A Passion for Politics -- and Sports
By Ruth Stroud, Staff Writer
New chair of the JCRC, Howard Welinsky, talks about his upcoming term
Howard Welinsky is guarded when he talks politics. As the new chair of the Jewish Community Relations Committee, which is a two-year term, he doesn't want to offer too many clues about his beliefs. The JCRC, a department of the Los Angeles Jewish Federation, is a consensus organization, after all, and, even though Welinsky is a well-known Democratic Party activist and left-of-center liberal, as the new lay head of this organization, he doesn't intend to wear his political inclinations on his sleeve. During a recent interview, Welinsky seemed more enthusiastic about discussing his other passion -- sports. "I'm a big sports nut," admitted the blue-eyed, bearded and balding Welinsky, digging into a plate of lox and eggs. He's flown all over the country in support of the UCLA basketball and football teams and is a season ticket holder for both.
A past chair of the JCRC's Israel and Government Relations commissions and a vice chair of the JCRC, Welinsky says he wants to continue the efforts of his immediate past predecessor, Carmen Warschaw, to make the JCRC "as representative of the entire community as possible." That means making sure it has as many board members from the right as from the left. Welinsky describes himself as "a pragmatic progressive," but says the word, "liberal," doesn't bother him. He prides himself on having good relationships with legislators on both sides of the political aisle in Sacramento, cementing friendships with several while on missions to Israel. Among them: Assembly speaker Antonio Villaraigosa, a Democrat who went on the Federation's Golden Anniversary Mission to Israel last November; and Jim Brulte, an influential Republican state senator who is close to Gov. Pete Wilson.
On his list of priorities is to help re-involve the Jewish community in the political process. Voter registration, as well as political interest, among Jews isn't as high as it once was, Welinsky said. Making sure that local, state and national legislators pay attention to the needs of the Jewish community is also crucial, he said. The Jewish community receives more government money -- $50 million to $75 million -- than the $40-million-plus it raises through the Federation's United Jewish Fund campaign, Welinsky said. "That's a fact that isn't well understood." Establishing and maintaining good relationships with lawmakers is crucial to maintaining the healthy flow of public dollars to Jewish agencies.
A lifelong bachelor, Welinsky, 48, was born, raised and still lives in Culver City -- only about a mile from his 70-year-old mother, Lee, whom he credits with shaping his political consciousness. He remembers walking local precincts with Lee, who served on the Culver City Planning Commission and, until recently, was president of the Culver City Democratic Club, a position her son had in the '70s.
Professionally, Welinsky has spent almost his entire working life at Warner Bros., most recently as senior vice president of administration. His list of volunteer activities is much longer than his studio resume. In addition to his UCLA and JCRC duties, he has chaired the Jewish Public Affairs Committee, sits on the executive board of AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) and the board of American Jewish Congress, and chairs Democrats for Israel, which he is a past president and holds positions with the Los Angeles County and California Democratic central committees. He served on the National Democratic Convention Platform Committee in 1992 and as a delegate three times, including 1996.
Welinsky brings to the JCRC "the same kind of love of the political system that Carmen [Warschaw] had," JCRC Executive Director Michael Hirschfeld said. Well connected in both political and Jewish communal circles, he is "a quintessential activist," Hirschfeld said.