In the 21st century, when candidates for public office tailor their messages to address different segments of the electorate, it’s no surprise that L.A. City Councilman Dennis Zine, who is running for city controller, sent a carefully crafted blue-and-white mailer to Jewish voters in Los Angeles earlier this month.
But unlike the straightforward mailers sent by Zine’s campaign to black (pdf) and Latino (pdf) voters, which feature photographs and statements from leaders in those minority communities who have endorsed the candidate, Zine’s outreach to Jewish voters makes creative use of statements that are not endorsements to bolster the candidate’s credentials.
The mailer (pdf) includes a photograph of Zine shaking hands with Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who has not endorsed either candidate in the race. It also uses the names and logos of local synagogues and Jewish nonprofits, as well as statements attributed to religious and lay leaders involved in those organizations, in ways that might lead some voters to believe that Zine has the endorsements of those organizations and individuals.
Zine’s mailer does include a disclaimer informing voters that its mention of these organizations “in no way implies” that the organizations have endorsed Zine’s candidacy. But Zine’s opponent in the May 21st runoff election, attorney Ron Galperin, said the mailer was still “misleading.”
“It’s a disclaimer, in very, very small print, at the bottom, which basically says ignore everything on the rest of the page,” Galperin said. “It’s a blatant attempt to suggest that the Jewish organizations that he listed -- and stole the logos of -- are supporting him, which is just plain false.”
The mailer makes clear that Zine, who was a Republican until 2011, when he changed his registration to “decline to state,” has the support of Rep. Brad Sherman (D – Sherman Oaks) and Former California Assembly Speaker Robert Hertzberg. Photos and statements attributed to those two Jewish leaders are featured prominently.
But the largest photo in the mailer is of the candidate, a Christian of Lebanese ancestry, wearing a white yarmulke, seated next to an unidentified bearded man in a black hat, and the significance of other statements on the mailer is hard to determine.
Arnold Gerson, the Chief Executive Officer of American Friends of Magen David Adom (AFMDA), is quoted in the mailer thanking Zine for “supporting Israel’s pre-hospital medical services.”
According to Rob Rosenthal, AFMDA’s chief marketing officer, that statement, which appears in the Zine mailer alongside AFMDA’s logo, is from a letter sent in 2007 by AFMDA’s Gerson thanking Zine for a donation he made.
“We’re appreciative of Mr. Zine's support, but weren’t aware of his candidacy and have no involvement with his campaign,” Rosenthal wrote in an email to The Journal on May 14. “But we look forward to his continued support on behalf of the people of Israel.”
Rosenthal added that, as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, AFMDA is prohibited from endorsing candidates.
John Schwada, director of communications for the Zine campaign, said that Zine, a former officer with the Los Angles Police Department who has represented part of the San Fernando Valley in the council since 2001, has given from his personal funds to support a variety of causes over the years. Schwada noted that Zine served as a president of The Executives, a support group for the Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aging, and said that quotes like the one from Gerson’s 2007 letter are frequently reproduced in campaign communications.
“This is standard operating procedure in a campaign, to tout your support and the good things you’ve done for other people,” Schwada said.
Galperin, a Democrat, has the endorsements of both the Democratic Party and of the Los Angeles Chapter of Democrats for Israel. The son of Holocaust survivors, Galperin mentioned that he has his own prominent Jewish endorsers, including Rep. Henry Waxman (D – Beverly Hills) and former Reps. Howard Berman and Mel Levine.
Galperin, who has long been active in the Jewish community, once taught Hebrew school and spent two decades as the cantor at Temple B’nai Emet in Montebello. His spouse, Rabbi Zachary R. Shapiro, is the spiritual leader at Temple Akiba in Culver City.
Galperin said Jewish voters were no different than any other group of voters, but said Zine’s mailer was less than forthright in its effort to win over Jewish Angelenos.
“The controller’s job is to be the watchdog for the city of L.A., and most importantly, to be honest,” Galperin said. “Everybody who runs for office wants to make the best case for themselves, but you have to do it honestly.”
The Zine mailer uses the logos of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills. A representative from AIPAC declined to comment for this story. Messages left on May 14, the eve of Shavuot, for Temple Aliyah’s Rabbi Stewart L. Vogel and David Brook, both of whom are quoted by name in the mailer, were not returned on Tuesday. A message left on Tuesday for another leader whose name appeared in Zine’s mailer, Rabbi Richard Camras of Shomrei Torah in West Hills, also received no response.
To see the mailer, click here (pdf).