For the first time since 1971, the City Council's 2nd District will elect a new representative. The winner of the Dec. 11 election will fill the seat of Joel Wachs, who left the position in October to head an arts foundation in New York.
Wachs, a longtime member of Temple B'nai Hayim, grew up in a religious Jewish household and was involved in the Jewish community. When he was first elected to the City Council, the 2nd District included more of the heavily Jewish neighborhoods of Studio City and North Hollywood. The last redistricting shifted the 2nd District to include neighborhoods as far north and east as Sunland and Tujunga.
Wendy Greuel, a corporate affairs executive at Dreamworks SKG, and State Assemblymember Tony Cardenas are the two main candidates running to replace Wachs. While neither is Jewish, they have significant ties to the community and tout their endorsement by Jewish politicians.
Cardenas' campaign mails out copies of a letter of support from U.S. Rep. Howard Berman and lists a number of endorsements by Jewish colleagues in the Assembly. "I'm proud to have served side by side for five years with Howard Berman," he says. "And another gentleman who's been very involved with the Jewish community, [Assembly Speaker] Bob Hertzberg, named me budget chairman in the Assembly."
One of Greuel's most notable Jewish endorsements comes from the man she hopes to replace. From his office in Manhattan, Wachs says of Greuel, "I think she's a very, very capable person and would serve the city and the district really well, and I think she has the values that I would like to see in an elected official. She's really honest, and hard-working, intelligent and compassionate. I think she'll make an excellent councilwoman."
Similarly, both candidates emphasize their connections and experience with the Jewish community.
"Over the years, I've met with various rabbis and asked about their issues. I've always been very supportive. Many of the organizations that serve the Valley are Jewish organizations," Cardenas says.
Greuel, who plans to marry a Jewish literary agent she met during this campaign, says, "Jewish interests are the same as everyone elses. Jews are an important part of this district." She adds, "Obviously, working at Dreamworks, my bosses were very involved philanthropically in the Jewish community."
Both Greuel and Cardenas are Valley natives.
Greuel, 40, a Van Nuys resident, began her political career as an intern in Wachs' office, and went on to work for 10 years as an assistant to then- Mayor Tom Bradley. Greuel also served in the Clinton administration as the Southern California representative for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), where she helped oversee recovery efforts after the 1994 Northridge earthquake.
Cardenas, 38, was elected to the California Assembly in 1996. He worked as an engineer for Hewlett-Packard, then started a residential real estate company before entering politics. Among other responsibilities in the Assembly, he chaired the powerful Budget Committee. His 39th Assembly District overlaps much of the City Council's 2nd District.
Van Nuys businessman James Cordaro is also running, but lacks the extensive resources and political connections of his opponents.
Filling the shoes of a 30-year councilmember will be difficult, but not unusual -- the election will be the eighth of the City Council's 15 districts to install a new representative in 2001.
Cardenas compares his Budget Committee chairmanship in the Assembly to Wachs' council tenure, saying, "The one thing Wachs was known for was being a voice of reason when it comes to giving corporations subsidies." Cardenas says he hopes to improve on Wachs' record of reaching out to the many spread-out communities of the district. "In some parts of the district, many people are frustrated that they haven't seen the presence of the councilman's office."
Greuel compares herself to Wachs, in part, by looking back to her days as an intern in his office. "The thing I remember was the excitement. He was a Republican, but he was also very independent."
Both candidates identify public safety and policing as the single most important issues facing the district and the city. On the political differences between them, Cardenas says, "The main difference is, I have a track record of being a public elected official for five years. Being a staffer is one thing. It's wonderful to learn that way, but nothing like learning as an elected official. I'll hit the ground running."
Greuel also notes their different levels of experience: "I'm really running as an independent voice in this Valley. People don't trust City Hall," she says. Wachs was a 31-year-old tax attorney in 1971 when he first ran for the office. Greuel says, "People in my district don't want career politicians. My special-interest group are the people who live in my district."
Michael Hirschfeld of the Jewish Community Relations Committee (JCRC), says that while the JCRC does not endorse candidates, they both seem qualified. "Both candidates will probably be strong representatives of the district. Both are informed and conversant with issues of importance to the Jewish community."