“Look what you did! You gave me a Holy Day sermon!”
Rabbi Laurie Coskey, as scrappy and politically astute as any religious leader in San Diego, laughs over an old saying she would hear at seminary.
“Jews,” it went, “ealike Episcopalians, and vote like Puerto Ricans.”
Rabbi Laurie, as everyone calls her, is busy typing away in search of the adage’s origins. And sure enough, she comes across the name Milton Himmelfarb, an essayist and neoconservative (his nephew is Bill Kristol, founder of the right-wing The Weekly Standard), who coined the phrase in the ’50s.
“Oh my god, it’s not just urban legend,” she exclaims over the phone. “That is so funny!”
She brings up the generalization because she believes it doesn’t apply anymore—the Jewish community is much more diverse and splintered politically. “There are Jewish Republicans, plenty of them,” the rabbi assures.
There has been much hand-wringing in recent weeks over word that some leading Democrats in town had jumped ship to support District attorney Bonnie Dumanis, a Republican, in the 2012 mayor’s race.
Never mind that many of these same folks had done similarly when it came to choosing Republican Jerry Sanders over populist Democrat Donna Frye when those two went head to head for the mayor’s seat in 2005 after Dick Murphy’s resignation.
No, this, we were told, was something more sinister, more indicative of a progressive political party in disarray. How, the fretting went, could a party end 21 years of Republican mayoral rule when top Democrats were leading the mutiny?
The name most frequently mentioned on Team Mutiny is former one-term Congressmember Lynn Schenk. For those who were in diapers when Schenk was in Congress in the ’90s, it would be fair to say that she and Congressmember / mayoral wannabe Bob Filner were far from chummy.
“They just absolutely despised each other back when they were in Congress together,” said Don Harrison, long-time chronicler of San Diego’s Jewish community and co-publisher (with his wife) of the online San Diego Jewish World (motto: “There’s a Jewish story everywhere”). “I think they each thought that the other was trying to upstage them.
“They both had mercurial personalities.”
Schenk, who in recent media reports was fairly critical of Filner’s prickly temperament, struck a moving-forward tone when Spin Cycle spoke to her Tuesday.
“I know some in the media would like me to say, ‘Aha! This is my moment!’” Schenk explained. “But this has very little to do with Bob. I know there are people who will say, ‘Yeah, right,’ with the eyes rolling. But this isn’t against Bob as it is pro-Bonnie.”
Filner is keeping a low-key—some might say almost invisible—presence so far on the mayoral trail. (“He still has a day job,” as someone close to his campaign said with a laugh.) Attempts to contact him to discuss these party defections were unsuccessful.
But people who know both of these strong personalities were far from shocked by the revelation that Democrats don’t always fall in line with other Democrats.
One anonymous commenter on a report on the Reader’s website even seemed certain of the answer: It’s simple, they’re Jewish!
Well, yes, Dumanis is Jewish, but so is Filner. In fact, many of San Diego’s big-time leaders have been Jewish: former mayor Susan Golding, former sheriff Bill Kolender, current Rep. Susan Davis (who is said to get along fine with Filner) and, of course, such magnates of philanthropy as Irwin Jacobs and the late Sol Price. The list goes on and on.
Rabbi Laurie described Dumanis and Filner’s generation as “a community in mourning,” with parents or grandparents or other relatives connected to the horrors of World War II, when “one-third of Jewish people were lost, gone, annihilated.”
So, the choice was either to cry all the time, she explained, or “take our sense of loss and tragedy and turn it into something that looked hopeful for the world. So rather than being emotional and spiritual in those days, we became activists.”
Rabbi Laurie, whose name is frequently mentioned as a potential future political candidate, credited Dumanis and Filner for “being Jewish by serving the community the way that they do. I think both of them do it in really, really credible and sincere ways.”
She’d much rather celebrate what many believe will be the end result of the June primary: a Filner-Dumanis runoff in November 2012. “What I wonder is how many other cities have two Jews running against each other for mayor, where Jews have been real contenders for mayor?” she asked. “Considering that Jews weren’t even allowed to live in La Jolla until Jonas Salk came here, this is a really good thing. You can choose among Jews! Really, think about what that means to the city of San Diego.”
Harrison, meanwhile, wonders if the true rift involves Middle East policy. Filner, who’s ruffled some feathers over his less-mainstream assessment of the Israel / Palestinian conflict, may have run afoul of San Diego’s more conservative Jews.
Filner has been embraced by the two-state-solution progressive group J Street, Harrison said, and was the only Jewish member of Congress to sign a letter urging President Obama to “put the onus on Israel” to protect American lives during the recent aid flotilla to the Gaza Strip.
“You could call it infighting, but it’s a matter of deep concern,” Harrison said.
Schenk rejected such speculation. “That’s dumb. I trust Bonnie’s character,” she said. “And I don’t trust Bob’s judgment.”
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