Candidates court Jews in LA mayoral race

Los Angeles’s proportionally small Jewish population may hold the key to election victory.

LA 311 (photo credit: Arthur Wolak)
LA 311
(photo credit: Arthur Wolak)
Several leading candidates running for mayor of Los Angeles have been busy courting the Jewish vote and stressing their own Judaic ties in a race in which the city’s proportionally small Jewish population may hold the key to victory.
Los Angeles’s primary election is scheduled for March 5 and in an election expected to receive a low number of votes, the high turnout among Jewish voters could prove critical for candidates.
Three of the leading candidates for mayor recently stressed their connections to Judaism at a debate at the Beth Jacob Orthodox synagogue in Beverly Hills.
Councilmen Eric Garcetti, councilwoman Jan Perry and city controller Wendy Gruel all stressed their close ties to the Jewish community at the event.
Garcetti, a Democrat, is the son of a Mexican-American father and a Jewish mother of Russian ancestry, Perry is an African American who converted to Judaism in the 1980s, and while Gruel is not Jewish, her husband is and their son is being raised in the faith. Also running are two non-Jews: Emanuel Pleitez and Republican Kevin James.
During the Beth Jacob debate, 89.3 KPCC Southern California Public Radio reported that Garcetti told attendees that his “family came here as dreamers and as doers... fleeing wars – on my father’s side, the Mexican Revolution; on my mother’s side from pogroms under the czars.” According to The Los Angeles Times, he called himself a “kosher burrito.”
Garcetti, who reportedly attends a non-denominational congregation, attempted to gain traction with Jewish voters by reminding them of his past support for captive soldier Gilad Schalit.
Both he and Perry were reported as saying that they would allow Jewish values to inform their decisions.
Perry said she would work for families struggling to pay rising tuition costs for private Jewish day schools and that her Jewish identity is integral to her identity.
Seeming to describe herself as something of an amalgam who represents the different racial groupings in the diverse American city, Perry defined herself as “a woman who is African American, chose to become Jewish and speaks Spanish in a city where all doors are open to me,” according to KPCC radio.
Gruel attends synagogue and sends her son to Hebrew school. When asked by the local Jewish Journal newspaper why she lives a Jewish life but has not converted, she replied that conversion “certainly is a part of my perspective of something I would like to do.”
“I believe in the Jewish tradition and religion, the values that the community have are important to me. About giving back, about the good moral values, about being part of a community,” Gruel told the Journal.
One journalist from KPCC radio noted that although Jews make up only 6 percent of the city’s population, they are represented disproportionately in elections due to their high voter turnout as a community.
One estimate pegged the Jewish community as representing up to 17% of all ballots cast in the race for the city’s top executive.
While some community members have expressed suspicion that the candidates are playing up their Jewish ties merely to garner votes, local federation leader Sam Yebri disagreed, telling the The Los Angeles Times that, in his opinion, the candidates are “not showing up at Jewish events in 2012 and 2013 because there’s an election looming. None of them are strangers to the Jewish community.”