battle of endorsements, Knox has Mayor Riordan. One factor in the loss of Gov. Gray Davis to Kuehl may be Knox's early support of Jane Harmon in her gubernatorial bid.
Kuehl, forever known as Zelda Gilroy on "Dobie Gillis," takes an equally effective approach, especially with regard to family-related issues like nursing care, HMOs, financial privacy and overhaul of the Kafka-esque child-support collection system. She acted fast to repair Pacific Coast Highway, and is a fervent protector of motion picture industry interests, and the environment. And she's an independent thinker, a maverick who refused to back Gov. Pete Wilson's hastily-designed, potentially disastrous school "reform" package, including onerous educational testing which is now causing much pain.
Once upon a time, Jewish clout, and the seats that went with it, seemed to be endlessly expanding. Tony Beilenson began his Sacramento career representing exactly the district that Knox and Kuehl are now fighting to win. He ended his congressional career 25 years later, and most of his seat was near Ventura County. But unless upcoming reapportionment splits the Valley and Westside into two Senate seats, the political pond is shrinking.
West Hollywood City Councilman Paul Koretz and attorney Amanda Susskind are the front-runners for the 42st Assembly District vacated by Sheila Kuehl, with Dan Stone, a Beverly Hills physician, an earnest third. One campaign insider termed the Koretz/Susskind race "the nerd vs. the activist," and that almost says it all.
What it leaves out is the way that local politics, in a campaign in which both candidates will raise $600,000, breaks down into distinct subgroups. Gays, seniors, women, homeowners -- each of these will find a candidate to match their schism.
Community activists Adele and Ira Yellin are typical: Adele is for Susskind; Ira for Koretz. A Koretz fundraiser on Thursday featured real estate interests from West Hollywood focussed on density issues along Sunset; at a Susskind event the previous day, the topic among women activists was the need for better hospital care.
Susskind is by far the more gregarious and articulate candidate, a charming policy wonk who can make her decades spent representing small cities like Hidden Hills seem like a glamorous precursor to her current foray into politics. Her father, who was a Kindertransport survivor from Nazi Germany, became an engineering professor at UC Berkeley. Her mother was a veteran of the London blitz. A hardball campaigner, she has the support of both Mayor Riordan and Latino powerbroker Assembly member Richard Polanco. Howard Welinsky, Jewish community activist and former head of the Jewish Community Relations Committee, is one of her biggest backers.
Nevertheless, Koretz, whose diffident speaking style hides considerable political acumen, has sizable support and name recognition in the Jewish community. Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky (and Gov. Davis) back Koretz, who has spent his career in local politics as aide or elected official.
"We'll be able to be proud of either candidate," a long time political observer told me. But when it comes down to March 7, that sentiment will be cold comfort to the loser.
Marlene Adler Marks is senior columnist of The Jewish Journal.
Her website is www.marleneadlermarks.com.