February 11, 2009
The Fifth District Race: You Can’t Be Too Jewish
When Los Angeles City Councilman Jack Weiss is asked why he gets involved in a zoning fight between an Orthodox yeshiva and its neighbors, well outside his own territory, he answers that as the Fifth Council District incumbent he represents the entire Jewish community.
That claim may be open to debate, but the Fifth District, encircling Beverly Hills and stretching from the Hollywood Hills to both sides of the Santa Monica Mountains, including Westwood, Century City, Palms, Valley Village and Beverly-Fairfax, does have a proud record of Jewish incumbents.
A young Rosalind “Roz” Wyman started the tradition in 1953 and has been succeeded by Edmund Edelman, Zev Yaroslavsky, Mike Feuer and Weiss, who is vacating the office to run for city attorney.
So it came as no surprise that when six candidates vying to succeed Weiss introduced themselves at a recent voters’ forum for the March 3 primary at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, five turned out to be Jewish. The sixth argued that as a Catholic, he might be more effective in advocating Jewish interests than a Jew.
Lined up on the ballot for the March 3 primary election are Adeena Bleich, Paul Koretz, Ron Galperin, David T. Vahedi, Robert Schwartz and Robyn Ritter Simon.
All of the candidates appeared likeable, well spoken and quick on the uptake. Despite attempts by the moderator, David Lehrer of Community Advocates Inc., to heat up the confrontational level, the four men and two women remained resolutely civil.
The tall, blonde Bleich has gotten a fair amount of media attention, both for her youth and as an Orthodox woman running for public office. A self-described progeny of two “Orthodox hippies,” she has served as AIPAC’s Los Angeles director, and as assistant dean at American Jewish University she helped create a mentoring program with students at the school.
Koretz is a former state assemblyman and West Hollywood mayor, as well as local director of the Jewish Labor Committee.
Galperin is an attorney, journalist and businessman who served for 20 years as cantor at Temple B’nai Emet.
Vahedi is an attorney, former state tax auditor and a veteran neighborhood-council activist. His father emigrated from Iran in 1943 and had a long career as a rocket scientist. Vahedi is Catholic and recently joined pro-Israel demonstrators in front of the Israeli consulate.
Schwartz is an entertainment lawyer, an active member of AIPAC and Stephen S. Wise Temple, and served as tennis coach from the San Fernando Valley at the 2008 Maccabbi Games.
Ritter Simon is a community organizer, businesswoman, former broadcast journalist and identified herself as “the only mother” in the race. She and her family attend Temple Isaiah.
The candidates had little stacks of leaflets on a table outside the meeting room, all with colorful pictures of his or her family, posing with a fireman, shaking hands with a senator or chatting with children in a classroom.
Vahedi, because he either has more resources or marketing skills, stood out by also offering a classy wall calendar listing all the Jewish holidays.
From the candidates’ fliers and presentations, it was fairly obvious what concerns Fifth District voters: traffic jams, schools, crime and street maintenance.
Since no one ran on a pro-pothole or anti-education platform, the candidates had to distinguish themselves mainly by trying to convince the audience of some 170 people that he or she would be the most uncompromising champion of the people’s interests.
Bleich cited her experience working as a field deputy for Weiss in City Hall, “the belly of the beast,” and pledged to battle runaway film production. Koretz, the most seasoned politician in the field, held that up as his calling card.
Galperin vowed to remedy the lack of a single police station in the district, and Vahedi pointed to his lifelong residence in the district and his involvement with neighborhood councils and homeowners associations.
Schwartz stressed his know-how in labor-management relations and budget balancing, while Ritter Simon emphasized the need to strike a balance between commercial development and improving the city’s infrastructure.
If none of the six candidates gets a majority in the primary, the two top vote getters will face each other in the May 19 general election.
In a separate interview, Weiss looked back on his eight years as city councilman, during which he frequently clashed with some of his constituents over his support for large-scale developments, when asked what advice he might pass on to his successor.
Weiss urged the next councilperson to work closely with the mayor and police chief in expanding the LAPD. “Don’t play politics with public safety,” Weiss said.
He also hopes his replacement will continue his efforts to strengthen the Jewish community, which he said makes up some 30 percent to 40 percent of the district’s 250,000 residents.
By his lights, that means strengthening and supporting the expansion of Jewish institutions, such as the Museum of Tolerance and religious centers, even against the opposition of neighboring residents.
“Voters — and reporters — shouldn’t mistake the opposition of a small number of angry voices as if they represented the will of the people,” he said.
If he is elected city attorney, Weiss said, his top concern would be to fight gang crime and the proliferation of guns and drugs.