Column: With this crowd, Dianne Feinstein is hardly old enough

Nick Pietro Forte sings and Nelly Williams dances at Culver City Senior Center on karaoke day.
(Steve Lopez / Los Angeles Times)

Tuesday was karaoke day at the Culver City Senior Center.

Herman Heisser, 86, parked his walker, stepped onto the stage and sang “Your Cheatin’ Heart.”

Nick Pietro Forte, 88, crooned “Granada,” while Nelly Williams, 86, danced.

And Sue Kalterakus, 98, clapped.


Between songs, I asked Kalterakus about the crown on her head.

“I went to the eye doctor,” she said. “Dr. Blechman said, ‘Put this on. You have to keep it on all day because it’s your birthday.’”

I dropped by the senior center Tuesday to see if anyone thinks U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, at 84, is too old to run for reelection to her sixth term. That’s one of the knocks on her. That she’s too old, and she’s too centrist for such a lefty state, and she doesn’t seem eager enough to poke a stick in President Trump’s eye at every opportunity.

People have been speculating about Feinstein’s plans for months, and lining up to fill her slot. Then she made the announcement this week that she was “all in!” for reelection.


Did Feinstein make the announcement by dipping a quill into an ink pot and scribbling her intentions onto parchment?

No. She tweeted and Facebooked. If she wins in 2018, Feinstein would be 91 at the end of her six-year term. And it wasn’t easy to find anyone at the Culver City Senior Center who had a problem with that.

“I volunteer for Saves,” said the 98-year-old birthday girl, referring to St. Augustine Volunteer Emergency Services. “We give food to the needy.”

And what’s her role?

“I do everything,” Kalterakus said. “I go Monday, I go Wednesday, I go Friday. And Saturday and Sunday, too.”

That’s impressive. Maybe she should run against Feinstein.

I asked Patricia Carr if she agreed with those who think Feinstein is too old to serve.

“That’s ridiculous,” she said. “I was a teacher until I was 79. It’s about intelligence, not age.”


Speaking of…

“I’m going to turn 80,” Carr said before pausing to redo the math. “No, 90.”

Carr sat with a gent by the name of Delton King, who wore a “WWII Veteran” cap and a belt buckle that said “100th Bomb Group, 349th Squadron.” King, 93, said he was shot down over France in 1943, and he had this to say about Feinstein:

“Somebody younger might not know half as much as she does.”

Rene Braun was happy to share her thoughts about Feinstein.

“First of all, I’m 92, OK?” she said. “I think she still has her mind and she knows what she’s doing and she has a lot of experience. Just because you reach an older age doesn’t mean you haven’t got it up there, because I’m one of them, and I’ve got it up there.”

This is how it went in Culver City. Each person I spoke to was spunkier than the last.

“I’ll tell you what,” said Heisser, the country western star, who brought a lady friend with him. “If I had known I would enjoy life as much as I have since I turned 80, I would have turned 80 years ago.”


He did, actually. He’s 86, lives at the CalVet home for veterans in West L.A., and he’s launched his own political campaign.

“You’re just the man I wanted to talk to,” Heisser said, pulling a folder out of his briefcase. “I come here for the Saturday afternoon dance, then I’d always go home and at 6 o’clock, everyone enjoyed watching the ‘The Lawrence Welk Show.’ But SoCal PBS took it off the air, and I’m trying to get it back on.”

He handed me a copy of his petition, which said: “We the undersigned respectfully request that you put the Lawrence Welk Show back on your schedule.”

Heisser said he was up to 238 signatures.

I made it 239.

I suspect that Feinstein, whether you’re a supporter or not, is getting the age question partly because she’s a woman. Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina served until he was 100. Feinstein is only slightly older than Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Orrin Hatch of Utah. On the House side, Ralph Hall was 91 at the end of his run in 2015.

It’s not exactly alarming that people at a senior center refuse to discriminate against a candidate on the basis of age. I would have gotten a different take, no doubt, if I’d gone to coffee shops and asked people under 30 what they thought about the possibility of having a 91-year-old senator. A poll early this year by UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies found that voters who were informed of Feinstein’s age were less likely to say they’d vote for her.

I did find one person at the senior center who thinks it’s time for Feinstein to give it a rest. Peggy Ornelas, 68, said Sen. Kamala Harris has been “a breath of fresh air,” and she wouldn’t mind seeing someone like state Sen. Kevin de León move from Sacramento to Washington.

Ornelas said she respects Feinstein and appreciates her many years of service. But she’s ready for someone who’s more of a lefty than Feinstein, who was booed recently for saying she thought Trump could become a good president if he were willing to learn and change.

“Age has nothing to do with it,” Ornelas said of why she’d like to see someone else in Feinstein’s place. “She’s had an advantaged life for the last how many years, so let’s get somebody else who’s part of the California experience.”

Well, nobody is standing in the way of that. Anybody who wants to take a run at Feinstein is free to do so, although given her name recognition and the money she’ll have behind her, knocking her out won’t be easy.

And Fran Rice, 73, isn’t sure it’d be in the best interest of California.

“If she loses, we lose her seniority on all the committees she’s on, and we lose a woman who’s a Democrat,” she said.

Spoken like a political junkie. So I asked Rice if she’d be willing to run for office.

No, she said. But when you think of national office holders these days, one thought does come to mind.

“The bar is pretty low,” said Rice.

Get more of Steve Lopez’s work and follow him on Twitter @LATstevelopez


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