Los Angeles Jews agonized along with the rest of the country as the results from the Nov. 7 election trickled in. Hardly as split as the rest of the nation, Jews in California preferred Al Gore to George Bush 82 to 15 percent. Nationally, Gore received 79 percent of the Jewish vote, according to CNN exit polls and Voter News Service (for national stories, see page 36).
The smoke in the presidential race hadn't cleared much at all by Wednesday afternoon, but Jews around the city still had strong reactions to those races and ballot measures that were decided.
Howard Welinsky, longtime Democratic activist and chair of Democrats for Israel, saw an upbeat note for his side in the increased number of Jewish congressmen elected locally.
"With the elections of Adam Schiff and Jane Harman and the reelection of Henry Waxman, Howard Berman and Brad Sherman, the Los Angeles area will have a record of five Jewish representatives," said Welinsky. Thanks mainly to the good California showing, which included the election of Susan Davis in San Diego, Jewish membership in the House, which now stands at 23, will rise to 27. If two undecided races break the right way, that number might rise to 29, he said.
With the possibility of a Bush administration looking more likely by the hour, Jewish leaders and analysts said they didn't think the overwhelming Jewish support for Gore would hurt U.S.-Israel relations or the Republican's relations with American Jewry.
"During a campaign, a lot of things are said. I think we have to wait until we see who wins, who the president will appoint to cabinet positions, which I believe are very key to the articulation of policies," said John Fishel, president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. "I have to assume that whoever is elected to the presidency in the end, the relationship with Israel will remain strong."
Fishel said the close split in the presidential vote and in congressional representation along party lines will make governing "a big challenge for whomever is in the White House."
"The Jewish vote for Gore-Lieberman will have zero effect on Mideast policy," said Republican political analyst Arnold Steinberg. "There are many Republican members of Congress and U.S. senators who have received little Jewish support or who represent districts or states with few Jewish voters. But they have supported Israel." Politically, Steinberg said, "Bush has shown himself to be strategic as well as tactical. That is, he would be looking toward the future, not the past."
In perhaps the most closely watched congressional race ever in California, Democratic State Sen. Adam Schiff took control of the House seat held by two-term Republican Rep. James Rogan, winning by a comfortable 9 percent margin. With the presidency still hanging in the balance Wednesday but likely to go to Gov. Bush, Schiff said he hoped if Bush won he would take the high road in his dealings with the Democrats in Congress.
"If we have a Republican majority in Congress and a Republican president, they would be wise to take a lesson from Gov. Gray Davis, who although a Democratic governor with a Democratic majority in the state legislature recognizes that a bipartisan product is a better product," Schiff told The Journal Wednesday afternoon.
Democrat Paul Koretz, West Hollywood city councilman and mayor pro tem, said he was thrilled to be elected to represent the 42nd Assembly District, which covers much of West Los Angeles and parts of the San Fernando Valley. He said he hoped to be the "go-to guy" for the Los Angeles Jewish community, representing the community on valued issues like hate crimes legislation and better schools.
"From my point of view, having a Democratic majority [in the California Legislature] is very beneficial, because we will be able to pass everything from gun control to a decent living wage for workers," Koretz said. "With the amount of prosperity we have had in the state, we need to make sure the CEOs making millions are not paying their people only minimum wage. I'd also like to see us strengthen our environmental protection and improve our educational infrastructure so that we do not stay at the bottom of per-pupil spending."
The results on at least two ballot measures provoked more strong reactions.
Harriet Rossetto, executive director of Gateways Beit T'shuvah in Venice, rejoiced in the passage of Proposition 36, which requires California to treat nonviolent drug offenders rather than incarcerate them."I'm 100 percent for it," said Rossetto, who called the passing of the initiative "the only good news in this election. It will not only mean money for treatment but an opportunity to redefine how we handle a social problem."
"I watched with great interest the swinging of the pendulum from the penalty of three strikes to a more humane notion of helping addicts to seek help," said Rossetto. "I'm hopeful that it will impact our facility by some of the $120 million finding its way to Beit Teshuvah," which she believes serves as a model for faith-based rehab facilities nationwide.
Proposition 38, the school voucher initiative, was soundly defeated, which came as good news to Ron Reynolds, director of school services at the Bureau of Jewish Education.
"It was striking that the Catholic bishops failed to support the measure and did so because it was universal in nature rather than restricting the awarding of scholarships to those with the greatest financial need," said Reynolds, who is also president of the California Association of Private School Organizations. "This time around, the Jewish community contemplated the concept [of vouchers] at greater length and in greater depth. All of us as citizens and residents of this state are still left with the question of how we can best reform our public education system."
Journal writers Tom Tugend, Michael Aushenker, Wendy Madnick and Beverly Gray contributed to this story.