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Carmen H. Warschaw dies at 95; key Democratic figure in L.A.

Carmen Warschaw was a powerful force in Democratic politics, promoting and helping to foster the careers of many local, statewide and national leaders.

By Rebecca Trounson, Los Angeles Times

November 14, 2012

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Carmen H. Warschaw, a prominent Democratic Party figure in Los Angeles and California for decades who was also a generous donor to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and USC, has died. She was 95.

Warschaw died Nov. 6 of natural causes at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles, her daughter Hope Warschaw said.

A lifelong, often fiercely partisan Democrat, Warschaw died on election day but had made certain she could take part in her final election by casting an absentee ballot the previous week. "She would have just hated to miss it," her daughter said.

Warschaw, who was the Democratic Party's Southern California chairwoman in the mid-1960s, was a powerful force in Democratic politics, promoting and helping to foster the careers of many local, statewide and national leaders. A member of the Democratic National Committee in the late 1960s, Warschaw also attended every Democratic convention from 1948 to 2008, often as a delegate.

"She was a remarkable force in the Democratic Party," said Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Valley Village), who considered Warschaw a longtime friend and political ally. "She had boundless energy, she had strong opinions she was willing to share, and she fought like the dickens for what she believed in. She was a real pistol."

She also was unafraid to play hardball, often with a wicked sense of humor.

In 1964, after Warschaw lost her first bid to become a Democratic national committeewoman, she complained that Eugene Wyman, then the California Democratic Party chairman, had told her he felt able to renege on his promised support for her because "it wasn't in writing."

That summer, as delegates to the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, N.J., enjoyed a day off at the shore, Warschaw struck back. She hired an airplane to make repeated passes above the crowded beach, towing a sign that read: "GET IT IN WRITING. LOVE CARMEN."

In 1966, she famously feuded with then-Gov. Edmund G. "Pat" Brown over what she considered less than whole-hearted backing for her bid to become state party leader. She declined to support Brown in that fall's gubernatorial race and was quoted speaking relatively kindly of the man who would defeat him, Republican Ronald Reagan.

That brief flirtation was a rare exception to Warschaw's loyal support for Democratic causes and candidates, several who knew her said.

"She was one of a kind, really a rare combination of someone who was able to play financially in the political world but enjoyed doing all the grunt work that activists do," Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said. "And she had a very keen sense about politics."

Warschaw served on the first Coastal Commission in California and was the first woman to head the state's Fair Employment Practices Commission. She was also active in support of Israel and Jewish causes. In recognition of her political and community involvement, she was named a Los Angeles Times Woman of the Year in 1968.

Eleanor Carmen Harvey was born on Sept. 4, 1917, the younger of two children of Lena and Leo Harvey, who had immigrated to Los Angeles from Lithuania. Her father, a successful businessman, founded Harvey Aluminum Co.

She grew up in La Cañada and in 1939 earned a bachelor's degree in social work from USC. A year before graduating, she married Louis Warschaw, her high school sweetheart and fellow USC student. A Los Angeles business and civic leader, he died in 2000.

In addition to her daughter Hope, Carmen Warschaw's survivors include her daughter Susan Robertson, three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Along with her husband, Warschaw made many contributions to Cedars-Sinai. She served on the hospital's board of directors and she and her family established three research chairs.

At USC, Warschaw and her husband, who were close to the late Assembly Speaker Jesse M. Unruh, helped create a political institute in his name in 1989 and later established a lecture series that brings Jewish elected officials to the campus each year.

In 2003, Warschaw donated $3 million to USC for an endowed chair in practical politics, reflecting her interest in teaching students about politics in the real world.

"She believed politics was what happens on the streets and in the common-sense decisions that have to be made in a campaign," Yaroslavsky said. "She wasn't interested in political theory. She saw politics, always, as a people business."

rebecca.trounson@latimes.com