Eric Garcetti, the first Jewish mayor elected by Los Angeles voters, jokingly refers to himself as a “kosher burrito”, the latter word referring to a popular Mexican dish.
The son of a Jewish mother and a father of Mexican and Italian descent, the hip, good-looking Garcetti, 42, was a popular figure at Oxford’s L’Chaim Society when he attended the university as a Rhodes Scholar between 1993 and 1995.
LA, incorporated as a municipality in 1850, has had Mexican-American, African-American and lots of Anglo mayors, but in this year’s race the top three contenders all had strong Jewish ties.
Mr Garcetti’s chief rival was city controller Wendy Greuel, a gentile but married to a Jewish lawyer and with a son who attends Hebrew school. The third top candidate was city councilwoman Jan Perry, an African-American who converted to Judaism many years ago.
Ms Perry was eliminated in the primary, leaving Mr Garcetti and Mrs Greuel to battle it out for the leadership of the city of nearly four million residents, including some 600,000 Jews, the second largest Jewish community in the US.
While Jews represent only six per cent of registered voters, they make up nearly 20 per cent of those who go to the polls, especially in largely ignored municipal elections.
Mr Garcetti and Mrs Greuel played heavily to the Jewish vote, with both pledging during a debate at Sinai Temple that their policies would be guided by the principles of Judaism.
Mr Garcetti went one step further, recalling that his maternal ancestors had had to flee pogroms and advocating financial assistance for poor Jewish families so that they could send their children to Jewish day schools.
In the end, Mr Garcetti beat Mrs Greuel by eight percentage points, but neither Jewish nor gentile voters were strongly influenced by the candidates’ Jewish ties.
Political analysts agreed that voters were much more concerned with such mundane issues as a looming municipal budget deficit of $216m and which candidate would do a better job fixing the potholes in the city’s streets.