If elections were won by sheer enthusiasm alone, Bob Hertzberg might be unbeatable.
The former Assembly Speaker -- whose term limits ended his career in the Assembly -- is now back home in Los Angeles, revved about his entry into the 2005 mayoral race.
An open admirer of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's successes, Hertzberg's early campaign appears to be borrowing a page from the governor's handbook. He has criticized what he calls a lack of initiative at City Hall and champions his own ability to create novel solutions to old problems.
"It's about vision and values, that's really the core of it," Hertzberg said. "What motivated me to run is the fact that our current mayor [James Hahn], who's a nice person, is stuck in the mud."
The timing of Hertzberg's announcement is particularly important. Alhough Mayor Hahn was originally expected to easily carry the mayoral race with a large campaign war chest, investigations into possible City Hall involvement in a scheme to award city contracts to political contributors may have weakened his position.
Less widely reported is the fact that Hertzberg has a relationship with one of the organizations involved in the investigations, the Fleischman-Hillard public relations firm.
"I was surprised he decided to [run], because I believe that one of the major issues in this election is going to be the Fleischman-Hillard contracts with the city," said Sheldon Sloan, a former judge and founder of the Los Angeles chapter of the Republican Jewish Coalition. "[Hertzberg] still hasn't cut his ties with them."
"That relationship was [recently] terminated," said John Shallman, a Hertzberg campaign representative. Shallman did admit that Hertzberg was once a consultant for the international public relations firm, but he said Hertzberg never dealt with the Los Angeles issues or office, and "any attempts to suggest otherwise is absolutely false."
The other major matter in city politics this week, Hahn's release of the city's 2004-2005 budget, also factored into Hertzberg's announcement. While he did not offer a point-by-point critique of Hahn's budget, Hertzberg noted that "in my time in government, so often there's the conventional thinking that says, 'These are the numbers, this is how it adds up, and you can't do anything further.' What I like to do is to be creative. If you were to sit down and interview an investment banker and say, 'Tell me how to raise $300 million for the city without raising taxes,' [he'll] come up with answers."
Hertzberg believes his creative problem solving will resonate far beyond his former Assembly district in the Valley and beyond the traditional Jewish neighborhoods across Los Angeles.
"The [Jewish community's] needs are not much different in many respects than those in the society at large," Hertzberg said. "I have relationships way past the 40th Assembly District, and I intend to sit down and talk with the leaders of our community, and not just on the Westside and in the Valley, and I'm going to share my vision and persuade them to be part of the team."
Hertzberg was born in Los Angeles and attended public schools in the city. He graduated from the University of Redlands and the University of California's Hastings College of the Law. Currently, Hertzberg lives in Sherman Oaks with his wife, Dr. Cynthia Telles, a faculty member at the UCLA School of Medicine. They have three children.
While the mayoral primary is not until March 8, 2005, Hertzberg's organization is already impressive. His campaign has the support of Nancy Riordan, wife of former Mayor Richard Riordan; David Fleming, a leading proponent of the Valley's failed secession bid; and Bruce Karatz, CEO of KB Homes, among many others. His campaign already boasts a Web site (www.bobhertzberg.com) complete with public relations information, data on donations and a blog.
Since Hahn has already spent time cultivating support from the Jewish community -- one of Hertzberg's likely bases -- it may be important for Hertzberg to develop a strong organization early on.
"Jews are fairly sophisticated voters in the sense that they tend to vote for someone who meshes with their own politics, not necessarily to vote for someone because they are a Jew," said Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, director of the Los Angeles chapter of the American Jewish Committee (AJCommittee).
As the incumbent, Hahn has had years to garner support and make allies. "I just think [Hahn] is a very honest man, and he's had a very tough time in the economic situation that Bush and [former Gov.] Gray Davis left us in, and I think he is trying the best he can," said Carmen Warschaw, a well-known Democratic Party activist, explaining her continued support of the mayor.
Hertzberg's three-term legacy in the Assembly will come under increased scrutiny as voters decide whether they prefer his policies to Hahn's.
Greenebaum said that Hertzberg took on some big issues. "He was involved with [San Fernando Valley] secession but didn't take a side on it. He let it move forward so that the voters could vote on it. He presented himself as an honest broker."
While in the Assembly, Hertzberg championed popular causes such as community college education and the devolution of more political power to neighborhoods, but his political legacy may pose problems for him.
"He's the consummate legislator; he did a good job of getting himself elected [Assembly] speaker and holding onto it," Sloan said. "I don't know that Hertzberg has any administrative experience at all, [and] I don't know what he's done in Los Angeles, [or if] people in the Valley even know him outside of his own district."
But Republican strategist Arnold Steinberg believes Hertzberg's has a head start. "I think that by virtue of being Jewish, he certainly has a leg up on the Jewish constituency; because he's a Valley person, he has a head start there, and because he's a Democrat, he [also] has a head start."
All local politics watchers seem to agree, however, that Hertzberg is a gregarious, passionate and extremely likable man. That energy will come in handy as other powerful candidates may yet enter the mayoral race, including City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa, who in the last mayoral race garnered significant Jewish support.
"Bob Hertzberg will be a formidable candidate, and he has the capability of generating support from many different constituencies in the city," said former Rep. Mel Levine, commenting as a private individual and not as chair of the Jewish Community Relations Committee. "He has boundless energy and has a base [in] the San Fernando Valley, which is a key swing constituency in the city election."
Hertzberg has released an outline of prospective actions he would take during the first 100 days of his administration, including steps to make Los Angeles a more pedestrian-friendly city, increasing local community power, attracting more businesses and creating public works programs to beautify the streets and provide new jobs.
"In the second-largest city in America, you need someone with energy and vitality and vision," Hertzberg said with trademark excitement. "That's what big city mayors do. They focus on the big picture."