Wife to Run for Yaroslavsky’s Council Seat
Barbara Yaroslavsky confirmed Thursday that she will run for the Los Angeles City Council seat held by her husband, Zev, sparking debate over whether her move constitutes dynasty-building.
Zev Yaroslavsky is resigning in December to assume his new duties as a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. He was elected to the board in June.
The decision by Barbara Yaroslavsky, 47, although widely anticipated, brings a new dynamic to the emerging battle over political succession to the affluent and politically active 5th District that includes Westwood, Sherman Oaks and Bel-Air.
Yaroslavsky’s entry makes her virtually an instant front-runner, political consultant Richard Lichtenstein said. “She starts with phenomenal name ID that you couldn’t buy,” he said. “The challenge will be for her to create her own set of footprints and an identity on issues.”
Others said that her name, although her biggest asset, would become the source of her biggest political headache in next spring’s special election to fill the remaining two years of her husband’s term.
“The opposition has to take her biggest asset and turn it into her biggest liability,” political consultant Joe Cerrell said. But the veteran strategist, citing the Kennedys of Massachusetts and the Browns of California, said that although people may disparage dynasty-building efforts “in American politics, they work more often than not.”
Barbara Yaroslavsky, who has been active in community affairs for years, said in an interview Thursday that one of her biggest fears is that the media, searching for controversy, will cast her candidacy as a bid by the Yaroslavsky family to dominate Westside politics.
“My big fear isn’t that the candidates will say these things, but that the media will,” she said.
Meanwhile, Bet-Tzedek Legal Services executive director Michael Feuer, one of several candidates for the 5th District seat, said he intends to campaign on his own record of running a successful and popular legal program for the disadvantaged.
Similarly, Roberta Weintraub, another candidate for the council seat, said she expects to run on her record of 14 years on the Los Angeles school board. “I’m the only one with hands-on government experience,” Weintraub said. “I don’t think people will be voting to reelect Zev, and (Barbara) will have to stand on her own two feet. This is not an era when women can succeed their husbands in office and run simply on their coattails.”
Deputy Dist. Atty. Leah Purwin D’Agostino, who ran for district attorney several years ago, reacted to Yaroslavsky’s move by stopping just short of announcing her candidacy. “This is interesting development,” she said. “I’ll have my own announcement shortly.”
Police Protective League spokesman Danny Staggs was less coy. “We’ll be endorsing Leah,” he said. “She’s always been a strong supporter of the police. Barbara Yaroslavsky is a nice lady, but not qualified.”
Barbara Yaroslavsky said in a prepared statement that her candidacy is the “natural next step of a decades-long commitment to work in behalf of this community.”
“I undertook these efforts not because I was looking for recognition or walking in the shadow of my husband. Rather, I’m a committed community activist and I believe that the passionate actions of one individual can bring about change.”
Questioned further, Yaroslavsky said she would run on her own record. “I don’t have to defend what Zev has done--actually he’s done a wonderful job and in many respects, we’re not so different,” she said. “We’re both very committed to the quality of life and preservation of the environment and seeing that the district gets adequate funding.”
Although Feuer and Weintraub said they were in the race to the end, Lichtenstein, the political consultant, said that Feuer and Barbara Yaroslavsky’s natural constituency of progressive Jewish Democrats is so identical that one of them will have to give. “I don’t think there’s enough of that constituency for both of them,” he said.
Zev Yaroslavsky recently proposed that the City Council appoint an interim council member to fill his seat until his successor is picked in a special election. Given the timing of his departure, it is likely that a special election will not be held until next spring to fill out the term.
That could leave the 5th District unrepresented at City Hall for as long as seven months.