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Jewish Candidate Barely Misses in Election for L.a. Mayoral Runoff

March 10, 2005
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

It was a game try, but Robert Hertzberg has fallen just short in his attempt to become the first Jewish mayor of Los Angeles. Hertzberg just missed second place, which would have qualified him for the runoff election May 17.

Antonio Villaraigosa, a liberal Latino politician who had widespread Jewish support, came in first by a considerable margin, followed by incumbent Mayor James Hahn.

Hertzberg trailed Hahn by 5,768 votes, with 24,000 ballots yet to be counted. On Wednesday morning, Hertzberg conceded that the margin was too wide to allow him to catch up.

Beyond the results, the most interesting aspect of the mayoral contest is that it appears to signal “the first election of Los Angeles’ emerging post-ethnic area,” as political analyst Joel Kotkin put it.

None of the five serious candidates in the race, whether Latino, black, WASP or Jewish, could count on the backing of his own ethnic group, with such factors as age, income, geography, ideology and lifestyle outweighing ethnicity.

For Jewish voters, “We are a long way from a time when having a Jewish mayor would be seen as a great source of pride,” observed veteran political consultant Arnold Steinberg.

The same point was made indirectly in the pre-election issue of the city’s Jewish Journal. Its extensive question-and-answer interviews with the five leading candidates, spread over seven pages, barely touched on any issue of narrow Jewish interest.

Especially for younger people, lifestyle preferences generally trumped ethnicity and most other factors.

“People are divided not by race so much as their preferences,” said Thomas Tseng, an ethnic marketing expert. “You are less an African-American or a Latino than someone who is a rocker, a pop music fan or a hip-hop person.”

As for young Jews, said Kotkin, “they are as likely to identify with their cultural proclivities, ideological preferences, or neighborhood as with their ethnic group.”

To confirm the point, Villaraigosa, by far the most liberal of the men in the nonpartisan race, easily won the strongly Jewish — and strongly liberal — west side of the city.

An exuberant campaigner and former California state assembly speaker, Hertzberg is a 50-year-old lawyer whose trademark bear hugs have earned him the nicknames “Hugsberg” and “Huggy Bear.”

He is a synagogue member and has been active in the American Jewish Committee and Hebrew Union College, and his sons are students at a Jewish day school.

Though he is a Democrat, he has had the backing of two prominent Republicans, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan.

Jews make up about 10 percent of the city’s 4 million population but cast 20 percent of its votes.

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