In summary

It’s an old script with an all-too-familiar storyline: The unqualified man benefits from the political machine, bypassing the qualified woman.

By Kate Karpilow, Special to CalMatters

Kate Karpilow writes on issues affecting women and families. She previously directed the California Center for Research on Women and Families at the Public Health Institute.

Every once in a while there’s a political contest that highlights what can go wrong in politics. In 2022, that would be Daniel Hertzberg’s campaign for state Senate District 20. 

Caroline Menjivar is the other viable candidate running hard for the seat, centered in the San Fernando Valley.

Daniel Hertzberg is the son of state Sen. Bob Hertzberg, former Speaker of the Assembly, and recently announced candidate for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. 

Young Hertzberg works for a hotel as a business travel sales manager. Neither his campaign website nor his LinkedIn profile present qualifications we reasonably expect from a candidate proposing to make decisions on behalf of 39 million Californians

There’s no board or commission service or local elected tenure. No expertise building or managing a business, leading a local nonprofit or championing a neighborhood issue. 

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Lacking relevant experience, Young Hertzberg’s campaign markets his enthusiasm and commitment “to fight day and night on behalf of working families.” His campaign website and Twitter and Instagram accounts feature a pile-up of legislative and labor endorsements, secured in many instances, my sources tell me, by his father. 

How else could an untested, first-time candidate raise more than $500,000?

Young Hertzberg, of course, isn’t the only relative to make a bid to “inherit” the office of a family member. Think Jerry Brown, Kathleen too. 

The Arambulas, Burkes, Calderons, Canellas, Lowenthals, Mullins and Ridley-Thomases have also passed the political baton to a family member.

Last year, Assemblymember Mia Bonta won the seat previously held by her husband, Attorney General Rob Bonta; Assemblymember Akilah Weber prevailed in a special election after Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed her mother, Shirley Weber, Secretary of State.

Of note: Mia Bonta and Akilah Weber served as local elected officials – and their campaigns showcased multi-page resumes, reflecting their initiative and abilities.

That’s not the case with Young Hertzberg. 

Menjivar, his opponent, has qualifications that typically appeal to voters. She’s a veteran and the daughter of El Salvadoran immigrants. She put herself through college and obtained a master’s degree in social welfare. She serves on nonprofit boards and has worked in local government – for Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Councilwoman Nury Martinez. Like Hertzberg, Menjivar is a member of the LGBTQ community. 

Comparing the candidates, Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, a former state senator who has endorsed Menjivar, described Hertzberg as “completely unqualified.” She added, “Menjivar’s experience is a hundred-fold more than her opponent and applicable to the work she would do in the Senate.”

Sen. Connie Leyva, who also supports Menjivar, concurs: “I’m sure he is a nice young man, but I’m not sure what value he would bring to the Senate.”

Which makes Hertzberg’s campaign a case study in politics gone wrong – it’s a toxic blend of entitlement, influence wielding and misplaced collegiality.

Young Hertzberg’s entitlement is displayed, first, as an over-confidence that he has the necessary credentials and, second, as an expectation that the Legislature is an appropriate laboratory for his learning curve. 

The senior Hertzberg prioritizes dynasty-building over good governance, using his influence to tip the scales to a candidate not remotely ready to serve.

And the multitude of elected, labor and business leaders who signed on to Young Hertzberg’s campaign as a gesture of goodwill to his father? Let’s call this what it is: machine politics. 

It’s an old script with an all-too-familiar storyline: The unqualified man benefits from the political machine, bypassing the qualified woman, in this case a woman of color.

Susannah Delano, who directs Close the Gap, an organization that recruits progressive women to run for the Legislature, says: “It’s a plot twist we’re sick of, and California can do better.”

It’s too early to make predictions about who might win the seat in Senate District 20. 

One political consultant acknowledged that “endorsements make a difference, but they’re not determinative,” pointing to three recent Los Angeles races where the machine’s candidate lost. 

Leyva sees Menjivar “as the candidate with the fire who will outwork Hertzberg.”

“I want the community to know I have the experience, and they can trust me,” Menjivar said in a Zoom interview.

I reached out three times to Young Hertzberg’s campaign – no response. 

I’m left wondering: Is he hiding behind his father’s political coattails?

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Kate Karpilow has also written about California’s need for a pay equity czar, pregnant women in prisons and jails should be guaranteed a minimum standard of care, California’s new class of superheroes in the battle against the coronavirus, gaps in the state’s plan for early learning, and about the backlog of rape test kits.

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