California Democrats chose Dianne Goldman Feinstein as their standard bearer for governor of the country’s most populous state on Tuesday, and if she beats Sen. Pete Wilson, the Republican candidate, in November, she will become California’s first Jewish and first woman governor.
In Tuesday’s primary election, she defeated her chief rival, State Attorney General John Van de Kamp, by a 52-41 percent majority.
Feinstein ran on a political platform that combined conservative and liberal planks, including enforcement of the death penalty for criminals so sentenced; abortion rights for women; and empowerment of women and minorities.
Perhaps most important to her election was a feeling among most Democratic voters that it was time to give a woman a shot at the top state post.
The 56-year-old Feinstein, a former mayor of San Francisco, told a reporter two years ago that “my mother, who was from St. Petersburg (now Leningrad) and belonged to the Russian Orthodox Church, and my father, an East European Jew, met and settled in Eureka (in northern California).”
As she was growing up, Feinstein attended both a Catholic convent school and a Jewish school. At the age of 20, she chose Judaism, “because I liked its simplicity and directness,” she said, and was converted in a Reform temple. In 1988, she visited Israel and spoke out sharply against changes in the Law of Return.
The fact that Feinstein is Jewish was never an issue in the campaign, and her more liberal opponent, Van de Kamp, received considerable Jewish support.
There are currently two Jewish governors in the United States, Neil Goldschmidt of Oregon, and Madeleine Kunin of Vermont. Both have announced that they will not run for re-election in November.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.