December 4, 2003
If you want to know what's going on, talk to the guy who runs the newsstand.
That would be David Mallel, who owns the well-stocked newsstand at Fairfax and Oakwood avenues in the heart of the Fairfax District. He keeps attuned to the political feelings of his well-read clientele by seeing what they buy and mixing those observations with his own experiences as a lifelong member of the Los Angeles Jewish community.
I met Mallel while walking along Fairfax Avenue, looking for people to interview. I'm starting to follow the presidential election through the voices and actions of Los Angeles' Jews, who have a long history of political activism and strong opinions.
He is a Democrat from a Democratic family, and he voted for former Vice President Al Gore in 2000. This time, he is more positive about Bush. "I have mixed feelings. He has good people around him. He's the right man for the job, if you're going to put him up against any of the others. I don't think I'm alone. I know I'm not."
His feeling was that the Democratic candidates were not as strong as he would like on Israel and on the policies of the Sharon government. "It seems to me that they have negative feelings about Israel, about the government, about Sharon, with the exception of maybe [Sen. Joseph] Lieberman," he said.
Mallel's customers' feelings were also reflected by something else. Sales of the Los Angeles Times were down roughly 20 percent at his newsstand, he said, largely because of what is perceived as an anti-Israel bias and for its coverage of the recent recall campaign.
Patrons, he said, were outraged by Times' poll stories he said didn't reflect the recall's strength and by the highly unfavorable account of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's conduct toward women -- the famous groping story. "People here were infuriated by the story," he said.
The question being asked by political strategists -- and no doubt the Times marketing experts -- is whether all this is a trend or just the articulate musings of a man I encountered along Fairfax Avenue. After all, this must be the most Jewish of all fields of Democratic presidential candidates: retired Gen. Wesley Clark's biological father was Jewish, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts has a paternal Jewish grandparent, Gov. Howard Dean's wife is a Jewish doctor and, of course, Sen. Lieberman is an observant Jew.
But polling data shows that Mallel has company in his attitude toward Bush.
The Voter News Service (VNS) said it found that 35 percent of Jewish voters supported Republicans in the 2002 midterm elections. Democrats scoffed at the VNS study.
Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Council, said the sample of Jews in the survey was too small to mean anything. An IP-SOS Cook Political Report survey in The Jerusalem Report said 64 percent of American Jews identify themselves as Democrats and just 25 percent said they would vote for Bush.
Those figures, however, shouldn't be especially cheering to Democrats. The 64 percent figure is not impressive, and the 25 percent for Bush is more than he received in 2000. The Jerusalem Report also noted that New York Republican Gov. George Pataki received more than 50 percent of the Jewish vote in winning another term in 2000. And the Los Angeles Times Poll showed that 31 percent of Jewish voters supported the California recall and the same number voted for Arnold Schwarzenegger.
I told a Republican campaign consultant, Alan Hoffenblum, about my conversation with newsstand owner Mallel. He was familiar with the polling numbers and from his long experience in running campaigns here, he senses a trend.
When Hoffenblum started working for the GOP in 1968 as a field worker in Los Angeles, he was one of the few Jews in the party. He said his colleagues wondered why Jews weren't Republicans. He replied that they'd join up "if you stop holding fundraisers in clubs that don't allow Jews."
But in the '70s and '80s, Republican power positions began to be filled with Jews who never would have been welcomed by the segregated clubs. Republican Gov. George Deukmejian's chief of staff was Steve Merksamer. Arnie Steinberg became the most influential California Republican pollster. Hoffenblum moved up from field worker to the top level of GOP campaign management.
Hoffenblum said he saw Jews becoming more receptive to the GOP. He recalled he "wrote a memo to key Republican consultants and said there is a gold mine there" in 2000, after hearing members of a West Los Angeles Orthodox congregation, which included many young people, express deep concern about U.S. policy toward Israel.
All this should be put in context. Medicare and the economy, rather than Israel, may be more of a defining 2004 issue for Jews, especially those who are secular. The same with Iraq, especially if the United States remains bogged down there. And like all of America's ethnic groups -- including Latinos, African Americans and Asians -- Jews don't march in lockstep any more.
However, Republicans see an opportunity in the Jewish community. Maybe the guy who runs the newsstand is on to something.
Bill Boyarsky's column on Jews and civic life appears on the first Friday of each month. Until leaving the Los Angeles Times in 2001, Boyarsky worked as a political correspondent, a metro columnist for nine years and as city editor for three years. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org