Jewish Journal


August 28, 2012

The Absence of Zev



Zev Yaroslavsky. Photo courtesy zev.lacounty.gov

The news is bittersweet. On the one hand a public servant who has dedicated nearly forty years of his life to the Los Angeles community will be unburdened from the demands of a public that wants him virtually every day and night of the week (whether it’s this group’s board meeting or that neighborhood council or the major donor who would like to “show him off” to friends), Zev Yaroslavsky has led a career of rarely saying no to his constituents. On the other hand, Los Angeles will be losing the chance to elect the one potential mayoral candidate that might have set our fiscal house in order.

Last year I blogged about county redistricting and noted that “ Zev Yaroslavsky is the most important local elected Jewish official is beyond dispute. For over three decades he has been a voice of reason and courage for, to and in the Jewish community.” That observation could easily have been expanded to say he has been among the most thoughtful, principled, and straightforward elected officials in California over the past forty years and his presence will be sorely missed.

[Related: Zev Yaroslavsky to retire from politics, won’t run for mayor]

In my previous position as the counsel and director of the Anti-Defamation League in Los Angeles I had the opportunity to work with and observe Zev since he first came to office as a city councilman in 1975 (some thirty seven years ago). Besides virtually always making himself available for speaking to and enlightening audiences and attending community events he was a voice of reason, thoughtfulness and courage. There are no other local politicians I can think of who spoke as honestly and forthrightly to his audiences, no matter their makeup.

In the world of the organized Jewish community, there is nothing easier than to come to meeting of Jewish leadership and talk about anti-Semitism, the fate of Israel, or hate crimes—-those were the trifecta of issues that would assure a warm reception and lots of applause. It was the rare politician who came to the ADL and talked about an issue that might make the audience feel uncomfortable or insecure as to where the speech was going.

I distinctly remember Zev coming to board meetings and talking about homelessness and the horrible living conditions that prevailed in many areas of Los Angeles with two and three families living in one apartment, etc. It was not a topic the attendees had expected or felt at ease with but Zev felt it was an important one that needed attention and his listeners needed an education. It wasn’t the easy route, just the right one.

I remember his principled and vocal position against unauthorized surveillance by the Los Angeles Police Department’s Public Disorder/Intelligence Division (“PDID”) in the 1980s. A not particularly popular position, especially at that time, but, as it turned out, it was the right one.

Years later when the Orange Line Transit way was under consideration across the San Fernando Valley (in the existing railway right-of-way) in North Hollywood it was Zev who was willing to stand up to constituents who alleged that their religious observances might be compromised by having buses running in the right-of-way on the Sabbath. He was roundly criticized, but he stood his ground as few politicians would—-especially in dealing with constituents who populate his base. 

His courage in speaking out on the mess that was health care delivery at King-Drew Medical Center—-despite charges of being a racist when he demanded that the quality of care at King-Drew ought to be the same as at the best hospitals in LA; his tough stand on plans to decimate his supervisorial district in the latest reapportionment effort; and his steadfast commitment to fiscal integrity and transparency (one reason that the County of LA is in much better financial shape than the City which he left nearly two decades ago) are all further evidence of a commitment to principles that is all too rare among politicians, local or national.

There are precious few politicians, at any level, who have accumulated the record that Zev has amassed over the past four decades and done so without any hint of scandal, double dealing, or compromising values; no mean feat in an environment where every move a politician makes is scrutinized and open to bloggers, political paparazzi and plain old cynics.

To Zev, congratulations on a job exceedingly well done—and good luck on two more years of accomplishments and a long and rewarding life after public service.

[Related: Yaroslavsky reflects on decision to leave politics]

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