Los Angeles chose Eric Garcetti as its first elected Jewish mayor, one of a number of political contests on Tuesday that reflected the city’s diversity, as well as its numerous variations of Jewishness. (In a historical footnote, one Bernard Cohn served as the appointed mayor of Los Angeles for a few weeks in 1878.)
Garcetti, 42, and a veteran city councilman, defeated city controller Wendy Greuel by eight points according to final results announced Wednesday morning.
He is the son of a Jewish mother and was raised as a Jew. On his father’s side, he is of mixed Italian and Mexican heritage.
Greuel is not Jewish but is married to a Jewish attorney and their nine-year old son attends a Jewish religious school. Both candidates are liberal Democrats and their campaigns were based more on personalities than ideological differences.
Defeated in the earlier primaries was Councilwoman Jan Perry, an African-American and a convert to Judaism.
Jewish candidates for two other citywide offices won impressive victories. Mike Feuer, a longstanding Jewish community activist, beat incumbent Carmen Trutanich by 62 to 38 percent of the vote.
Newcomer Ron Galperin handily defeated veteran politician Dennis Zine by 12 points to become the new city controller. In his campaign literature, particularly when aimed at Jewish voters, Galperin stressed that his parents were Holocaust survivors who had fought for Israel in the 1948 War of Independence.
Los Angeles’ 600,000 Jews make up the second largest Jewish community in the United States, but are only six percent of the city’s roughly 4 million residents. However, they generally represent about 20 percent of those actually casting ballots in municipal elections, which are marked by low voter turnout. In Tuesday’s election, only 19 percent of registered voters cast ballots by mail or at polling stations.
Does the election of Jews to three top offices in Tuesday’s citywide contests point to a return to the glory days of 20 years ago, when six of the 15 city council members were Jewish, as were four congressmen, half the members of the public school board and the county sheriff?
The Journal put this question to Harold Meyerson, who served as executive editor of the L.A. Weekly and host of the weekly show “Real Politics” on KCRW during the 1990s.
He now lives on the East Coast and is editor-at-large of “The American Prospect” and a weekly columnist for the Washington Post, but he follows LA politics closely and was in town for the elections.
Some 20 to 30 years ago, Meyerson said, the Jewish population concentrations in Los Angeles on the Westside and in the San Fernando Valley reflexively chose Jewish politicians, while non-Jewish districts generally did not.
Over time, Jews began to feel secure and integrated enough to back non-Jewish candidates, such as former state senators Tom Hayden and Sheila Kuehl, while in parallel anti-Semitism declined in the general population.
Applying this analysis to the 2013 elections, “the Jewish factor didn’t matter this much for either the Jewish or non-Jewish voters,” according to Meyerson.
He evaluated Mayor-elect Eric Garcetti as “a bright guy and pretty good labor progressive,” who might innovate some policies to boost public transportation.
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