Nurse and activist Jennifer Esteen is running for Assembly in the East Bay.
Nurse and activist Jennifer Esteen is running for Assembly in the East Bay.

State Jewish legislative caucus’ primary endorsements are a diverse bunch

Among the Jewish candidates running for seats in the state Assembly in the June 7 primary election, seven now have the endorsement of the California Legislative Jewish Caucus.

The 19-member caucus announced its endorsements Tuesday of Jewish Democrats running for the Assembly — four of whom are women. The list includes Jews of color, Jews who identify as LGBTQ and one, Christy Holstege, who is a “Jew by choice,” according to a press release. Holstege recently completed a one-year term as mayor of Palm Springs.

The seven candidates “are people that we think are going to be good partners in working with us to advance the Jewish community’s top priorities in the state capital,”  said caucus chair Jesse Gabriel.

Two of the candidates are running in the Bay Area.

Jennifer Esteen, 41, a nurse who is seeking public office for the first time, would become the first openly gay Black Jew in the Assembly if she prevails in the primary and then the Nov. 8 general election. She is running in District 20, an area spanning Fremont to Castro Valley.

The other endorsed Bay Area candidate is Steve Schwartz, 56, a farmer and nonprofit director in Sebastopol running for the Assembly seat in Marin County’s District 12 against three other Democrats. He is the son of a Holocaust survivor.

Dawn Addis (Central Coast), Daniel Hertzberg (San Fernando Valley), Josh Lowenthal (Long Beach) and Andrea Rosenthal (Palmdale/Lancaster) also have the endorsement of the caucus, which serves as a voice in the Legislature for California’s Jewish community and works to support vulnerable communities through its tikkun olam agenda.

Christy Holstege
Christy Holstege

In addition to the seven already mentioned, the endorsements included the caucus’ own current members who are seeking re-election in the Legislature, though not all caucus members are running again.

“We have a number of people who are retiring,” said Gabriel, referring to Assemblyman Richard Bloom (Santa Monica) and state Sen. Bob Hertzberg (San Fernando Valley).

Marc Levine, who is running for California insurance commissioner, has vacated his Assembly seat (which Schwartz is running to fill). Meanwhile, state Sen. Steve Glazer (Contra Costa County) is running for state controller; should he lose, he will continue serving in the Legislature.

Gabriel noted that the caucus didn’t endorse every Jewish candidate running to serve in the Legislature. Some did not seek the group’s endorsement, and others the caucus declined to endorse “for a variety of reasons,” he said.

Given our commitment to pluralism and inclusion, we are also particularly proud that our slate reflects the beautiful diversity of our Jewish community.

Gender parity is something the caucus is striving for, Gabriel said, and the four women on the endorsement list reflect the group’s effort to “affirmatively recruit and support Jewish women running for office.” The caucus currently includes four women, all of whom are running for re-election: Susan Rubio in the Senate and Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, Blanca Rubio and Laura Friedman in the Assembly.

“Given our commitment to pluralism and inclusion, we are also particularly proud that our slate reflects the beautiful diversity of our Jewish community,” Gabriel and Sen. Scott Wiener (San Francisco), caucus vice chair, said in a joint statement announcing the endorsements. Wiener is not up for re-election as his term is set to end in 2024.

Andrea Rosenthal
Andrea Rosenthal

One underrepresented voice that Gabriel feels is missing from the caucus is that of Mizrahi Jews (of Persian and Middle Eastern descent), who make up a large community in his Southern California (Woodland Hills) district.

“If you look at our slate of candidates, that’s a noticeable absence,” Gabriel said.

Fighting antisemitism, strengthening Holocaust education and uplifting vulnerable Californians are all core values and goals in the caucus, he added. Deepening the California-Israel partnership is also part of the caucus core.

When candidates applied and interviewed for the caucus endorsement, they were asked to talk about their views on the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement and on Israel, including whether they’ve spent any time there, Gabriel said.

He mentioned how in June 2019, at the California Democratic Party State Convention in San Francisco, a group of pro-Palestinian activists lobbied the Democratic Party to put language in the party platform that would deny Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.

“We’ve pushed back very, very fiercely on those types of things,” Gabriel said. “Understanding that the people that we endorse and support would be allies and partners in our work to make sure that we’re standing up against antisemitism and those types of things were very important.”

The outcomes of the June 7 primary election, and then the Nov. 8 general election, will determine how much the caucus is able to grow, if at all.

“A lot of this [election] depends on whether we get bigger or smaller,” Gabriel said. “So that’s a good reminder for everybody to go vote.”

Emma Goss
Emma Goss

Emma Goss is a J. staff writer. She is a Bay Area native and an alum of Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School and Kehillah Jewish High School. Emma also reports for NBC Bay Area. Follow her on Twitter @EmmaAudreyGoss.