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Jewish Journal

The Mayor’s Eyes and Ears

by Mike Levy

September 6, 2001 | 8:00 pm

Jennifer Stein wears two hats at City Hall. You could say one of them is a kippah.

The recent Stanford University grad, 23, is the South Valley Area director in Mayor James Hahn's Office of the Neighborhood Advocate. She is also Hahn's liaison to the Jewish community.

The Neighborhood Advocate position features a well-defined set of responsibilities. Stein meets with homeowners' organizations, chambers of commerce and community members from South San Fernando Valley neighborhoods like Sherman Oaks, where she lives, and Encino, where she grew up. She explains and offers advice on the city's various constituent services, and represents neighborhood concerns to the mayor.

The Jewish liaison job comes with responsibilities of a similar vein, but not nearly so well-defined. Who, after all, represents Los Angeles Jews? What are Jewish concerns?

Stein says she has been in touch with Jewish Federation President John Fishel, and also works closely with The Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance. "I'd like to bring more of L.A.'s Jewish community into contact with the mayor's office," she says.

Karen Wagener, 55, who served as Jewish liaison under Mayor Richard Riordan from 1999 to 2001, describes the responsibilities of the position as "the eyes and ears" of the mayor in the community, by talking to the mayor about issues relevant to the community and conveying the mayor's concerns to the community. For example, Wagener helped a Valley community obtain an eruv; she also helped The Federation deal with some zoning problems.

Hope Warschaw, a Jewish community activist and former Hahn campaign worker, described the liaison job in simpler terms. It's someone "with a name and a face that you can call with a wide range of concerns -- traffic problems in front of a synagogue, getting the mayor to a solidarity rally," she said. "Mainly, it's a face." Warschaw described Stein as "very enthusiastic -- she will always get you the answers you need."

Stein's qualifications for her City Hall jobs stem more from her lifelong political experience than from her Jewish background. Though she recalls attending synagogue services as a child at Wilshire Boulevard Temple and later at Stephen S. Weiss Temple, "I didn't really get involved with my Jewish heritage until college," she says.

When she arrived at Stanford, one of the first things she did was to stop by Hillel. "Some of the first people I really bonded with were the Jewish students, and that really began my Jewish connection," she says.

Politically, however, Stein has been connected all her life. Her father, real estate developer Ted Stein, has been heavily involved in local politics for decades; he once even ran for city attorney -- against Jennifer's current boss, Hahn. After losing that election to the future mayor, Ted Stein has served the city on various commissions, including a stint as president of the Harbor Commission and his current post on the Airport Commission.

Jennifer's mother, Ellen Stein, is serving her second term as president of the Board of Public Works. Jennifer Stein notes, "I was raised around politics all my life. I remember as a child going to victory parties for city council members. I guess I caught the bug there. There's nothing better than trying to make your community better."

Stein's most important concern as Jewish liaison, she says, is ensuring the free flow of communication and comfort of the community. "Sometimes people feel frustrated that they have no one to turn to in their government," she says. "I want to make sure that members of the Jewish community always feel comfortable in Los Angeles."

After only two months in her new position, Stein says she is still working on establishing contacts, especially now, following her recent move from downtown City Hall to Van Nuys offices.

"I'm working right now on doing my own outreach, but the Jewish community -- not just leaders, but any people with concerns about the city -- should feel free to contact this administration."

Questions or concerns of the Jewish community may be addressed to Jennifer Stein at (818) 756-7924, or jstein@mayor.lacity.org .

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