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Jewish Journal

‘People of the Ballot’ Seek Office Across SoCal

by Tom Tugend

February 19, 2009 | 12:22 am

Nili Nathan

Nili Nathan

Beverly Hills gave America its first Iranian Jewish mayor two years ago, but is the city — and the country — ready for its first sabra public official?

Absolutely, said Nili Nathan (nee Sinai), born in Ramat Gan, adjoining Tel Aviv, the granddaughter of Yemenite Jews who arrived in Palestine in the early 1900s.

Her father, a tile designer and craftsman, fought with the British army in World War II, and her mother was a sergeant with the Haganah during the War of Independence, Nathan recalled. When she was 3, the family moved to the United States.

Now 52, Nathan, a self-made businesswoman with management, banking, investment and marketing experience, is the divorced mother of 6-year-old Hana, an adopted Chinese girl.

Nathan is one of 11 candidates, nine of them Jewish, running for three contested spots on the five-person Beverly Hills City Council, with March 3 the election date.

She hopes that her business experience will appeal to voters at a time when even the fabled golden ghetto is feeling the pinch of the economic downturn. The municipal budget is in the red, retail sales on Rodeo Drive are down 20 percent and there are fewer tourists and conventions booking hotel rooms, Nathan reported.

In addition, she is counting on her self-confidence, which she acknowledges borders on chutzpah, and her truthfulness to carry her to victory. “People are hungry for an honest broker,” she said.

Among the 11 candidates, the top three vote getters will become City Council members, and Nathan faces some rough electioneering.

Despite the city’s glitz and wealth, its politics are “down and dirty,” said John Seitz, senior editor of the Beverly Hills Courier, with taxes and commercial development as the current hot-button issues.

The best-known candidate name in the wider Jewish community is Virginia A. Maas, a former president of Temple Beth Am and of the L.A. Jewish Community Centers Association. Barry Brucker and Linda Briskman, two strong incumbents, are running for reelection.

Two Iranian Jewish candidates, Michael Hakim and Fran Cohen, are vying to join City Councilman Jimmy Delshad, who completed his one-year term as mayor, a position that rotates among those on the council. The three other Jewish candidates in the Beverly Hills City Council race are John A. Mirish, Abraham Ross and Richard Stone.

Among 35,000 Beverly Hills residents, approximately 8,000 are Iranian Jews, and they have proven their political organizing skills (see “Candidates Seeking Out Support of Iranian Jews” by Karmel Melamed, Jewish Journal, Feb. 6).

Moving beyond Beverly Hills to the city and county of Los Angeles, there is a flurry of political hopefuls, to prove that Jews are rapidly becoming the People of the Ballot, among them David “Zuma Dogg” Saltsburg and “Surfing Rabbi” Nachum Shifren.

In the epicenter of Jewish Los Angeles, five out of six candidates running for City Council in the Fifth District are Jewish (see “The Fifth District Race: You Can’t Be Too Jewish” by Tom Tugend, Jewish Journal, Feb. 13).

Following the order of the printed March 3 sample ballot, in the mayor’s race none of the nine other candidates is expected to seriously threaten incumbent Antonio Villaraigosa running for his second term.

Nevertheless, Saltsburg, best known for his public access cable show and as a City Hall gadfly, is giving it a try. In an interview, Saltsburg revealed that he celebrated his bar mitzvah in his native Cleveland and that he was for quality control and against inefficiency in local government.

In the more competitive race for city attorney, Jack Weiss, after serving eight years as Fifth District city councilman, is facing tough opposition, mainly from former L.A. Deputy District Attorney Carmen “Nuch” Trutanich.

Few question Weiss’ intelligence, drive and toughness or his political support for the growth of Jewish institutions anywhere in Los Angeles, though in the process he has alienated many Jewish and other resident constituents.

Weiss is backed by the Los Angeles Democratic Party, while Trutanich, a man of Croatian and Italian descent and a former gang prosecutor, has been endorsed by the Los Angeles Times.

To complicate matters further for Weiss and voters, also running is Noel Weiss — no relation, though Noel’s father was also named Jack. Noel Weiss described himself as a community service lawyer, whose children celebrated their b’nai mitzvah at Adat Shalom.

A third Jewish candidate in the race is David Berger, a deputy district attorney and criminal prosecutor whose family attends Shir Shalom in Santa Monica.

No Jewish candidates are running for city controller.

Making his second run for the city council seat in the Third District against incumbent Dennis Zine is Jeff Bornstein, the owner of a small audio and video business, who opposes over-development in the western San Fernando Valley.

In the 13th Council District, between downtown and Hollywood, Gary Shlossberg has his work cut out in challenging Eric Garcetti, council president. The challenger is an attorney for the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice and an active supporter of the Progressive Jewish Alliance.

Among candidates competing for slots on the Los Angeles Community College District’s Board of Trustees, incumbent Nancy Pearlman is defending Seat No. 6 against five opponents.

Voters in the 26th State Senate District, encompassing Culver City, Marina del Rey, Venice and parts of West Los Angeles, will have a chance to vote again in a March 24 primary to replace Mark Ridley-Thomas, who was elected to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. The district’s population forms an ethnic mosaic, with Latinos the largest group, followed by African Americans and Jews.

In the past, though, the seat has been held by African Americans, a tradition two strong Democrat contenders, Assemblymen Curren Price (51st District) and Mike Davis (48th District) are trying to continue.

However, there are also two Jewish hopefuls in the field: Jonathan Friedman and Shifren.

Friedman is a chartered financial analyst who serves on the American Israel Public Affairs Committee national executive committee and is active in Democrats for Israel.

Shifren, the self-styled “Surfing Rabbi,” who runs a surfing school and is a longtime teacher in — and harsh critic of — the Los Angeles public school system. He is the author of “Kill Your Teacher: Corruption and Racism in Los Angeles City Schools” and “Surfing Rabbi: A Kabbalistic Quest for Soul.” Shifren has been endorsed by the county Republican Party.

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