Playing to their audience, they cracked Jewish jokes, made Jewish references, and emphasized connections to Israel and Judaism. The mayoral candidates for Los Angeles’ March 2013 election who were invited to speak at the January 3rd “debate” at Beth Jacob of Beverly Hills did their shtick. (And Beverly Hills was duly thanked for hosting the debate for its neighboring city.) They left out LA’s “sister city” status with Israel’s Eilat, but the Talmud, tikun olam (the concept of “fixing the world”), and Orthodox appreciation for a more walkable city (due to restrictions on using combustion and electricity on Shabbat and holidays) all made it in.
LA Councilmember Eric Garcetti, City Controller Wendy Greuel, former Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin James, Councilmember Jan Perry, and businessman Emanuel Pleitez all presented their visions for the city which is burdened with financial, educational, and other woes. The event was presented by CivicCare and moderated by Jewish Journal president David Suissa. The turnout was, according to CivicCare, about 400 people, and, according to this writer’s severely limited view of the audience, had a median age of about 50.
With three of the five candidates having personal connections to Jews and Judaism — Garcetti is Jewish, Greuel’s husband is Jewish, and Perry affiliates with Judaism — the race hits close to the Jewish home. Garcetti and Greuel spoke about their support of Israel. Garcetti additionally mentioned his backing of the divestment of Iran by the city of Los Angeles and also of his support for recently returned Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. One of the other two candidates also tried to jump on the bandwagon as Pleitez commented on his personal work in tikun olam. While James did not make any overtly Jewish comments, many of his statements that enthusiastically proclaimed the failures of the current government and of his opponents won applause from many in the audience. His “outsider’s perspective” (as the only Republican candidate of the five) of smaller government seemed to gain further points, especially as most Orthodox Jews are registered as Republicans.
From a broader perspective, however, the candidates did not say much to differentiate themselves, for the most part. James, of course, stood out because of his different political views, although he does not — by any means — appear to be seeking Tea Party membership at any point in the near future. Pleitez was distinguished by his relative youth (he is 30, while the other candidates’ ages range from 41 to nearly 60) and work as an aide to outgoing mayor Villaraigosa — whose educational policies he criticized Thursday night.
Greuel’s campaign has been pushing the fact (on her website and in campaign e-mails) that she would be LA’s first female mayor. But Perry can and does challenge Greuel on that front — as she is running to be both “the city’s first woman mayor” and “LA’s first Jewish mayor,” according to The Jewish Daily Forward. (Not to mention the city’s second African-American mayor.) Garcetti would also be the first Jewish mayor and he and Pleitez would both be the second Latino mayors of LA since 1872. In this race, it therefore appears that race has little role to play.
Who wins remains to be seen, but all voters are advised to be informed, and to read up on and follow the candidates and their primary concerns. But the ultimate deciding factor, of course, would be which candidate agrees to speak at the next Ha’Am event. Bonus points for speaking in Hebrew, Yiddish, Aramaic, and/or Ladino.
See you at the polls on March 5.
A recording of the debate is available on the Jewish Journal website. For more information, see the candidates’ websites (Eric Garcetti, Wendy Greuel, Kevin James, Jan Perry, and Emanuel Pleitez). An official list of candidates can be found on the City Clerk’s website.