Jewish Journal

Questions for Obama’s California strategist, Mitchell Schwartz

By Daniel Heimpel

Posted on Oct. 15, 2008 at 11:36 pm

Mitchell Schwartz

Mitchell Schwartz

Mitchell Schwartz heads up Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign in California and also sits on the board of Temple Israel of Hollywood. He has worked on campaigns for Sen. Barbara Boxer, Gov. Gray Davis and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, as well as Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign. He also traveled to Israel with Clinton while working for the State Department.

Schwartz's Los Angeles-based public relations firm, Bomaye Co., directed publicity for the film, "An Inconvenient Truth," and the Save Darfur Campaign.

Jewish Journal: How did you get involved with Obama?

Mitchell Schwartz: I'm 47, have been involved in politics for quite a while. I thought I was too old but got very inspired by his message. I went to a rally in February of '07 and was very impressed with what I saw.

JJ: What more does the campaign plan to do to appeal specifically to Jewish voters in close races like Florida and Ohio?

MS: Many members of Congress are Jewish. We have those who know Obama speak everywhere. They will go to Florida, where the condos are, and go to synagogues and temples. Mel Levine, Adam Schiff, Brad Sherman, Henry Waxman, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer all speak for us. We have them go out and say Obama is a great friend of the Jewish community and Israel.

JJ: Why should a Jew believe that Obama would be a friend of Israel and the Jewish community?

MS: I think the concern in the Jewish community is overstated. I think we will do great. AIPAC give him a great record; Jewish [representatives] and senators say what a great friend of Israel he will be. For a lot of people, we are still learning about Obama and getting comfortable with him. The numbers I've seen are that Jews are strong supporters of this ticket. He does have a name that sounds foreign, and he is new. We just have to get his record out there, and we feel confident we will garner support of the majority of the Jewish community.

JJ: Was Gov. Sarah Palin wrong to have alluded to Obama's relations with Bill Ayers?

MS: As President Clinton said that campaigns are a contact sport. I won't complain; I'll let others decide what is moral or not. Everything is fair game.

What I would ask is, is that really important that he knew that guy? I would ask, is this what Americans are really interested in? I don't think so. It is completely irrelevant to what is going on today. It's not going to work.

Frankly, the McCain campaign is doing anything to not talk about issues. That that even got attention when stock market is going down and hundreds of billions of dollars are being spent on bailout, that she wants to talk about someone he knew in Chicago is just indicative of the kind of campaign they are running -- a meaningless, devoid of issues campaign.

JJ: And what of Obama's connections to people like Rashid Khalidi, a Columbia professor who worked as a PLO spokesperson while it was listed as terrorist organization and has been a strident critic of Israel since?

MS: I don't know anything about that.

All this stuff is what I think we will see from McCain -- more and more attacks. They will desperately avoid talking about the issues. They will try to smear him with passing relations. They won't talk about the issues and just attack our guy. So we expect these unwarranted attacks, because there is no way they can talk about the issues.

JJ: What is the biggest difference between Obama's approach to Iran and McCain's?

MS: What McCain did by supporting war in Iraq was helping Iran. One of the biggest beneficiaries of the war is Iran. He did it unwittingly because of a lack of judgment, and it made Iran stronger; they were the big winner. Now Iran is stronger and poses a bigger threat to Israel.

Both said they won't allow Iran to become a nuclear power. Obama's position on ending war in Iraq will be a huge factor in making that whole area hopefully less ... in bringing down the temperature a bit.

JJ: How did President Clinton handle or mishandle the peace process, and how will that compare to Obama's plans?

MS: What I give President Clinton tremendous credit for is how engaged in the peace process he was. You can't have Bush's hands-off policy. America has to be a leader in the peace process. It is not easy and not sexy.

[President Clinton] worked hard 'til his last day in office trying to make a peace settlement. He was unsuccessful, but he tried and it didn't work. You can make treaties. Israel has treaties with Jordan and Egypt. It is difficult work. The worst thing is to not engage diplomatically, and Obama will engage diplomatically. Obama will be a big break with the Republican way of handling it and more in line with what Clinton was trying to do.

JJ: Clinton recently blamed Democrats for resisting Republican efforts to tighten regulatory and accounting standards on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac when there was a push to ease home loan rates for lower-income brackets. Isn't the current meltdown a bi-partisan mess, and shouldn't the Obama campaign stop using it as a means to attack McCain and the Republicans?

MS: Obama did warn that there was not enough regulation -- he is on record two years ago warning about that. The blame being bipartisan, yeah, I would agree with that. But I would definitely put more blame on the Republicans -- they think the market is king; they want to deregulate. That is their philosophy.

We saw what happened when they thought that they didn't need safeguards, and now we are paying the price. The barn door opened, and the horses are out, and now they want to lock the door. They have to live with what they did when they were in charge. They can't back out of what is their philosophy. That is why they will try to smear Barack with attacks.
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