Jews may provide the swing vote in next week's tight race for the City Council's 5th District between the well-known Tom Hayden and newcomer Jack Weiss.
Comprising roughly one-third of likely voters in the district, Jewish voters are evenly split between the two candidates, a recent survey conducted by Paul Goodwin of GLS Research found.
The district, which encompasses parts of Van Nuys and Sherman Oaks, and runs south through Bel Air to Westwood and the Fairfax district, has for decades fielded a Jewish representative to the City Council seat.
The current candidates for the seat, both Democrats, differ little in terms of issues affecting the 5th District. Both are in support of strong neighborhood councils and the federal consent decree to reform the LAPD, and both devote significant campaign resources to issues of traffic, real estate development and improving public schools.
Rather, the contest is more one of personality and style, with Hayden likely to attract the media spotlight and engage matters of broader scope, Weiss likely to focus more on local issues. Each candidate has the ardent support of some prominent members of Los Angeles' Jewish community.
Rabbi Allen Freeling of University Synagogue supports his long-time friend Hayden, pointing to the 61-year-old former state senator's leadership in Sacramento to secure restitution for Holocaust victims, along with his support for Israel and efforts in fighting poverty. "I've always found Tom to be determined to better the human condition in every segment of our society. From the intellectual and emotional points of view, Tom has always been allied with the Jewish community." Public endorsements from other prominent Los Angeles Jews include talk-show host Phil Blazer, Russian community activist Si Frumkin, Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg and Stanley Sheinbaum.
For Weiss, the 36-year-old former federal prosecutor who lacks the legislative experience and name recognition Hayden enjoys, Jewish community support may be even more vital, and he has earned the approval of a long list of Jewish notables to bolster high-profile endorsements from the Los Angeles Times and Daily News. Congressmen Howard Berman and Henry Waxman, former Congressman Mel Levine, Marvin Braude, Steve Soboroff and Eli Broad all endorse Weiss, and Ed Edelman has pegged Weiss to fill his old council seat. Former Anti-Defamation League and American Jewish Committee board member David Abel describes Weiss as "more in the tradition of the [5th District] candidates of the past 20 years -- a practical idealist."
With an average household income of $73, 238 and over 60 percent of the voters registered Democrats, the 5th district is known for its progressive political tradition.
But according to political analyst Joel Kotkin, as Jewish 5th District voters have become more financially and culturally secure, they have become politically "less Jewish than ideologically whatever they are." Thus, Hayden's history of progressive activism trumps any need for one-of-us representation among similarly liberal Jews.
Yet another trend in the district is for the underdog to unseat better-known candidates.
Weiss, like Michael Feuer, Zev Yaroslavsky and Ed Edelman before him, is a young Jewish lawyer running against a better-known opponent. District history obviously buoys Weiss' campaign spirits, with mailers sent to voters' homes offering photos of Weiss with Waxman and Yaroslavsky over the line "Now, another strong young Democrat is ready to join this tradition."
Weiss, with a wealth of more centrist political support, attracts Jewish support as a pragmatist, rather than as a Jew, Kotkin says.
Kotkin adds: "Zev [Yaroslavsky] was a Yiddishkayt candidate when he started. You don't see that anywhere in L.A. anymore."