Jewish Journal

The Fifth District in the Arena

by Raphael J. Sonenshein

March 6, 2009 | 7:32 pm

L.A.'s Fifth District

The city elections on March 3 turned out to be more interesting than most of us had expected.  There’s a lot to talk about, and I hope to generate some discussion on this site.  I want to focus first on one thing I find very illuminating and that’s the role of the fifth council district at the pivot of this election year.

The fifth district, which is a mixture of Westside (think Fairfax) and Valley (think Encino) is also the “Jewish district.”  In a city that’s about 6-7% Jewish, the fifth is maybe 35-40 percent Jewish.  It’s the best educated district, and one of the most affluent.  It has tremendous voter registration and high turnout year after year.  The fifth played a pivotal role in the development and dominance of the Tom Bradley coalition, because its voters provided massive support to Bradley and for most of his programs. 

Winning the fifth district’s council seat is a big achievement, because there are lots of talented ambitious people ready to run and mount effective campaigns.  They are prospects for bigger things.  Think Roz Wyman, Ed Edelman, Zev Yaroslavsky, Mike Feuer, and now Jack Weiss, who is in the runoff for city attorney. 

While the voters in the fifth district are very Democratic and very politically liberal, they can be very unpredictable on one issue and that is growth.  When Bradley experienced a lot of political trouble in the 1980s it was over growth and development and traffic and much of this was in the Fifth. The race to succeed Weiss generated six strong candidates who split votes so evenly in the primary that the percentages looked like a box score on a night that the Lakers have balanced scoring, with everybody in double figures.  The big issues were development, traffic, and billboards.  Weiss has lots of defenders and lots of enemies in his own district on these issues, and he was charged with being too pro-development.  The two candidates who made it into the runoff are both critics of development and billboards.

These issues spilled over into the city attorney’s race, and much of the anti-development and anti-city hall sentiment to which it is linked hurt Weiss citywide.  He came in first, but with only 36% of the vote.  He will face a tough runoff.  And because the fifth CD is also going to have a tough runoff, its turnout will likely represent an even more disproportionate share of the vote than usual.  Ironically, Weiss’s best chance of winning is to expand the electorate beyond his own council district and draw on organized labor and other communities.  The runoff election is scheduled to be held in tandem with a statewide ballot measure on a spending cap negotiated as part of the state budget deal, so labor’s involvement may depend on how they view the spending cap. 

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Raphael J. Sonenshein (born 1949 in Nutley, New Jersey) was a political science professor at California State University, Fullerton. He is also served as chairman of the...

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