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Jewish Journal

New faces, new era

A voter’s guide to the races for the 33rd Congressional District and Los Angeles County’s 3rd Supervisorial District

by Jonah Lowenfeld

May 28, 2014 | 1:01 pm

When voters in and around Los Angeles head to the polls on June 3, they will confront a buffet of candidates running for a wide array of powerful positions. A handful of Jewish candidates are among the hopefuls — including Ben Allen, the candidate for California’s state Senate whose supporters have sometimes unselfconsciously described him as “a nice Jewish boy.” 

But it will be the absence of two lions among Jewish pols from the ballot that will offer this election its unique character: For the first time in decades, neither Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky nor Rep. Henry Waxman is running for re-election. 

They are just two of the long-serving leaders on their way out of power in the Southland. Another L.A. County Supervisor, Gloria Molina, is also termed out. The resignation of former L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca, who stepped down in January after 16 years on the job, has given way to stiff competition for the scandal-ridden department’s top job. 

Even so, the choice facing voters in Yaroslavsky’s 3rd Supervisorial District and Waxman’s 33rd Congressional District is tough because voters will have to choose a successor from among fields of less-experienced and/or less-familiar candidates. 

The Journal posed the same questions to each of the leading candidates in these two important and hotly contested races, and also examined their records and public statements, to give you a better understanding of each candidate before you cast your ballot.

33RD CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT

This tony coastal district stretches from Rancho Palos Verdes up to Malibu and cuts inland eastward to include Beverly Hills and parts of Hancock Park, and the race to fill this seat in Congress has drawn candidates of all stripes and backgrounds. 

Eighteen names will appear on the ballot; at least 16 of the candidates are still in the running. Waxman, who hasn’t said yet what he’ll do in his post-Congressional career, was a prolific lawmaker during his 40 years on Capitol Hill, passing landmark legislation that focused on health care, food and drug safety, and environmental protection. Every leading candidate — in one way or another — is aspiring to follow in his footsteps. 

But given the current state of Congress, and the inevitable lack of seniority, whoever succeeds Waxman will have far less clout — especially if the overwhelmingly Democratic voters in the district elect one of their own, which would almost certainly mean that the freshman representative would be in the minority. 

Even while one member of the Washington, D.C., press corps snarkily dismissed this contest as a reality-TV-esque competition to represent the “Botox belt,” a seat in Congress is nothing to sniff at. The following five candidates appear to have the best chances of advancing to the second round of voting in November, which will be a runoff between the top two vote-getters on June 3. 

Elan Carr

Perhaps the single foremost fact to note about Elan Carr’s candidacy is his party affiliation — Republican. As a result of running in a nonpartisan primary against a raft of Democratic candidates, Carr is “very likely” to finish first on June 3,” according to Scott Lay, a former Democratic Party activist who writes a daily newsletter about California politics and policy. 

But Carr himself said his Jewish values are what’s key to his work and his candidacy. 

“Judaism is a central and defining part of who I am, and the main source of my worldview and my moral compass,” Carr, a criminal gang prosecutor at the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, wrote in his response to the Journal’s questions. In addition to celebrating Shabbat, speaking Hebrew with his kids (two girls, a boy on the way), and visiting Israel every year, Carr, who is international president of Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity, can claim the unusual distinction of having lit a chanukiyah in the former presidential palace of Saddam Hussein during his deployment as a U.S. Army officer in Iraq. 

Foreign policy is a “central concern” for Carr, he said, “especially as it relates to a strong U.S.-Israel relationship.” He pledged to be a “reliable vote for Israel” and stated that American support for Israel had to be “constant, unequivocal and bipartisan.” 

(That was enough to win support from the most generous pro-Israel donor in the Republican Party, Sheldon Adelson, who was scheduled to host a fundraiser for Carr on May 29 in Las Vegas.) 

Whether Carr can win in November in a district where 44 percent of voters are registered Democrats is anyone’s guess — but Carr improves his chances by appearing to be a moderate Republican on the campaign trail. According to his website, Carr supports “a pathway to citizenship for the many honest and hardworking undocumented residents currently living and working here,” and he has promised to continue the work Waxman has done to protect the environment, while also “growing our economy and bringing good jobs back to California.”

“Voters are looking for a candidate who can reach across the aisle, compromise and move the country forward on such critical issues as fixing our broken schools, growing our economy and producing quality jobs, and keeping our families and our streets safe,” Carr told the Journal. 

“Even my home is bipartisan,” Carr added. “My wife is a lifelong Democrat.”

Wendy Greuel

On the ballot, she’s described simply as a “businesswoman,” and Wendy Greuel is quick to trumpet her experience in both the public and private sectors among her qualifications to run for Congress. But it’s her time serving the City of Los Angeles, first as a member of its City Council and later as its controller, that Greuel hopes will convince voters to send her to Washington. 

“As a councilwoman, I gained a reputation as an effective legislator, someone who never shied away from the tough issues and achieved tangible results because I brought everyone to the table and built consensus,” Greuel told the Journal. “Later, as City Controller, I demonstrated my ability to stand up for what is right even though it’s not a job that makes you friends.” 

Many voters in the district aren’t residents of the City of Los Angeles, and so might not be familiar with her work, plus, of the voters in the 33rd District who do live in the city, many may better remember one of Greuel’s less-proud moments — her failed 2013 bid for mayor. She’s said that the experience has made her a stronger candidate and would make her a stronger lawmaker. 

“Congressman Waxman has been a fighter and a doer,” Greuel said, and the issues he worked on — maintaining clean air and water, making health care as widely available as possible, and ensuring that people living with HIV/AIDS get the care they need — “keep [her] up at night.” In Congress, Greuel also would have the opportunity to focus on another issue close to her heart — passing legislation to protect the rights of women and help them advance in a society that is, still, unequal. 

Greuel is not Jewish, but her family, she said, is “deeply committed to core Jewish values, like repairing the world and the responsibility to care for our community.” Greuel’s husband, Dean Schramm, was recently elected to serve as president of the Los Angeles chapter of the American Jewish Committee; the couple is raising their son, Thomas, Jewish, and “just got his bar mitzvah date, two years in advance!” Greuel told the Journal. (Both Dean and Thomas make frequent appearances in Greuel’s campaign literature and fundraising emails — including a Passover e-card, with the subject line, “Chag Sameach — ‘Next Year in Washington, D.C.’ ”)

Greuel has also been a consistent advocate for Israel. In March, this reporter spotted her at the most recent policy conference held by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and Greuel told the Journal that she would support one of that group’s priorities — fully funding foreign aid to Israel both “to ensure Israel maintains its qualitative military edge and because I understand foreign aid is also an investment in our own economy.”

When rated on her pro-Israel bona fides by the L.A. chapter of Democrats for Israel, Greuel received a “support” rating.

Ted Lieu

If Ted Lieu isn’t as well known to Jewish voters as some of the other candidates in the race, it’s at least partly a matter of geography: Lieu lives with his wife and two sons in Torrance, and while he’s been representing the region in Sacramento since 2005 — first in the Assembly and, for the last three years, in the state Senate — his current seat did not include the northern parts of the 33rd District until the 2012 round of redistricting. 

That hasn’t hurt him on the campaign trail, though, where Lieu has benefited from his long history of service in California Democratic politics — which helped him secure both the Democratic Party’s nomination and numerous endorsements from local politicians, including retired L.A. City Councilman Bill Rosendahl. 

And when speaking to Jewish audiences, he frequently touts his support for the legislative priorities of local Jewish organizations. 

“I am the only candidate who has a legislative record on Israel and Iran,” Lieu told the Journal, citing his role as primary co-sponsor of AB221, a 2007 bill that divested California’s pension funds from companies doing business with Iran’s nuclear and energy industries. That sponsorship, along with other legislative efforts, helped Lieu garner “strong support” — the highest rating — of the L.A. chapter of Democrats for Israel. 

Lieu also won the top nod from the Los Angeles Daily News (which hedged its bet by naming Greuel its second pick) because he’s “a progressive Democrat of the kind that can represent the voters of this progressive district” who has also shown himself to be business friendly and willing to buck the authority of his party. 

Born in Taiwan, Lieu grew up in Cleveland, went to Stanford University for college and Georgetown Law School. He then entered the U.S. Air Force as a member of the JAG Corps, and is currently a member of the reserves. 

Lieu presents himself as someone who came to this country as an immigrant, lived humbly watching his parents struggle, lived out the American dream — and then stood up to help the voiceless. 

“I have repeatedly stood up to powerful interests on behalf of working families, consumers, seniors, children and those without a voice,” Lieu told the Journal, and pledged to follow in Waxman’s model, to be “a bold and patient leader for our community in Washington.” 

Matt Miller

What makes Matt Miller run? Ask the candidate, and Miller — who has worked in the Clinton White House, as a management consultant with McKinsey & Co., and has been hosting the radio show “Left, Right and Center” on KCRW for the past 18 years — will tell you it’s because Congress needs new ideas. 

“I’ve spent years thinking and developing ideas of how we can change public policy in ways to improve people’s lives,” Miller told the Journal in February when he announced his candidacy, and, since then, he’s been republishing, reworking and reminding people of the proposals he’s made in the past. Drawing on his two published books and his many columns for the Washington Post, Miller has been advancing ideas on how to solve problems of all sorts, from the proliferation of guns on the streets to the low quality of instruction in American schools. 

“The best-performing school systems in the world (in places like Finland, Singapore and South Korea) lure their top talent to the classroom,” Miller told the Journal in response to our questionnaire. In those countries, people can become teachers only if they graduated in the top third of their high school and college classes. In the United States, by contrast, no more than 30 percent of teachers did quite that well in school. “We’re the only country that thinks we can take mediocre students and make them excellent teachers, and it’s not working.” 

The Los Angeles Times cited Miller’s “creative and forward-looking proposals” as part of its reason for endorsing his candidacy — despite his being, in their words, “a long-shot political figure.” 

When speaking to Jewish audiences, Miller frequently reminds prospective voters that he is the “lone Jewish Democrat” running in the 33rd District. His family belongs to Kehillat Israel in Pacific Palisades, where they live, and in his position paper on Israel, he hit nearly every note that might concern a pro-Israel voter. He not only announced that he is “deeply skeptical” of Iran’s intentions, that he condemns “the unjust Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) campaign” and that he views the $30 billion foreign aid commitment made by the United States to Israel in 2007 “as a floor, not a ceiling”; he also included photographs of his grandfather with Moshe Dayan and Golda Meir. 

Marianne Williamson

Get money out of politics: That’s the repeating motif of Marianne Williamson’s campaign, and the writer and entrepreneur (who hates being called a “new age guru”) said that priority — along with the need to create jobs in the South Bay and protect the environment — is at the top of the minds of the district’s voters. 

Williamson presents her candidacy as part of a movement — in the vein of the civil rights movement and the suffragettes’ struggle. Leaders of the political left — including Rep. Keith Ellison and former Rep. Dennis Kucinich — have thrown their support behind her, as have Hollywood-ites such as Eva Longoria, Alanis Morissette and Jane Lynch. That support has, somewhat ironically, made Williamson’s candidacy the best-funded of the leading candidates in the race; she had collected more than $1.6 million in donations by mid-May. 

But the reason is also partially that Williamson declared her candidacy in October 2013, before Waxman announced his retirement — and before every other leading candidate jumped into the race. 

“Many people living in District 33 were not even born when Congressman Waxman first entered the House,” Williamson told the Journal. “While I deeply respect much of what he has accomplished and feel he deserves all the accolades he is receiving, I also feel it’s our responsibility to always make room for new input in the halls of power.”

Williamson, 61, was born in Houston to a Jewish family and she speaks of her “very strong” connection to Judaism, both in its spiritual aspects and its “service to tikkun olam that guides [her] life’s work.” A member of the Temple of the Arts in Los Angeles, Williamson speaks of her support for Israel in terms much less specific than her rival candidates. “I unconditionally support Israel’s right to exist,” Williamson told the Journal, adding that she supports the efforts by Secretary of State John Kerry to guide Israelis and Palestinians to a two-state peace deal and “would never vote for anything that undercuts Israel’s ability to deal with the existential threat constantly weighing upon her.” (She did not, however, make any mention of what those threats might be. Neither Iran nor the growing BDS movement was featured in her response.)

Running as an independent, Williamson told Businessweek, has made her “a Pariah to the Democratic establishment,” and she’s not kidding: Local Democratic Party Chairman Eric Bauman, speaking to the LA Weekly in January, derided Williamson’s “ very unusual beliefs about the world” and said she was “not a credible candidate.”

Despite that cold reception, Williamson said she’d caucus with the Democrats if elected, and at least some in the party would welcome her arrival: 

“I think all the candidates have significant strengths,” Rep. Alan Grayson said when he endorsed Williamson. “In my opinion, however, only Marianne has the possibility of making a dramatic difference if she wins the seat. I can picture Marianne becoming a national progressive leader in the vein of Elizabeth Warren.”

LOS ANGELES COUNTY 3RD SUPERVISORIAL DISTRICT

Nearly 2 million people live in the 3rd District of Los Angeles County, and eight candidates have lined up for the chance to represent them. Observers agree that the top candidates are competent; the L.A. Daily News went further, calling the three leading candidates “strong.” 

And yet: The media seems bored and, as is often the case with local races, voters haven’t demonstrated as much enthusiasm as ought to be warranted, considering just how much influence the county government has.  

“People are getting excited by the once-in-a-generation race for Congress,” Sam Yebri, president and founder of the Iranian-American-Jewish affinity group 30 Years After, said, “but, in a lot of ways, the issues that our supervisors will be dealing with for potentially the next 12 years will have a much greater impact on our daily lives.” 

Maybe — and maybe not. Because the county provides social services for the region’s poorest residents, and District 3 is a largely middle-class or affluent part of the county, Yaroslavsky’s constituents for the past 20 years have not actually been the direct beneficiaries of much of his work. Nevertheless, Yaroslavsky has been devoted to issues like homelessness as well as to fiscal responsibility. 

The role of this seat is set to change — and then some. As the Los Angeles Times’ Robert Greene pointed out, it will be the first time in nearly half a century that a supervisor from the 3rd District will not be an alumnus of the L.A. City Council —hailing instead from one of the smaller cities in the region. This election could also bring to an end the four-decade stretch of Jewish leadership for the 3rd District.

John Duran

Like many local elected officials, John Duran, a city councilmember and former mayor of West Hollywood, focuses his attention on the basics. He’s pledged to spend his energy ensuring that Los Angeles’ neighborhoods are safe, that transportation infrastructure is expanded and that he will support after-school programs. 

But above all, Duran is trying to convince voters, few of whom are familiar with his record, that he is both the most-committed and the best-qualified candidate to ensure that these and other county services are provided in an efficient and cost-effective manner. 

The Los Angeles Times editorial board offered its support, calling Duran “the one most likely to lead the county toward new and better ways of thinking about and doing its business.” 

Duran, 54, was born and raised in L.A. County, and grew up living next door to a Jewish family. Last year, he traveled to Israel with AIPAC. “Now that I have visited the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip and spent a week in Israel, I have a better understanding of the security issues facing Israel,” Duran told the Journal in his response to its questionnaire. “I consider myself a strong advocate for Israel.” 

Duran, who is openly gay and is one of the very few openly HIV-positive elected officials in the country, said he aimed to follow in Yaroslavsky’s footsteps, serving as a “watchdog for taxpayers, much as Yaroslavsky has.” That’s of tremendous importance, Duran said, because, in his view, few voters truly understand the scope of the county government. 

“This year, the County will spend over $26 billion on a wide variety of programs,” Duran told the Journal, “and it is critical that our next Supervisor be a watchdog for local taxpayers to make sure we are delivering government services in the most effective ways possible and we are rooting out waste, fraud and abuse.” 

Unfortunately, there’s a perception that business leaders are hesitant to support Duran, because they’re not sure he can beat the two better-known and better-funded candidates in the race. 

But he’s hoping his leadership of West Hollywood will convince them of his fitness to serve this much larger population. “As a Mayor and Councilmember, I have experience bringing together diverse groups of people to get things done in local government,” Duran said. “Under my watch, crime is down, thousands of new jobs have been created, new parks have opened, and city government is more transparent, accessible and accountable.” 

Sheila Kuehl

It’s a tried-and-true strategy: Sheila Kuehl is running on her record of accomplishment.

“In my 14 years in the state legislature, I authored 171 bills that were signed into law, many of them barring discrimination or extending equality on various bases,” Kuehl told the Journal. “I authored specific legislation that made it illegal to put anti-Semitic literature in cereal boxes. I also authored and passed legislation to pay state reparations to those whose property was confiscated in the Holocaust.”

A one-time child actor, Kuehl, 73, whose mother was Jewish and father Catholic, is a self-described progressive. She was the first openly gay member of California’s state legislature. She didn’t win the Los Angeles Times editorial board’s endorsement, but the Times praised her “encyclopedic knowledge of county operations and a record of fighting for the underserved.”

That depth of knowledge and focus on the neediest came through in Kuehl’s responses to the Journal. In talking to residents, Kuehl said that they frequently express concern about the “lack of useable public transit, access to affordable high-quality medical care and concern about the mistreatment of children in the foster care system.” Kuehl suggested some concrete steps she would take as supervisor to address some of these challenges — including upgrading county medical facilities and changing the foster care system to make each social worker’s case load more manageable. 

Although it doesn’t come up as often in her conversations with voters, Kuehl also intends to continue her work to preserve the Santa Monica Mountains — a project she embraced while in Sacramento, often working together with Yaroslavsky. If elected, Kuehl said she hopes to follow in her predecessor’s footsteps in other ways as well, including being “a champion for public transportation and the arts.” 

Public transit came up as a point of contention between Kuehl and her rivals, after she won the endorsement of the Beverly Hills Courier on May 15, solely by expressing her preference that Metro’s extension of the Purple Line subway take a route that did not go underneath Beverly Hills High School. 

“She is adamantly opposed to the routing under Beverly Hills,” the Courier’s endorsement read, “and ‘never understood why it was moved from Santa Monica Boulevard.’ ”

Pressed during a debate, Kuehl didn’t take back the comment, but she did say that given the state of the project, her opinion, in effect, did not matter. 

“I’m not going to get up in any meeting, anywhere, and say I don’t want the Purple Line to go through,” Kuehl said in a debate on May 18 at Leo Baeck Temple, according to the Los Angeles Times. 

Bobby Shriver

When The New York Times recently covered the race for L.A. County Supervisor, the article led with Bobby Shriver. As the nephew of John F. Kennedy, Shriver frequently gets — and doesn’t always appreciate — this kind of attention. 

“Dude, I’m 60 years old,” Shriver told the reporter from the Times. “You know it’s cool. It’s all good. But say I did something — something — other than be John Kennedy’s nephew.”

By any account, Shriver has done things worth mentioning. He’s a lawyer and a venture capitalist; he has served as a councilmember and mayor of Santa Monica; he co-founded (Product) RED, with pop singer Bono, a charitable organization that raises support from businesses in fighting HIV/AIDS, as well as the ONE Campaign, which fights extreme poverty.

And, since entering the race for supervisor, Shriver has kept busy. He rejected the county’s voluntary spending limits and has injected $1 million of his own into funding his campaign. He won the endorsement of the Los Angeles Daily News, based on his promise “to give the Board of Supervisors a much-needed kick in the county seat.”

In his responses to the Journal, Shriver said that if elected, two of his top priorities would be to reform the county’s foster care system and reduce the number of people incarcerated at the Men’s Central Jail downtown by creating “a viable diversion program that treats those with mental illness rather than jailing them.” 

Shriver, who has served as chair of the California State Parks and Recreation Commission, also said he hoped to focus his attention on water conservation and cleaning up the local water supply in L.A. County. 

Shriver said his favorite part of campaigning has been “getting to talk to real people about real issues that matter to them,” and the three that come up most often are “jobs, transportation and homelessness/housing.” That last policy area was a longstanding priority of Yaroslavsky’s, and Shriver said he planned to carry on Yaroslavsky’s commitment to service in his “own Shriver style.”

Shriver said his Catholic upbringing inculcated in him values that are “similar to those of Judaism: service, faith and commitment.” In his response to the Journal’s questionnaire, Shriver mentioned two summers he spent in Israel as a teenager, and said that he “hope[d] to continue to grow [his] long standing connections within the [Jewish] community, and to use our shared values as Zev did to do great things for the whole district.”

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