With Howard Berman’s defeat for reelection in 2012 and Henry Waxman retiring this year, I thought I would look back on the early years of the Waxman-Berman political operation – how it came about, why it became so effective and my experience in going up against them.
Waxman first ran for public office in 1968 when, at the age of 28, he defeated 28-year veteran Assemblyman Lester McMillan, who represented a district based in the Los Angeles Fairfax area. He won the Democratic primary with 64% of the vote. His campaign manager was a young political consultant named Michael Berman, Howard’s brother.
I first became aware of the team in 1972, while I was serving as the Los Angeles County Field director for the Nixon reelection campaign. That year Berman ran for the Assembly in a southern San Fernando Valley district, going on to defeat veteran GOP Assemblyman Charlie Conrad, a former Assembly Republican Leader. Michael Berman again managed the campaign.
I was keeping a close look on the Conrad race, because the Nixon campaign was making plans on a get-out-the vote effort that included turning out Democratic voters that were indentified as being supporters of Nixon.
The Conrad campaign was quite concerned about this and one afternoon one of their campaign volunteers turned up at the Nixon headquarters with a computer generated letter with the letterhead reading: BERMAN VOTERS FOR NIXON, having all but endorsed Nixon for reelection.
The decision was made to not get out the Nixon Democratic vote in the Conrad district, though he still lost the race.
Following that race, I took the time to check out who this Michael Berman was, and why he was so successful.
You must understand that during the late 1960s and early 1970s, political direct mail was almost exclusively printed material with little or any targeting
Computer generated mail was just coming onto the scene and what Michael was able to do would make today’s National Security Agency (NSA) proud.
His objective was to obtain as much data on each individual voter that was legally available. This began with the obvious, such as name, address, party registration, gender and how often one voted. But at that time, one’s occupation was also included on the voter registration form, and the voter signatures on petitions to place ballot measures on the ballot were available to the public (the latter is no longer legally available).
If you were a Republican businessman who signed a petition to place a gun control measure on the ballot, you would receive a specific message channeled to you. The same if you were a retiree, factory worker, medical professional, college student, government worker, etc.
In 1973, Gardena City Councilman Paul Bannai, a Japanese American Republican, was elected to the Assembly in a Special Election in a race that had an 11% voter turnout. The district (old 67AD) centered around Gardena and north Torrance.
In 1974, the state Supreme Court redraw district lines and significantly changed Bannai’s district, removing north Torrance and adding the Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts, which dropped the GOP registration from 37% to 29%.
Shortly thereafter, Jack Mayesh, a young West Los Angeles businessman and close political ally of Waxman and Berman, moved into the district and entered the Democratic primary. Michael Berman’s skills where no match to the eight local candidates on the ballot, and Mayesh easily won the primary.
I was asked to do the race. Knowing that there was no way Bannai could win a partisan Democrat vs. Republican race in a 29% district, I made the decision to make the issue of Mayesh being a carpetbagger and the puppet of a powerful west Los Angeles political machine.
Shades of Edward Snowdon, I exposed them by sending out several mailers informing voters that this political machine had a computer hidden somewhere in Los Angeles that had data on each and every one of them, including their occupation, political views on ballot measures, along with other personal information.
It worked and Bannai won the race by a margin of 320 votes.
Oh, I went against Michael and the Waxman-Berman machine again a few years later and narrowly lost. They were good.