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California Gold Rush: The Race for the Hottest Job in Congress

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Posted on May 26, 2014

By Bill Boyarsky

(Page 2)

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To a young Henry Waxman, growing up in Los Angeles Jewish neighborhoods—then heavily working class and often poor—this protest was part of life as his fellow Jews climbed upward from the Depression. It helped make him a populist and, in his quiet way, a protester.

Unlike the other candidates, Williamson is tapping into the rebelliousness and fear. “The system itself is rotting from the inside,” she said from the Saban stage. “We have a cancer that is eating our democracy. We have become a legalized system of bribery and corruption. And we as a generation must deal with this. ... The status quo never gives birth to a great era of change. By definition the status quo is happy with the way things are.”

In some ways, “status quo” describes the two best-known Democratic contenders, Wendy Greuel and Ted Lieu, hardworking, cautious liberals. Advocating change within the system, they have made their way up the political ladder making as few enemies as possible.

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Greuel is a former Los Angeles City Council member, city controller and the second-place finisher in last year’s election for mayor. I’ve known her since she started out as an aide to Tom Bradley, Los Angeles’ first and only black mayor, who transformed city government into something reflective of the municipality’s many ethnicities.

As a candidate for mayor, against eventual winner Eric Garcetti, she had a chance of making history—the city’s first female mayor—but she inexplicably played that down. Instead, she embraced the support and money of the union that represents employees of the unpopular Department of Water and Power, headed by a tough-talking caricature of a male union boss. It made her seem a captive of the union guys instead of the warm and smart woman she is in person.

In this campaign, she is making an effort to sound more like a working mom than a politician. A recent appeal for funds came from her husband, Dean Schramm, who mentioned their son Thomas and their plans to celebrate Greuel’s birthday: “I want to do something to celebrate and show Wendy just how well the hard work and long hours she’s been putting in these past few months is paying off. ... Nothing will top what Thomas gives his mom for her birthday. I can’t compete with him. But hey, at least I can come in a close second.” He urged recipients to send Greuel a birthday gift contribution.

She is supported by well-funded women’s political groups, such as EMILY’s List, the National Women’s Political Caucus and the Women’s Campaign Fund.

Lieu started as a city councilman for Torrance, a suburban city in the southern part of the district. Its largely middle-class population, predominantly white and Asian-American, represents a side of Southern California that has little in common with the flash of Beverly Hills, Santa Monica and Malibu. From the city council, he went to the California State Assembly and then the state Senate, always in tune with his constituency and with the Democratic leadership of both houses of the legislature. That ability helped him win the endorsement of the California Democratic Party. His state Senate district covers 80 percent of the congressional district, giving him a big advantage in name recognition.

Lieu is the son of immigrants who brought him to this country when he was 3. They lived in a basement and sold gifts at a flea market, moving up to the ownership of six stores. He graduated from Stanford University and Georgetown Law School, editing the law review there. In the military, he served in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps for four years and is currently an active reserve lieutenant colonel in the Air Force. It’s a good biography for the large number of conservative Democratic voters in the district.

Another Democrat with name recognition is Matt Miller, the middle-of-the-roader who hosts Santa Monica National Public Radio station KCRW’s “Left, Right & Center” show. (Truthdig Editor-in-Chief Robert Scheer occupies the left slot.) Miller is a columnist, lecturer and consultant to corporations and nonprofits and is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, which was founded by Clinton White House power and Obama special adviser John Podesta. I asked Ben Sherman, Miller’s campaign spokesman, whether Podesta had discussed the congressional race with the candidate. “Matt did not speak with John Podesta about running, but John has always been very supportive of Matt’s work,” Sherman said.


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