New York City and Los Angeles will both elect new mayors this year. One city will likely pick a Jew. The other will not.
Think you know which city is which?
New York seems primed for another Jewish mayor. Three of the past five have been Jewish, including the current mayor, Michael Bloomberg, and the recently deceased Ed Koch. Nearly every mayoral race in recent memory has included a Jewish candidate. This is New York, after all.
Yet in 2013, not a single one of the handful of front-runners vying to replace Bloomberg is Jewish.
Los Angeles, meanwhile, has had plenty of Jewish elected officials, but never a Jewish mayor. Now, both of the leading candidates for the office are Jews. Another top contender is married to a Jew and says she herself is interested in converting.
So are the Jews of New York losing their touch? Is the weight of Jewish political power shifting west?
Well, probably not.
"Some of it is simply quirky stuff," said Raphael Sonenshein, a political scientist at California State University, Fullerton.
New York City's mayoral race, for instance, would have looked rather different had former congressman Anthony Weiner not accidentally Tweeted a close-up photo of his briefs (with him inside them) in June 2011.
"That there is no Jewish candidate in this particular race is more a consequence of personal behavior on the part of the potential Jewish candidate than anything else," quipped Flora Davidson, a professor of political science and urban studies at Barnard College, referring to Weiner, who resigned from political life and abandoned an expected mayoral bid shortly after distributing the photo.
In L.A., however, it's not just coincidence at play. There, the high visibility of Jews in this election cycle in fact reflects the power of the city's Jewish community as a voting bloc.
Jews make up just 6% of the population of the City of Los Angeles, compared with 13% of New York's. Jews in L.A. vote, however, at rates that more than double their political influence relative to their size. That's still a small bloc. But unlike in New York, L.A.'s primaries are wide-open, nonpartisan races in which parties play relatively minor parts. This allows well-organized minority ethnic blocs to exercise their clout more directly, without the mediating ethnic considerations the Democratic Party weighs when meting out electoral offerings.
"Because the system is not cluttered up with parties and boroughs and the deep, deep political organization culture that New York [has], a few groups, if they vote in large numbers, can be very significant," Sonenshein said.
According to Sonenshein, Jews in L.A. are the fourth most important ethnic bloc in the city, after Latino, Asian-American and African-American voters. They also have a history of forming powerful electoral coalitions with other minority groups.
That means that the Jewish vote in L.A. could be key to putting together a winning coalition. The Jewish bloc was originally expected to go to Zev Yaroslavsky, a county supervisor and high-profile L.A. politician who is highly identified with the Jewish community. Yaroslavsky, who was born in L.A., was widely considered to have a serious shot at the mayoralty if he chose to run this year.
In the end, Yaroslavsky stayed out. That left the Jewish vote wide open.
Two candidates with nontraditional Jewish backgrounds currently lead the L.A. race. Both have played up their Jewish credentials in their campaigns.
SOURCE: Josh Nathan-Kazis