J.J. Goldberg

Garcetti's Honor: L.A. Scribes to the Defense

By J.J. Goldberg

  • Print
  • Share Share

My post yesterday about Jewish Los Angeles mayors before Eric Garcetti touched off a flurry of exchanges among writers and scholars who study Southern California Jewry. Among the questions raised were whether Abel Stearns’ serving as alcalde (Spanish for mayor) of el Pueblo de Los Angeles in 1850 counts as being a mayor of a city and whether Bernard Cohn’s two-week service as acting mayor in late 1878 counts as having been elected mayor. Probably the most important, however, is whether Abel Stearns, whom I described as the first Jewish mayor of L.A., was in fact Jewish.

For the record, I was relying on a reference to Stearns’ Jewishness that I found in the records of the Historical Society of Southern California, here. Since the questions were raised I’ve done some digging and found reasons to doubt my first source, including files like this.

However, my friends and fellow journalists Tom Tugend and Rob Eshman (as well as L.A. Jewish Journal’s Jonah Lowenfeld whom I hope to count as a friend אי”ה) brought the matter to the attention of a serious student of early California Jewry who happens to be high-power attorney in the entertainment industry. He says the evidence is quite clear that Stearns was not Jewish, whatever the Historical Society says. This isn’t one of those who-is-a-Jew cases, like why do we include Ryan Braun or Gwyneth Paltrow, but simple mistaken identity. Not that it really matters. But if you guys are bringing in lawyers, I’m bowing out.

Here’s what the attorney had to say (I have his full identity, but since he’s a private citizen participating in what he thought was a private conversation, I’ll leave it out):

Hi J.J., Tom, Jonah and Rob,

Sorry for not being Abel to respond earlier.

Without wading into the pueblo v. village v. shtetl debate, it’s irrelevant here because Stearns was not a Jew (notwithstanding the source cited below, which is simply wrong) (See: www.ulwaf.com/LA-1900s/02.01.html). While Stearns was definitely a leading Angeleno, I have never seen him identified as a Jew (or having Jewish heritage) in any other source.

In fact, in a 1981 article on “A Study of Jewish Voters During Grant’s First Presidential Race, 1868” by the late Norton Stern (considered to be the dean of Western Jewish historians) published in the Jewish Historical Society of Southern California’sWestern States Jewish Historical Quarterly, Stearns was specifically identified among a list of “prominent, well known Gentiles.” The first Jew, Jacob Frankfort didn’t arrive until 1841; the first local Jewish political figure was Morris L. Goodman, a member of the first City Council formed when L.A. became an American city in 1850; and Bernard Cohn was the first Jewish Mayor pro tem, elected unanimously by his fellow City Council members (not by the citizens at large) to fill the vacancy when Mayor Frederick A. McDougall died November 16, 1878. Cohn served from November 21 until December 19, 1878.

Since then, similar to Cohn, several other Jews have served as Mayor pro tem pursuant to the City Charter when the mayor has been sick, absent from the state, etc. by virtue of their being President or President pro tem of the City Council (e.g. Joel Wachs, Garcetti, Jan Perry).

So for all these reasons Garcetti isn’t the third Jewish mayor; he is the first popularly elected Jewish mayor.

Hope this helps.

All the best,

Steve


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Ryan Braun, Tom Tugend, Rob Eshman, Los Angeles Jews, Los Angeles Jewry, Los Angeles, Historical Society of Southern California, Jonah Lowenfeld, Lawyers, Eric Garcetti, Gwyneth Paltrow, Bernard Cohn, Abel Stearns

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.