Since Election Day, when Richard Bloom closed out the night with a slim lead of 218 votes over his opponent, incumbent Assemblywoman Betsy Butler, in the race for the 50th Assembly District, the mayor of Santa Monica has found himself in an unusual position.
“I’m being welcomed as a new member of the Assembly as I’m sitting here, in the lead, but with a dwindling number of votes,” Bloom said on Nov. 11, two days after his lead had been cut to 103, or less than .01 percent of the total vote.
As this article went to press Tuesday, he was back up by 218 votes, although votes were still being counted for the district that stretches along the coast from Malibu to Santa Monica and includes the inland neighborhoods of Agoura Hills, Beverly Hills, Brentwood, Bel Air and Hancock Park. Solidly Democratic, the 50th is also home to many very wealthy Californians; with 12 percent of its voters identified as Jewish, it is also thought to be the most Jewish Assembly District in California.
Sitting in the living room of his Santa Monica home, Bloom wore blue jeans and a thin-wale corduroy shirt; on the couch beside him was an official binder with “Assembly Member Richard Bloom” printed on its front. Bloom admitted he was trying to get some rest after a grueling campaign during which Butler spent twice as much as he did, and the uncertainty of his position — leading, but not yet officially named as victor — appeared to be a source of, if not discomfort for Bloom, then at least consternation.
“On Wednesday, I get a call from Speaker Perez,” Bloom said, referring to John Perez, the Democratic Assembly speaker, who called the day after the election to invite Bloom to attend two days of orientation meetings in Sacramento.
Bloom spent those two days in Sacramento last week and said he has plans to return for three more days of meetings at the state capital, starting on Nov. 14.
Butler and Bloom are Democrats, but Perez and the California Democratic Party got behind Butler very early on in this race, despite Butler’s not having represented very much (just about 1 percent) of the newly drawn 50th District during her current two-year term. Under California’s new top-two primary system, Butler and Bloom faced off in a June primary — along with another competitive Democratic candidate, Torie Osborn, who finished fourth — and, as the first- and second-place finishers, respectively, they met again in the general election.
As November approached, both sides leveled fierce attacks against the other. Mailings sent to voters by independent groups supporting Butler accused Bloom of not supporting public school teachers, of not being a friend of the environment, of closing beaches in his role as a commissioner at the California Coastal Commission.
With more than 13 years serving on the Santa Monica City Council, Bloom admits he has accumulated his share of detractors — primarily “people who felt I was too accommodating of real-estate development,” he said – but he bristled at being attacked on issues that he felt his record demonstrated strong support.
“I understood that Betsy was going to be the party’s chosen candidate,” Bloom said, adding that he knew she’d get significant support as a result. “But support does not mean mercilessly and falsely attack her opponent,” he said.
Bloom and groups supporting his candidacy attacked Butler as well, drawing attention to her abstention from a vote on Senate Bill 1530, sponsored by state Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), that would have made it easier for school districts to remove teachers from the classroom who are charged with crimes involving drugs, sexual abuse or violence toward students.
Neither Butler, who has received more than $11,000 in donations from teachers unions in the past three years, nor representatives from her campaign responded to requests for comment for this article. But the SB 1530 issue raised by Bloom and his supporters clearly resonated with voters, so much so that Butler’s own campaign Web site includes a page titled “The Facts on SB1530,” calling the attack on Butler’s abstention, “false.”
Bloom had been considering a run for Assembly since 2009, but it wasn’t until 2011, when he saw the boundaries of the new 50th District drawn by an independent commission, that he became convinced he had a shot at winning.
He has lived on the Westside since he was 14 years old, when his parents quickly became very involved with Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills. Although Bloom went on to embrace Reform Judaism, he maintains strong family ties to Orthodox Jews and the Chabad community and had lived and worked all over the newly defined district, before settling down in Santa Monica.
“The area has been my backyard for more than 45 years,” he said.
If Bloom’s lead holds, some credit is due to Jewish voters. Although many of those supported Butler — particularly ones with strong allegiances to the Democratic Party — others, particularly in the Orthodox community, backed Bloom.
The Community Research and Information Center, a political action committee that has been making recommendations to Los Angeles’ Orthodox community for more than 25 years on state and local candidates as well as ballot measures, endorsed Butler in the primary, but flipped allegiance to Bloom in the general.
“We just decided that Richard can do the job a little better than her,” Stanley Treitel, one of the PAC’s three directors, said. “He understands this community; she was coming from the outside into this community. It would be a job-training program.”
Advertisements by Treitel’s PAC ran in Jewish news outlets, including the Journal, and prominently noted the Bloom endorsement. Bloom’s own campaign also advertised heavily in the Journal.
Bloom’s family pitched in, too. Both of his sons came in to volunteer before the election, and his nephew, Michoel Bloom, who works as the manager at Western Kosher, frequently talked up his uncle’s credentials to customers of the Fairfax market and elsewhere.
“Facebook is a huge media outlet; I don’t know how many friends I have, maybe 1,100,” said Michoel Bloom, a member of a Chabad-affiliated synagogue and who was recently elected to the South Robertson Neighborhood Council. “I kept blasting Richard Bloom ads to my friends, talking to people in shuls.”
If Bloom’s lead holds, whatever the reason for his victory, he may end up with some measure of independence when he gets to Sacramento. Although the manner of his election might put him at odds with the Democratic leadership, Bloom noted that many re-elected incumbents are nearing the end of their terms – Speaker Perez will be termed out in 2014 — yet new term-limit laws would enable Bloom to serve in the Assembly until 2024.
Bloom promises to represent not just the interests particular to the 50th District — where environmental issues are king — but of all Californians. Even though he describes himself as a friend of the environment and of labor unions — even of teachers unions, who backed Butler — his focus on economic development made him sound pro-business during the campaign, and he frequently mentions his success at helping to foster business growth in Santa Monica.
“You can only tax people so much — even rich people,” he said, hitting a point that might appeal to the 21 percent of voters in the 50th District registered as Republicans. “The salvation of the state is going to come from fair taxes, but it’s essential that the economy comes back.”
Still, on Nov. 11, with an estimated 25,000 ballots in the district still uncounted, Bloom was impatient that he might have to wait two weeks (or longer) for a result.
“Do you know Nate Silver?” Bloom said, referring to the New York Times’ blogger who used polling results to correctly predict electoral outcomes in each of the past two presidential elections. “Because I need him. I need him to call it, so I know what’s going to happen.”