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Jewish Journal

Orthodox leaders appear to sway redistricting panel

by Jonah Lowenfeld

August 9, 2011 | 6:35 pm

The effort by three local Orthodox community leaders to convince California’s new Citizens Redistricting Commission to include a bigger chunk of one of Los Angeles’ most densely packed Orthodox neighborhoods into an Assembly district that includes many other Orthodox neighborhoods appears to have paid off.

The final draft maps released by the commission last month included a slight change to a line from an earlier draft that would have split the Pico-Robertson/Beverlywood neighborhood along Pico Boulevard into two Assembly districts. It was moved a few blocks south, bringing a solid majority of that neighborhood into the 50th Assembly District, which is set to include two other neighborhoods with large Orthodox Jewish communities, Hancock Park and the area around Beverly Boulevard and La Brea Avenue.

“I think, in a sense, we’ve accomplished what we wanted to,” said Irving Lebovics, the chair of the California Branch of Agudath Israel of America, an Orthodox organization.

Lebovics, together with Rabbi Meyer May of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Stanley Treitel, another Orthodox community leader, spearheaded an effort to convince the new commission to consider theirs a “community of interest.” Orthodox Jews, the three leaders argued, were a group that should be kept unified in single districts to ensure their concerns would be addressed by elected officials.

Three letters making this case sent by Orthodox organizations to the commission in May were ineffective. The commission’s first draft maps, released in June, divided those neighborhoods into multiple congressional, state Assembly and state Senate districts.

On July 12, a group of Orthodox leaders traveled to Sacramento, hoping to make their case directly to the commission. They didn’t get the chance, but they met with Paul Mitchell, whose consulting firm, Redistricting Partners, has been following the commission’s work closely.

After the meeting with Mitchell, Lebovics and the others submitted a 19-page letter to the commission on July 19, complete with full-color maps that included the locations of synagogues, Jewish organizations and Jewish day schools.

The final draft maps must be approved by the commission by Aug. 15, and could still face court challenges. Even so, observers of the process believe the final draft could still impact the eventual shapes the districts take.

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