Her name brings instant voter recognition. She is well liked and highly visible in her community. But if she runs for office, she will face charges that she is attempting to create a political dynasty.
That is the dilemma facing Barbara Yaroslavsky, who acknowledged last week that she is considering running for the City Council seat vacated by her husband, Zev, who was elected to the Board of Supervisors earlier this month.
“I have been encouraged and flattered,” Barbara Yaroslavsky said of interest shown by friends and political advisers in her possible quest for the seat her husband held for 19 years.
“She’s one of the best-kept secrets in town,” said real estate mogul Stanley Hirsh, a Studio City resident. She is bright, personable and involved in Jewish religious and charitable causes in a Westside and Sherman Oaks-based council district where Jewish voters exercise tremendous clout, Hirsh said, ticking off her attributes.
“I think she runs and she wins,” added veteran Democratic political consultant Joe Cerrell. “I’m not saying it’s a slam dunk, but she starts out with what is a very good political name in this city. And she can raise good sums of money with it.”
But others say that having a Barbara Yaroslavsky on the City Council and a Zev Yaroslavsky on the Board of Supervisors would create a regrettable political dynasty.
“It’s too much in the same family,” said Sandy Brown, a Westside activist who has frequently clashed with Zev Yaroslavsky on development issues. “If she runs, I think there’ll be a backlash against it. We’ve already had 19 years of Zev and then to have eight years of another Yaroslavsky is too much,” added Brown, who is president of the Holmby-Westwood Property Owners Assn. “It’s too much like Chicago.” If elected, term limits would restrict Barbara Yaroslavsky to at most eight years, and possibly to six years, on the council.
Former Los Angeles school board President Roberta Weintraub and Michael Feuer, executive director of Bet Tzedek, a legal services organization, so far have refrained from criticizing a possible Barbara Yaroslavsky bid for her husband’s seat, but nevertheless say they will be running for Zev Yaroslavsky’s seat regardless of how her plans shape up.
Interest in the 5th District succession race began to rise after Zev Yaroslavsky won election to the supervisor post June 7. In the aftermath, a bevy of would-be successors accelerated their own campaign activities to prepare for a special election to fill Yaroslavsky’s council seat. Los Angeles City Council President John Ferraro, who in 1966 was the last person to be appointed to fill a council vacancy, said the likely scenario is that the council will vote to schedule a special election for April, 1995, that would be held at the same time as the regular municipal elections that month.
To hold the special 5th District election on a separate date would cost an extra quarter of a million dollars, according to the city clerk.
Last week, as talk of Barbara Yaroslavsky’s candidacy picked up steam, Feuer, who is allied with progressive Democrats, ran an ad in the Jewish Journal listing many of his supporters and soliciting donations.
Feuer said his decision to run is irreversible and that he has even agreed to resign in December as head of Bet Tzedek so he can campaign full time. “There’s no turning back,” Feuer said last week, noting that Bet Tzedek’s board of directors is already moving forward to pick his successor.
Feuer said he has raised about $40,000 in campaign funds on the basis of a city Ethics Commission ruling that such fund-raising could legally begin the day after Yaroslavsky was elected to the Board of Supervisors.
Meanwhile, Weintraub, once a registered Republican and leader of the city’s San Fernando Valley anti-busing movement in the late 1970s, continued her own hectic pace by meeting with homeowner leaders and touring city parks and police stations in the 5th District to familiarize herself with key municipal services.
“I’m going full bore on this,” said Weintraub, who, as a born-again Democrat since 1991, recently endorsed feminist activist Sheila Kuehl’s successful bid for the Democratic nomination for the 41st Assembly District seat based in the Westside and West Valley.
During the past week, Lea Purwin D’Agostino, a deputy district attorney who ran a quixotic campaign in 1988 against her then-boss, Ira Reiner, also reportedly had several political meetings about running for the 5th District seat, while Bill Christopher, an architect and leading neighborhood activist, filed the paperwork necessary to raise money for the same race. Ryan Snyder, a transportation consultant who ran previously against Zev Yaroslavsky, filed his papers the previous week.
In an interview, Barbara Yaroslavsky said she expects to discuss her possible run for his council seat with her husband soon. “We have been so busy with the election (for the Board of Supervisors) that I haven’t sat down with Zev to go over the pros and cons of it,” she said.
Although she said she was not fully prepared to discuss all the factors she considers relevant to the debate, Barbara Yaroslavsky remarked on a few of them.
“I think there’d be a comfort with me (as a council candidate), because I’ve been involved with the community and all sorts of charitable activities over the years,” she said. She currently serves on the governing board of the LA Free Clinic, on the Metro Board of the Los Angeles Jewish Federation Council and on the executive board of the Bureau of Jewish Education.
“In my own right I’ve done a lot,” Barbara Yaroslavsky said. On the other hand, if her husband, who lives and breathes politics, were to contend that her entrance in the race might reflect badly on him, “I’d have to take that into consideration,” she said. “But I don’t see that happening at all.”
And if her husband advised her not to run, how would she react?
“He wouldn’t say that,” she said. “That’s not the way our relationship works.” Others who know the couple agree.
But there are those who are convinced Zev Yaroslavsky privately does not want his wife to seek his seat.
“I don’t think he’s enthusiastic at all about this,” said one knowledgeable source active in Westside political circles. “It could be that he thinks it would hurt him politically or that he doesn’t want to share the spotlight.”
When asked recently about his wife’s prospective political career, Yaroslavsky refused to comment. “Talk to my wife,” he has said. Inevitably, talk of Barbara Yaroslavsky’s candidacy raises the dynasty issue.
“This is not a hereditary monarchy,” scoffed one critic, who, nevertheless, asked for anonymity.
But Cerrell and other observers say such gut-level biases can be deflected in large part because Barbara Yaroslavsky appears to be an independent-minded and credible candidate in her own right.
Certainly there will be those who resent a Barbara Yaroslavsky candidacy regardless of her qualifications, but there are plenty of examples of politically successful dynasties, Cerrell added, citing the Kennedys and the Brown family in California.
“I just don’t see it as a problem,” Barbara Yaroslavsky herself said last week, contending that opportunities for her and her husband to coordinate their powerful positions to achieve ends that are at odds with the public interest would actually be limited. County and city government activities don’t overlap that much, she said. “There’s too much independence,” she said. “They’d have to feed off each other for there to be a dynasty problem.” And if there’s a fear that she and her husband would be monolithic in their view--that’s unjustified too, she said.
“Zev doesn’t come home and chew over what he’s doing at work all day,” Barbara Yaroslavsky said. “He doesn’t bring it home. He doesn’t come to me to ask me what to do and I don’t go to him and ask him what to do.”
But at least one critic, who asked that he not be named, said conflicts between the city and county jurisdictions do arise over a variety of issues, including, for example, the allocation of parking ticket revenues and transportation dollars. It has got to be messy when the decision-making is being made under one roof, this critic said.
Still others, like Sandy Brown, the Westside activist, say the issue runs even deeper, striking at the issue of fairness. “My concern really is what kind of arm-twisting will Zev do to get her elected,” Brown said. How many people with business at the county will want to deny a powerful supervisor’s wife a campaign contribution and their support? Brown asked. And after Barbara Yaroslavsky, who’s next? “Their teen-age daughter?” Brown sarcastically quipped.