Temple Judea in Tarzana played host to a key debate Tuesday evening between Democratic Reps. Howard Berman and Brad Sherman and Republican candidate Mark Reed. The event was organized by the Jewish Journal, streamed live online, and moderated by Jonah Lowenfeld, who writes the Berman v. Sherman blog for the Journal.
About 800 people attended the event, organizers said, with the crowd filling the synagogue's 500-seat sanctuary and the rest standing or watching in a side room.
Republican candidate Susan Shelly was not invited to participate.
Topics included foreign policy issues such as how the United States and Israel should deal with Iran's nuclear program; national issues such as the Obama administration's recent policy statement on contraception and the candidates' stances on super PACs; and local topics such as the legality of marijuana in Los Angeles and Sen. Barbara Boxer's recent endorsement of Berman.
Berman, who had three super PACs and now has two, said that he "supported a constitutional amendment to overturn" the 2010 Supreme Court ruling that allowed them, and added that he had no control over the super PACs set up in his name, "... none of which I coordinate with." He called Sherman's offer to sign a pledge rejecting super PAC money "a gimmick."
Sherman rebuffed Berman, saying, "Howard, you can’t have your super PAC and eat it too."
When asked by the moderator to share their views on medical marijuana (Patch recently reported that the city is considering a 'gentle ban' on pot shops), Reed said he agreed with its use for medical purposes, but that dispensaries were often misused as places in which "you get stoned."
Berman cautioned that medical marijuana and the decriminalization of marijuana were two distinct issues that were in danger of becoming conflated.
"People that have illnesses that need treatment should be able to get it. Don’t confuse decriminalization with that," Berman said.
Sherman said he agreed with the legalization of medical marijuana and, with the proper zoning, its dispensaries. It should, he said, be considered for medical use only: "Not, oh gee, I've got an itch on my forehead and I'd like my weed," he said.
"... [T]he candidates, seasoned veterans who found their homes drawn into the same San Fernando Valley congressional district during last year's redistricting, managed to lob zingers at each other while defending their positions on foreign trade agreements and efforts to halt piracy of music and movies.
The most contentious issue in the forum ... concerned so-called "super PACs," through which corporations are allowed to donate unlimited amounts to elect or defeat candidates, so long as they don't coordinate their activities with the candidates' campaigns."
Joel Fox, who writes about business and politics on his Fox & Hounds blog, likened the face-off between the two Democrats to a boxing match between two heavyweights. Fox, a political consultant, said Reed "was on the scene, too, and he got in a few sharp blows."
The debate was also a topic Wednesday morning on KPCC's Madeline Brand Show, in which reporter Frank Stoltze played a few interviews he had with Jewish voters who attended the Tuesday night event.