Los Angeles Councilwoman Jan Perry walked into my office at 5 pm yesterday and declared she’s running for Mayor of the City of Los Angeles.
I asked her if that was for print.
She nodded. “It’s out there,” she said. “People know. I just haven’t made my announcement on the steps of City Hall.”
There is time for that. The next mayoral race is in 2013; candidates don’t need to file until Jan. 11.
What Perry knows she does need is to become far more widely recognized.
She serves the Ninth District, covering downtown Los Angeles and south Los Angeles. Elected to office in 2001, her highest profile moment came this year when she served as Acting Mayor during the Michael Jackson memorial at Staples Center. Mayor Villaraigosa was out of town at the time. She also received national attention for a drive to limit fast food outlets in her largely minority district as a way to curb childhood obesity.
I asked Perry what she wants to do for Los Angeles.
“Focus on the economy, find new sources of revenue, create jobs,” was her quick reply.
In her district, she campaigned on a platform of “money, funding, community.” Perry handed me a blue folder with a couple of Xeroxed sheets listing her accomplishments. Among them: two wetland parks in highly urbanized South LA, a new $15 million multi-use City Hall there, a giant Fresh ‘n Easy grocery store, the LA Live complex of housing and retail across from the Staples Center.
So why did Perry come to see me?
For one, she’s Jewish. Perry, who is also African-American, converted to Judaism more than 20 years ago under the teaching of Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller at UCLA Hillel. According to a 2001 profile of her in The Jewish Journal:
“Judaism’s emphasis on the here and now, she says, was a major attractant.
That and a “broad-minded, inclusive approach to community, and to celebrating the differences among us.”
Perry said she attends synagogue occasionally downtown at the loft shul of Chabad Rabbi Moshe Greenwald. She documented her journey and political insights in a speech she gave last month at Sinai Temple, which was reprinted in part in The Jewish Journal:
I was deeply honored by the Anti-Defamation League earlier this year as a recipient of the ‘Deborah Award.’ Many people were surprised when I accepted the award that I declared as an African American, and as a Jewish woman the award meant a great deal to me.
Deborah was known for her great courage and functioned in many leadership roles: Military, Prophetess and Judge – women of the Torah offer us lessons in leadership courage, and the wise use of power. As an elected official, I make important decisions and take actions that require fortitude of mind, strong convictions, and the courage that accompanies the development of public policy.
Strong leadership requires consistency, and a commitment to bringing understanding, compassion to decision-making, and faith in ones own ability. The Legislative process is detailed, and takes time. Reasoning ability, communication, willingness to debate and defend ideas, and the tenacity needed to win is effortful and at times very hard.
In part, the faith I have in myself comes from my deep belief in my family. The stern lessons they taught me are derived from their life experience and their first-hand accounts of some very harsh realities including fighting hard to find success in a divided country. It comes from the lessons about how determined efforts may not always win out, but that a determined effort grounded in faith, hard work, and belief in our ability to make things work better is worth the effort.
She will undoubtedly turn to the Jewish community for votes and financial support. She said she is looking to raise $1 million early on, then a total of $2.5 million to compete in a primary that will likely include Councilman Eric Garcetti (note: Jewish too) and deep-pocketed developer Rick Caruso. The race could end up costing $5 million or more. Pocket change for Caruso, and doable for Garcetti, with a long list of Hollywood, Westside and Green movement contacts. But for Perry— I guess it is a smart thing to announce, early and often.