LOS ANGELES (Sep. 26)
An off-the-cuff remark by a leading black California politician has angered Jewish leaders here and jangled the normally harmonious relations between blacks and Jews.
Newspapers here carried an interview last Friday with Willie Brown Jr., the influential speaker of the California State Assembly, in which the black legislator suggested that the tendency of Jews to vote in a single bloc handicaps black candidates.
If black Assemblywoman Gwen Moore were to run in a heavily Jewish district, Brown said, she would have to change her name to “Moorenstein” in order to win.
At issue is the politically charged realignment of California’s congressional, state Senate and state Assembly districts after the 1990 Census. The way the maps are redrawn will have a strong bearing on whether Democrats or Republicans control the state legislature for the next decade, as well as the makeup of California’s 52-member congressional delegation.
Most contentious is the redistribution of Assembly seats, which is being influenced by population shifts within California, a bitter face-off between Democrat Brown and Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, and the federal Voting Rights Act, which mandates that the political interests of black, Hispanic and Asian minorities be protected.
The current plan, which calls for the enlargement of several Los Angeles Assembly districts, will adversely affect the fortunes of liberal Assemblyman Tom Hayden.
His district is to be carved into several pieces. so that many of his white, mainly non-Jewish constituents would be reassigned to adjacent districts represented by black incumbents.
‘INFLAMMATORY AND FACTUALLY INACCURATE’
Brown was asked why the black districts were not expanded to take in slices of two other adjacent West Los Angele districts with large Jewish populations and represented by Jews.
Because, the speaker answered, “the way in which people in that area vote, Gwen Moore would have to become Moorenstein in order to have an equal opportunity to win. If you’ve got to take white people, you look for white people who have shown a tendency not to vote in blocs on behalf of something they are concerned about and interested in.”
He added: “You have persons who vote for Jewish last names first and foremost, just as you have blacks who vote for blacks against anybody else, regardless of advocacy, regardless of positions on issues.”
Brown’s remarks angered the Jewish community in Los Angeles, which has been a mainstay of the financial and voting support for the city’s longtime black mayor, Tom Bradley, and which has always considered the liberal assembly speaker a friend and ally.
David Lehrer, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, fired off a message to Brown criticizing his “inflammatory and factually inaccurate observations.” He deplored that “in this time of increased tensions between racial and ethnic groups” Brown would “add fuel to the fires of division.”
A similar message was sent by Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. He pointed to the heavy Jewish support for such black mayors as David Dinkins of New York, Wilson Goode of Philadelphia and the late Harold Washington of Chicago.
Within a few hours, an apparently contrite Brown issued a statement in Sacramento, in which he said his controversial remarks were made “in a context not designed to be taken seriously.”
He cited his close work with the Jewish community “over the plight of Soviet Jews, the strengthening of African-American/Jewish relations and the independence of Israel.
“I trust,” he concluded, “that my history working on behalf and with the Jewish community will not be ignored as one reads my remarks.”
Most Jewish communal leaders appears ready to accept Brown’s explanation. “I am satisfied with the statement,” said Cooper of the Wiesenthal Center.
Michael Hirschfelder of the Lost Angeles Jewish Federation Council’s Community Relations Committee, said, “Although I don’t think his remarks are funny, as far as I am concerned, the issue is over.”
Brown, considered one of the most powerful politicians in California, has lost clout recently in state politics and in the Democratic Party, some of it to the so-called “Waxman-Berman machine,” led by U.S. Reps. Henry Waxman and Howard Berman, both Democrats and Jews. According to knowledgeable observers, resentment of the bloc’s power and influential role in the redistricting process may have led to Brown’s outburst.