Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
The San Fernando Valley Republican Club (SFVRC) has decided not to endorse either Rep. Brad Sherman or Rep. Howard Berman, the two Democratic incumbents who will face off in November in the hotly contested and closely watched race to represent the newly redrawn 30th Congressional district.
At a meeting on August 7, the members of the organization voted “overwhelmingly” in favor of a resolution not to endorse either candidate. According to a release, the resolution’s text cited a lack of support on the part of both candidates for “conservative principles” like limited government and lower taxes.
“The San Fernando Valley Republican Club commends both Cong. Berman and Cong. Sherman on their strong support for Israel, but the SFVRC will take no position in the congressional race,” said President Gary Aminoff in a release. “It would not be possible for Republicans who believe in conservative principles to be able to support either candidate in good conscience.”
The SFVRC vote shouldn’t come as a big surprise, particularly to readers of this blog. Aminoff, who is also vice chair of the Republican Party of Los Angeles County, told The Journal in June that the county party would not be making any recommendations in the race, preferring to allow individual republicans to decide for themselves which candidate to support.
One quarter of the district’s registered voters are Republicans, and both the Berman and Sherman campaigns are making efforts to win endorsements from individual Republicans, even though, according to Aminoff, members of the party’s central committee can be removed from their positions for endorsing or recommending a candidate who is not a member of the Republican party.
Will Republicans just take a pass on this race between two liberal Democrats? Unclear, but even if the party’s official clubs decline to take a side, there are murmurings among some highly placed Jewish republicans – all off the record at this point—about wanting to organize a debate where the candidates might address their issues.
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August 7, 2012 | 5:30 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
That’s how Rep. Barney Frank (D – Mass.) described the role played in Congress by Rep. Brad Sherman (D – Sherman Oaks) on a conference call with reporters on Aug. 7, organized by Rep. Howard Berman’s (D – Van Nuys) reelection campaign.
Frank described himself as an admirer of Berman’s, and referred to the 29-year incumbent as a “very responsible, very constructive, thoughtful member” of Congress. But this call was not about building up Berman’s bona fides as much as it was an opportunity for an well-known Democratic leader to tear into Sherman.
“One of the things that makes [Sherman] not a very good legislator, in my mind, is the total lack of understanding that in a legislative body you work with other people,” Frank said.
Frank, who has announced that he will retire at the end of his current term, endorsed Berman shortly after the district lines were redrawn last year, setting up this battle between Democratic incumbents, but only recently decided to take a stronger position for Berman and against Sherman.
Frank said he was inspired to do so by a pair of comments by Sherman that he called “appallingly off the mark.”
First, Frank, who is a former chair and ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Financial Services, of which Sherman is also a member, rejected Sherman’s assertion that he “had more to do with [the financial reform law] Dodd-Frank than anyone except Dodd and Frank.”
This, Frank said, was an instance of Sherman denigrating his colleagues in an effort to build up his own reputation.
“There were a number of members who had more to do with it than he did,” Frank said.
Frank also questioned a second comment made by Sherman, in May, when he told reporters that his efforts to stall the passage of the Troubled Asset Recovery Program (TARP) bill forced a change in the program that “saved this country over $400 billion.”
It’s an assertion that Sherman has made frequently on the trail; his campaign circulated a mailer last May touting Sherman’s opposition to TARP, and that mailer also included the $400 billion number.
Frank dismissed the claim that Sherman’s opposition impacted the shape of the TARP program as “wholly a figment of his [Sherman’s] imagination.”
“The notion that his opposition led to the change from buying assets to capital infusion is wholly and completely fantasy in the first place,” said Frank.
As Frank described it, the decision to pursue a strategy of capital infusion instead of buying troubled or toxic assets was made not as a result of the urging by Sherman and other TARP opponents, but by then Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson.
Sherman, in a statement circulated by his campaign after Frank’s conference call, proudly restated his opposition to the TARP program.
“Everyone in the San Fernando Valley knows I opposed the $700 million [sic] Wall Street bailout,” Sherman said. “I know I made Barney Frank extremely angry because he says I was anti-bailout and Berman was pro-bailout, and now he’s doing everything he can do to bailout Berman.”
Frank did label Sherman as anti-bailout on the call, noting that even on the second round of voting on the bill in the House, Sherman voted against the TARP program.
“He [Sherman] was every bit opposed to the capital infusion as he was opposed to the toxic assets,” Frank said, adding that had TARP not passed, the auto industry would not be in the shape it is in today and the country would have experienced “a much deeper and much more prolonged downturn.”
So why did Sherman vote against the TARP bill on its second reading?
According to Sherman campaign spokesman John Schwada, Sherman voted no the second time because the bill’s language “still left open the possibility the purchase of toxic assets. That was enough to kill it for Brad.”
But doesn’t that mean that Sherman is claiming credit for the way TARP was administered even though he voted against the bill that authorized it – twice? And that he’s simultaneously using Berman’s votes to approve that same bill as a way to attack Berman as having supported the “TARP bailout of Wall Street—twice”?
It would seem so. As Schwada explained it, Sherman, who called his opponent “Bailout Berman” in an interview with Politico, is opposed to “bailouts,” but not to “recovery plans.”
“Brad voted against [TARP] twice and he was thankful that the outcome that eventually came about—- that the treasury department bought preferred stock instead of toxic assets – was far preferable to the original idea. And Sherman applauds that outcome and feels that he had some responsibility for it.”
Because TARP, as ultimately carried out, wasn’t a bailout, per se.
“[Congressman Sherman] didn’t consider it a bailout because it didn’t’ give away the store,” Schwada said. “It was a recovery plan that made sense.”
If it seems to you like Sherman is splitting hairs here, you’re not alone.
For the Berman campaign, the TARP comment was another instance of Sherman exaggerating his contributions to the legislative process. In a release issued by the campaign after the call ended, the Berman campaign likened Frank’s comments to those of former Appropriations Committee chairman Rep. Jim Oberstar who rejected Sherman’s assertions that he deserved credit for the federal funding for the I-405 freeway widening project.
And once again, this back and forth clarifies the fact that when Sherman makes an impact, it’s not through the legislative process. And what’s in dispute is whether he made an impact. The Washington Post seemed to think that Sherman had some impact on the shape of the TARP program in 2008, but today, Frank rejected that assessment.
“He [Sherman] did not have anything like the role he described,” Frank said. “If anything, I thought he was neutral.”
August 7, 2012 | 1:36 am
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
Windows of houses in Holmby Hills have been rattled. Horses near Glendale have been spooked. A recent Beethoven concert at the Hollywood Bowl was all but ruined.
These are among the annoyances that have been caused by noise from helicopters, which was the subject of a community hearing held in Sherman Oaks on Aug. 6.
Organized by Rep. Howard Berman, the hearing was designed to provide a forum for elected officials, representatives of homeowners’ groups and ordinary citizens from neighborhoods all over Los Angeles to urge representatives from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to establish and enforce guidelines to minimize the disturbances caused by loud, low-flying helicopters to local residents.
Berman, who presided over the hearing at Millikan Middle School in Sherman Oaks, sponsored H.R, 2677, which would force the FAA to use its existing legal authority to restrict helicopter flight paths and set minimum altitudes within 12 months of its being signed into law.
“Without sensible regulation,” Berman said on Monday evening, “it is literally the wild west in our skies.”
Berman introduced his bill in late July 2011, just weeks after the weekend closure of the 405 freeway known as “Carmaggeddon.” Throughout that weekend, numerous media helicopters and helicopter tour operators circled and hovered over the closed stretch of freeway.
A second weekend-long closure of the same stretch of freeway is planned for late September.
Berman’s bill, which would allow the FAA to grant exemptions to helicopters associated with law enforcement, emergency responders, and the US military, has not yet advanced beyond the committee. In December Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D – CA), together with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D – CA), introduced a companion bill to Berman’s in the Senate.
Monday’s hearing featured one speaker after another offering their first-hand accounts of what they perceived to be an increase in helicopter traffic and a increasing brazenness on the part of helicopter pilots in their disregard for the voluntary guidelines outlined by helicopter trade groups.
Bob Anderson, a member of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association’s board of directors, said any self-imposed industry guidelines were insufficient.
“Our members do not trust voluntary action,” he said, addressing his comments directly to FAA regional administrator Bill Withycombe, who was seated on the stage at the front of the auditorium. “Enough of that. We need enforceable legal restrictions, right now.”
Many in the had affixed yellow stickers on their shirts that featured a helicopter with a red circle and a diagonal line through it.
The evening’s most memorable moment came during remarks from Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. After briefly describing the impact that noise from helicopters has had on his life and the lives of his constituents, Yaroslavsky turned to the most recent “outrage” caused by a low-flying helicopter: interrupting a performance of Beethoven that took place at the Hollywood Bowl on Aug. 2.
“Anybody who was at that concert will never forget it,” Yaroslavsky said, and then played a short segment from a recording taken at the concert. Over the sound of a violin, the thwap-thwap-thwap of a helicopter could be clearly heard.
Yaroslavsky said the helicopter was much louder the night of the concert. “It was impossible to hear the violinist on stage,” he said.
One defender of helicopters did have a chance to speak at the hearing. Arnold Kleiner, the general manager of KABC, is a constituent in Berman’s district. Unlike the rest of the speakers who addressed their comments toward the two FAA officials seated on the stage, Kleiner faced the audience as he explained that where his company’s helicopter flies isn’t always their own choice, that people depend upon their news coverage on a daily basis and that the KABC helicopter is clearly marked with the number seven in multiple places, including on the underside of the aircraft.
“If you can’t see it’s channel seven,” Kleiner said, “it’s because we’re so high.”
But those in the audience – many of them from Los Angeles County’s toniest neighborhoods, including Holmby Hills, Westwood and Palos Verdes Estates – were as critical of media helicopters as they were of the aircraft that offer tours of Los Angeles from above.
Many who spoke mentioned helicopters buzzing around the houses of celebrities – among them Lindsay Lohan—although some in the audience had clearly been harboring complaints about helicopters for a very long time.
“I know you’ve heard about Lindsay Lohan and Carmaggeddon, but the mother of all helicopter noise occurred in the mid-90s when O.J. Simpson went to court every day,” Donald Keller, vice president of the Brentwood Homeowners Association, said in his testimony.
Among those who attended Monday evening’s hearing were two of the co-sponsors to Berman’s bill: Rep. Adam Schiff (D – Pasadena) and Rep. Brad Sherman (D – Sherman Oaks).
Sherman, who is facing off against Berman in a fierce Democrat v. Democrat race for reelection this November, was the first person to speak from the floor. He thanked Berman (though not by name) for arranging the hearing, and urged the FAA officials to use their legal authority to regulate helicopter traffic over Los Angeles.
Sherman was also the first of the elected officials in attendance to leave the hearing. He announced during his remarks that he was leaving in order to join members of the local Sikh community to honor the victims of Sunday’s deadly shooting in Wisconsin.
August 5, 2012 | 11:52 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
Congress is in recess, which means it’s town hall season—especially for voters in the West San Fernando Valley.
Rep. Brad Sherman addressed more than 200 of his constituents at The Sherman Oaks Center for Enriched Studies at a town hall on Sunday afternoon, August 5. Six days earlier, Rep. Howard Berman had almost 200 in the auditorium at North Hollywood High School for what he called a “community meeting.”
As nearly everyone I spoke with at these town halls already knew, Berman and Sherman, both relatively liberal, Jewish, Democratic incumbents, are running against one another this November, a result of redistricting.
Redistricting is also to blame for the disclosure Berman made at the start of his town hall. Berman explained that the invitation to the event had initially gone out to the people he hopes to represent – voters who live in the newly drawn 30th Congressional District – and not to those voters he currently represents.
That was, in Berman’s words, “a no-no,” and Berman said he had paid back the treasury the amount of taxpayer dollars he had spent “the moment [he] found out, which was about four days” before the event. That solution wasn’t sufficient for Sherman’s campaign though, which called Berman’s disclosure “half-hearted,” and accused him of also making illegal robo-calls to voters in the new 30th district to promote another public event.
Sherman, who currently represents the majority of the new district – and beat Berman by 10 percentage points in the June primary—has held more than 161 town halls over the last 15 years. That’s a rate of almost one every month that he’s been in Congress, and it’s been a central part of his argument to voters as to why he deserves another term.
The impending Berman-Sherman runoff was off limits at these events (which isn’t to say it didn’t come up) but even though the public forums are intended as venues for public questions about policy and for individuals to make complaints about what they see as the shortcomings of government, more than a few attendees confessed to feeling unsatisfied.
Elisa Merva, a 30-year-old Navy veteran who came to Berman’s community meeting to voice her frustration with the service she’d experienced at the West Los Angeles Veterans Administration (VA) Hospital. Berman responded to her question by talking about his efforts to keep the VA hospital on the Valley-based Sepulveda campus, but Merva said found the congressman’s response to be “vauge.”
“To be honest, I feel that this is an issue that he’s completely uneducated on,” Merva said.
Berman did have his fair share of fans in the audience on Monday evening. Leila Shiralian spoke immediately after Merva, and she cried while praising the member of Berman’s staff who had been helping her and her husband negotiate and work with the Small Business Administration, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and other governmental agencies.
Shiralian, who is in hoping to solve her problem through the court system, said she came to the town hall only to be heard by the congressman.
“I wanted him to take [my story] back to D.C.,” she said.
On Sunday, meanwhile, Diane and Alan Kimmel, Jewish registered Republicans who live in Tarzana and have lived in Sherman’s district for as long as he’s represented it, came to their first town hall in order to better decide whether to vote for Sherman or Berman.
“He’s nice enough, but I guess, I don’t know,” Diane Kimmel said. “We like the fact that I think he’s pretty strong on Israel.”
(As a side note, which way the Republicans in the 30th district will go may still be an open question, but I’ve yet to meet a Jewish Republican who’s not solidly backing Sherman, a result, most likely, of his willingness to buck the Obama administration, particularly on the subject of Iranian sanctions.)
Town halls are always a good place to spot gadflies – you know the type – the ones who show up, often with a pad of paper in hand, to ask questions that almost always are met with a salvo of boos or, better yet, elicit the kind of applause designed to drown out even the most insistent speaker.
Berman was faced last Monday evening with someone asking for “answers on President Obama’s citizenship.
Berman’s quick retort: “I thought a birth certificate was a pretty good answer.”
Sherman, meanwhile, has perfected the art of giving answers that are simultaneously polite and dismissive.
On Sunday, a white man with a halo of white hair complained that the Democratic party’s policy on immigration was “changing our demographics,” and asked Congressman Sherman to “admonish the immigrants not to have children” until they can afford to pay to support those children.
When the audience’s laughter died down, Sherman answered the question semi-seriously. First, he talked about the 1960s, when the United States had a policy of racial quotas for the numbers of legal immigrants who could enter the country. Then, after declaring that he thought, “the cultural diversity of this country is a fine thing,” Sherman said he couldn’t tell immigrants not to have children.
“I’ve had three in the last three years so I’d be really terrible as a poster child for that,” he said.
On Monday, Aug. 6, Berman is scheduled to hold a public hearing in coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration on helicopter noise in the Valley at Millikan Middle School in Sherman Oaks. The hearing begins at 6:30 p.m., and is expected to last two hours.
On Sunday, Aug 26, Sherman will hold a second general town hall meeting at Birmingham High School (17000 Haynes St., Lake Balboa, CA), from 3:00 - 4:30 p.m.