Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
When Rep. Howard Berman and Rep. Brad Sherman, both Democrats, and Republican newcomer Mark Reed debated on Feb. 21 in a gathering sponsored by The Jewish Journal, the questions posed to the three candidates running for congress in the 30th District by Journal Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman and Journal columnist Bill Boyarsky, as well as by this writer, focused largely on foreign policy, specifically in relation to Iran. But if voters were hoping to see clear, unequivocal distinctions between the two experienced lawmakers on this pressing issue, they likely were disappointed.
Berman and Sherman, who have spent a combined 45 years representing neighboring San Fernando Valley districts in Congress, battled over who has been the stronger backer of sanctions against Iran.
“I have been pressing for sanctions since 1998,” Sherman said near the start of the 90-minute debate. “I have criticized every secretary of state for not imposing those sanctions, and I have introduced by far the strictest bill to impose sanctions on Iran.”
Moments later, Berman touted his own efforts.
“I’m the author of the toughest sanctions that have ever been imposed on Iran, and the administration is implementing them, just the way they should be,” he said.
As to whether the Obama administration’s sanctions on Iran were having an effect, a slight difference between the two candidates appeared to emerge.
“It’s working,” Berman said, listing the falling value of Iran’s currency and the country’s difficulty in exporting its crude oil as evidence that the current sanctions have teeth. “Pursue this course with tougher sanctions on the central bank and on all aspects of Iranian behavior and you will see them abandon their nuclear weapons program.”
Sherman disagreed. “While it is true that the Obama administration has done more than prior administrations to sanction Iran,” he said, “it isn’t nearly enough.”
If nuanced observation and a knowledge of the inner workings of Congress are required to determine which of the two incumbents stands as the stauncher supporter of sanctions against Iran, it is far easier to tell the difference between them and Reed, who dismissed the sanctions so far as ineffective and seemed more inclined toward the option of military action by the United States.
“America has an obligation as the world’s superpower to take the lead on this,” said the Republican, who is running his second campaign for Congress in the San Fernando Valley. “If America doesn’t do that, then I am in support of Israel actually taking out the nuclear facilities.”
More than 500 people gathered at Temple Judea in Tarzana to hear from three of the candidates in a race that has been the focus of local and national media attention ever since it became clear that new congressional district lines would pit Berman and Sherman against one another in this West San Fernando Valley District.
In recent months, Berman and Sherman have each announced their endorsements from unions, local Democratic Party groups and public officials from all levels. Sherman has won nine union endorsements; Berman has won four. Endorsements from California’s Democratic congressmen broke down 23-2 in Berman’s favor, and Berman also has the support of the state’s two U.S. senators. Locally, Sherman has the backing of five Los Angeles City Council members, including four who represent most of the new 30th District. All five Los Angeles County supervisors are supporting Berman.
And while voters can wait until the June primary to decide whom to support, many donors already have given to one campaign or the other.
Berman, who raised more than $1 million in the last quarter of 2011, received donations from many of the Israeli-American philanthropists who head the Israeli Leadership Council (ILC).
“They both are very strong supporters of Israel,” ILC co-chair Eli Tene said of Sherman and Berman. Tene gave $2,500 to Berman’s campaign in December, one of four leaders of the ILC to make a four-figure donation. “It’s a shame that we need to decide between the good and the good.”
One ILC director, Adam Milstein, gave $1,000 to Sherman’s campaign in July 2011, and Tene said he didn’t see any consensus in the Israeli-American community as to which candidate deserved their support.
“It has to do with who they know,” Tene said.
Stanley Black, a Beverly Hills-based real estate developer who has given large gifts to many Los Angeles Jewish nonprofits, knows both Sherman and Berman. He said he wasn’t going to decide between the two and has given money to both campaigns.
“They’re good guys, both of them,” Black said. “They support Israel. I support them both.”
For his part, Reed’s fundraising operation doesn’t appear to have kicked into gear yet — he raised $3,350 in the last three months of 2011 and had just over $3,000 in cash on hand at the end of that year — but his answers at the debate appealed to some in the audience.
“He’s more hawkish on Middle East issues than either of the incumbents,” said Jeff Leib, a member of Temple Judea who describes himself as a “Republocrat” and is supporting Reed’s candidacy.
At the debate, Leib and his wife watched the audience when Reed was speaking, to gauge their reactions.
“We were looking around to see the faces,” he said, “and the nods when Mark spoke, from the people wearing the ‘I’m with Howard’ buttons, were amazing.”
This June, for the first time, Californians will vote in primaries that include all candidates, regardless of party affiliation. If no single candidate wins an outright majority, the top two candidates will advance to a run-off in November.
In spite of their status as incumbents, their large reserves of campaign cash and their name recognition, it’s possible that either Berman or Sherman might not finish in the top two in June. The two polls to have been made publicly available, one of which was conducted by the Sherman campaign, suggest that Berman wouldn’t make the cut.
And an extended battle for the Republican presidential nomination could further bolster Reed’s chances of finishing in first or second place.
“In past primary elections, the vote in [the 30th Congressional District] has been around 56 percent Democratic and 38 percent Republican,” Democratic consultant Paul Mitchell wrote in a recent newsletter. “And if [Rick] Santorum makes a strong stand on Super Tuesday, we could see that Republican turnout surge. That would make it mathematically tough for both Berman and Sherman to make it to November.”
Footage from Feb. 21 debate.
3.14.13 at 9:24 am | The veteran former congressman joins Covington &. . .
1.4.13 at 3:55 pm | Colleagues paid tribute in in the House chamber. . .
12.19.12 at 4:06 pm | In political campaigns, how and when a strategist. . .
12.12.12 at 1:22 pm | Sherman and Berman spent $40 for each registered. . .
11.13.12 at 12:22 am | And this blogger scratches his head.
11.7.12 at 3:46 pm | The National Jewish Democratic Council sent this. . .
6.13.12 at 2:56 pm | This November, Allan Hoffman is going to have a. . . (6)
3.14.13 at 9:24 am | The veteran former congressman joins Covington &. . . (4)
7.5.12 at 11:30 am | Eve Kurtin didn’t intend to take a side in the. . . (2)
February 28, 2012 | 7:01 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
Rep. Howard Berman, Rep. Brad Sherman and Mark Reed may have been the only candidates on the stage at the Jewish Journal-sponsored debate at Temple Judea on February 21, but there are other candidates running for the right to represent California’s 30th district in congress—including a third Jewish candidate, a restaurateur, an historian and a freelance gardener.
According to the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk’s website, four Republicans, three Democrats and one member of the Green Party started the process of declaring themselves candidates for congress in the West San Fernando Valley.
Of those eight, one—Phil Jennerjahn, who in the last three years has run unsuccessfully for Los Angeles City Council, United States Congress and Los Angeles City mayor—appears to have decided that the 28th District is a better fit for him. At least there he’ll only be facing one Jewish incumbent Democratic congressman, Rep. Adam Schiff—along with half a dozen (or more) other candidates.
But this blog is about the West Valley, so over the coming weeks, we’ll run down the list of the candidates whose names could appear on the ballot in June’s primary alongside the better known Berman and Sherman.
February 22, 2012 | 12:59 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
As advertised, foreign policy matters dominated at Tuesday night’s Jewish Journal-sponsored debate between candidates running for congress in the 30th district.
Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys), Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks), and Republican Mark Reed faced off in a 90-minute debate that covered the Iranian nuclear threat, what role the United States should play in bringing about peace between Israelis and Palestinians and whether to arm the rebels battling against government forces in Syria. The candidates also covered domestic policy issues.
It was a packed house at Temple Judea in Tarzana—800 people came, by the organizers’ count—and the two Jewish incumbent Democratic congressmen further upped the temperature in this hotly contested race.
Among the things we learned at Tuesday night’s “Tussle in the Temple” (h/t L.A. Weekly) were:
—Sherman, while still a co-sponsor of the Stop Online Piracy Act, thinks it was poorly written. Berman, who was one of the bill’s earliest co-sponsors, stood firm in his support of it, despite the outcry from internet companies and users last month that effectively killed the bill.
—Berman still won’t sign Sherman’s pledge to eliminate Super PACs from their race, calling it “a gimmick.” Berman also noted that Sherman’s first negative ad—a flyer that attempted to tie Berman to the 2009 San Bruno gas line explosion using a donation from the company involved in the disaster (PG & E) to a Super PAC backing Berman (Rebuilding America) as the link from one to the other—had backfired. On February 21, Senator Barbara Boxer cited that flyer when she jumped in to support Berman over Sherman.
Video footage from Tuesday night’s debate. Story continues after the jump.
—Sherman would advocate moving the United States Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. (One has to guess that Berman would support such a position as well—he voted in favor a bill that would have moved the embassy to Jerusalem in 1995—but since the moving of embassies is a Presidential prerogative, it’s not clear how much a congressman’s position on the issue actually matters.)
—Berman, objecting to what he called Sherman’s distortions of his record, turned his opponent’s name into a critique of its own: “For him to invert the truth is … Brad!”
—Reed, who dismissed both Berman and Sherman as “party hacks,” and said that he would support Israel’s going after Iranian nuclear facilities only if the United States won’t do it first, hasn’t been to Israel (yet).
Many political leaders turned out Tuesday night, including Rep. Henry Waxman, who is supporting Berman in this race and told KPCC that he’s “angry that two Democrats are running against each other, spending millions of dollars, when we could have used that money to elect other Democrats.”
Susan Shelley, a Republican candidate running in the 30th district who filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service against the Jewish Journal’s parent company after not being invited to participate in Tuesday night’s debate, was also present. According to the L.A. Times, she gave out “goodie bags.”
February 21, 2012 | 3:40 pm
Posted by JewishJournal
[UPDATE: This is a recording of a live broadcast from Tuesday, Feb. 21.]
On Tuesday night, Feb. 21, JewishJournal.com will live stream a congressional debate from Temple Judea in Tarzana. The debate will feature 30th district candidates Brad Sherman, Howard Berman and Mark Reed.
February 15, 2012 | 8:12 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
This entry takes a closer look at a bill mentioned near the end of the run-down of the race in the 30th district that appears in the newest issue of the Jewish Journal.
When Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys) introduced a bill that would allow certain Israeli entrepreneurs to apply for a type of investor visa currently unavailable to them, he cited two reasons to support the bill: Strengthening the Israeli-American relationship and adding jobs to the American economy.
“Israel is one of our closest allies in the world and a significant investor in the U.S. economy,” Berman said in a statement on Feb. 9, the day he introduced H.R. 3992. “The E-2 investor visa program will strengthen the vital U.S.-Israel relationship, boost the American middle class, and help grow the economies of both countries.”
Sounds great, right? I mean, a lot of people—powerful people—have been saying this lately, that the United States needs to work harder to attract foreign entrepreneurs as a way to improve the economy. Even President Obama made promoting immigration for high-skilled foreigners a major feature of this year’s State of the Union Address.
“It’s now a global competition for talent and America should be doing everything possible to attract immigrant entrepreneurs who want to invest in America and create new jobs,” said John Feinblatt, who runs the Partnership for a New American Economy. That organization was started by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and media mogul Rupert Murdoch to advocate for policies that promote “high-skilled immigration reform.”
And Berman’s bill does this—sort of—but only in a very limited way, and it does so by proposing to extend to Israelis a visa whose problems are already well known to both immigration attorneys and the entrepreneurs themselves.
The E-2 investor visa, which is today available to investors from more than 70 other countries—including Britain, Montenegro and Iran, JTA reported—is a nonimmigrant visa that allows investors who bring substantial amount of money from their home country to start businesses in the U.S., to live in the U.S. for a short period of time while developing those businesses.
But it’s only available to investors who bring money to the United States from their home country. (Nobody says exactly how much money one needs, but it’s at least $50,000 according to Haaretz’s report on the bill.) So Amit Aharoni, an Israeli-born entrepreneur who graduated from Stanford Business School and started a web-based business that employs nine Americans in San Francisco, wouldn’t be eligible.
Aharoni established CruiseWise, a web-based startup that helps consumers choose and buy cruise vacations. He had raised $1.65 million in startup cash—$1 million of it was from outside the United States, but not from Israel—when he was denied a different type of visa in October 2011, an H1-B visa.
Aharoni’s story was featured on ABC News, at which point his visa was quickly approved. But the experience led the 32-year-old to conclude that there are some unnecessary hurdles that stand in the way of entrepreneurs looking to start businesses in the United States.
“There’s no good visa to support entrepreneurs,” Aharoni told me. “H1B is really a ‘Specialty Occupation’ visa.”
Another problem with the E-2 visa is that it has to be renewed frequently—every two years, in the case of Berman’s bill for Israeli entrepreneurs, according to a member of the Congressman’s staff. And the visa offers no path to citizenship for those who start businesses here.
“The E-2 visa is, in the long term, not going to solve the interests of promoting foreign entrepreneurs—coming here risking everything and setting down roots,” said Deborah Notkin, an immigration lawyer in New York. “We really need a entrepreneurship visa that gives those who are successful a pathway to permanent residence, along with their families.”
Zoe Adams of Lakeland, Fla., is one such entrepreneur. She arrived, with her husband and two children, from Britain, in September 2003 on an E-2 visa. They started a pool servicing business that today employs four people.
But being on an E-2 visa, Adams can’t plan for the future in any sustained way. “You can only work in increments of five years,” Adams said, adding that her husband was about to go back to England, hoping to get his visa renewed. “We can’t really plan anything at the moment until we definitely know that we’re okay for another five years.”
That uncertainty—together with the worry that her daughter, now a college student in Florida on her own student visa, might eventually be forced to leave the United States—led Adams to start E2VisaReform.org.
Adams, together with a few other entrepreneurial foreigners living in the U.S. on E-2 visas, has been pushing for changes to the E-2 visa. And though her business is small, she says that some of those in her coalition—she’s got email addresses for about 500 people—are much larger.
“We clean 250 pools a week,” Adams said. “My husband’s a licensed state contractor. We’re the epitome of a small business.”
“For every person like me,” Adams said, “there’s somebody else who has 25, or 50 employees, or more than 100.”
Nevertheless, Berman’s bill was welcomed by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren welcomed. In a written statement, Oren appeared to say that the bill—and a companion bill introduced last year in the Senate—was the product of joint work by Israeli diplomats and American lawmakers.
“In working with the Embassy of Israel’s Office of Congressional Affairs and its Economic Mission,” Oren said in the statement, “and with the introduction of this legislation, the U.S. Congress advances shared political and economic interests that will enable the business communities in both countries to expand bilateral investments.”
If the E-2 is so fraught with problems, why are Berman and other lawmakers trying push this bill forward? And why would the Israeli embassy be so enthusiastic about it?
Perhaps because, in the political gridlock of Washington, D.C., it’s a limited, unobjectionable solution.
“It’s a tiny little fix and there’s not a lot to make one oppose it,” said Notkin, the immigration lawyer. “A bigger fix…might meet with some resistance.”
February 15, 2012 | 6:27 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
Last year, with political observers predicting the race between incumbent Democratic Congressmen Howard Berman (Van Nuys) and Brad Sherman (Sherman Oaks) could end up costing upwards of $10 million, the news that three separate Super PACs had been established to support one candidate — Berman — attracted a lot of attention.
While independent expenditure committees, as Super PACs are officially known, have had an outsized impact on Republican presidential primaries so far, it’s still unclear what impact, if any, they will have on the hotly contested race in California’s 30th Congressional District.
Indeed, over the last three months of 2011, while Berman’s campaign raked in more than $1 million in donations and Sherman raised $126,000, the pro-Berman Super PACs brought in a combined $21,000. And the Valley-Israel Alliance, the first of the Super PACs to be established, officially ended its fundraising efforts at the end of January.
“Congressman Berman made it clear that that he was not comfortable with the whole concept of Super PACs,” said Brendan Huffman, the founder of the now-terminated Super PAC. “And so, respecting his concerns, it made sense to close it and try to help in other ways.”
Huffman is a public policy consultant who has worked for several Los Angeles-area Jewish officeholders. According to filings obtained from the Federal Election Commission (FEC), the outside group did not receive any monetary contributions in the months it was up and running.
“I don’t know why you needed three Super PACs anyway,” said Parke Skelton, Sherman’s campaign manager, dismissing the disappearance of one such committee as insignificant.
Rebuilding America, a Super PAC run by State Sen. Alex Padilla, raised $20,000 in the last quarter of 2011, including a $10,000 donation from Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E). That corporation does not service any part of the San Fernando Valley, where the 30th District is located but could have business facing the California State Senate Standing Committee on Energy, Utilities and Communications, which is chaired by Padilla.
Berman has said he has not asked any of his contributors to donate to the outside groups. Nevertheless, Sherman has publicly asked Berman to sign a pledge designed to eliminate the influence of Super PACs from the race, which Berman has until now declined to do, a fact that Sherman often uses in attacks on his opponent.
“Let the grassroots speak to the voters,” Sherman said near the end of his two-minute speech to the delegates at the California Democratic Party’s endorsing caucus on Feb. 11 in San Diego, which was recorded by John Myers of KQED. “Otherwise, they’re only going to hear from the Super PACs.”
Sherman’s claims aside, with the pro-Berman Super PACs raising little money and spending less, it’s not clear what impact — if any — the outside groups will have.
“This is an unusual race in that it pits two similar candidates from the same party against one another,” said Richard Hasen, a professor at the UC Irvine School of Law, who blogs at electionlawblog.org. “It could well be that the lack of a partisan angle will mean less money will come in. But I don’t think we know yet.”
That difficulty of drawing major distinctions between Berman’s and Sherman’s records could help explain why, at the state party convention, delegates did not award the Democratic Party’s endorsement to either one.
Even without spending by pro-Berman Super PACs, both contenders have big war chests. In year-end reports to the FEC, the Berman campaign reported $2.85 million in cash on hand. Sherman’s campaign reported having $3.7 million to spend on the race.
As many journalists watching this race have observed, the two incumbents practice very different styles of political representation, and recent news would appear to reinforce those reputations.
Sherman, who is known for holding frequent town hall meetings in his district to engage with voters, is scheduled to hold two such meetings on successive Sundays, including one focused on developments in the Middle East.
Berman, meanwhile, is the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and has a reputation as the go-to guy to get legislation passed in Congress, especially on matters of foreign policy. On Feb. 9, he introduced a bill designed to extend a form of temporary visa to work in the United States — the E-2 visa, which is currently available to citizens from more than 70 countries but not Israel — to
Israeli entrepreneurs investing in businesses in the United States.
Berman’s bill was introduced with the co-sponsorship of two Republican representatives, including Congressman Lamar Smith of Texas, who chairs the House Committee on the Judiciary, to which the bill has since been referred. With a companion bill already introduced in the Senate — with a similarly bipartisan group of sponsors — Berman’s bill is believed to have a good chance at becoming law.
February 13, 2012 | 12:06 am
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
The California Democratic party isn’t taking sides in the race between Reps. Howard Berman and Brad Sherman, the two incumbent Democrats facing off in the 30th Congressional District.
I wasn’t at the state party convention in San Diego this weekend, but according to KQED’s John Myers, the two congressmen “came out swinging” in their addresses to the party’s endorsement caucus.
“Sherman accused Berman of being bought by big corporations,” Myers wrote, “Berman called Sherman ‘slightly pathetic.’”
And both campaigns are calling the non-endorsement a victory.
In a press release sent out on Saturday evening, within hours of the vote, Berman called the outcome “just and appropriate.” The Sherman campaign sent out no formal press release, but in an email, campaign manager Parke Skelton reported what the Berman campaign’s email left out—the exact tally of the votes.
According to Skelton, 55 percent of the delegates who cast ballots voted for Sherman while 39 percent voted for Berman. According to Myers, a preliminary count was 69 votes for Sherman and 52 for Berman. Either way, the result kept Sherman below the 60 percent threshold that he would have needed to secure the party’s nomination.
“This race will now be decided on the merits of our candidacies,” Berman said in the statement, “and I’m confident that my record of effectiveness will earn the support of the voters of the 30th Congressional District.”
Skelton pointed to the result as evidence of Sherman’s base of support.
“We’re very happy with our strong showing which demonstrates, once again, that Brad has the overwhelming support of grassroots Democrats in the Valley,” he wrote.
February 7, 2012 | 4:40 pm
Posted by JewishJournal
On February 21, at 7:30 pm, Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys), Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) and Republican Mark Reed, who are all seeking to be the next representative in the new 30th congressional district in the San Fernando Valley, will meet at Temple Judea in Tarzana for a candidates’ debate.
Three panelists from the Jewish Journal—Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman, Staff Writer Jonah Lowenfeld, creator and author of the Berman v. Sherman blog, and Jewish Journal Columnist Bill Boyarsky—will be asking the candidates questions about foreign and domestic policy, as well as other issues of interest to local voters.
This is the second public debate between candidates from the 30th congressional district, whose primary election is in June. There are at least three reasons why we think it’s important to hold such a debate—and important for voters in the 30th district to attend.
As readers of the Berman v. Sherman blog well know, this race has pitted two Jewish incumbent congressmen, who are seen as reliable pro-Israel voices in congress, against one another. But in trying to win over voters in the 30th district, all candidates will be addressing issues of importance to the Jewish community—which is why the panelists will ask questions about Iran, Israel and local matters.
It’s what we do. At the first debate, organized by a nonprofit community group, moderators asked candidates broad, open-ended questions. We’ll be doing some of that, sure, but we’ll also take advantage of the questions that have already been answered to dig a bit deeper into the records and positions of these candidates.
In the Feb. 13 issue of The New Yorker, Hendrik Hertzberg made the case that in the race for President, voters need more, not fewer candidate debates. In a media landscape more dominated by partisan news outlets than ever, and with the rise of Super PACs that candidates on both sides of the political spectrum profess to dislike even as they embrace their assistance (which usually comes in the form of negative campaign ads), debates, Hertzberg writes, “are of inestimable value.”
[Debates] enable voters to see and hear the candidates in a sustained manner, outside the protective cocoons of their handlers, packagers, stage managers, consultants, PACs, and Super PACs. They oblige the candidates to speak for themselves. As [organizer of the Commission on Presidential Debates Newt] Minow has written, “The debates are the only time during presidential campaigns when the major candidates appear together side by side under conditions that they do not control.”
It’s all but certain that many millions of dollars will be spent in the race for the 30th district. That money will buy a whole lot of pre-packaged communication from the campaigns—much of which will probably end up in the mailboxes of voters. Debates allow voters to see for themselves what the candidates are like in person, in a situation that’s about a close to real-life as you can get on the campaign trail.
These are just three reasons we think that it’s important for voters in the 30th district—and engaged Jews across Los Angeles—to pay attention to debates like the one we’re holding.
If you can make it to Temple Judea on February 21, please come. Admission and parking are free.
And though we won’t be taking questions from the audience on debate night, we do see this as a chance for the community—broadly defined—to learn more about these candidates before deciding who to support. We’ve been soliciting questions from Jewish groups and other groups from across the community and across the political spectrum, and we’d also be interested in hearing what questions you want answered, too.
Email suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include the words “Debate Question” in the subject line.