Berman vs. Sherman: Hollywood faves duke it out amid redistricting

Recently, Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen sent out a mass email praising Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) and urging support for his re-election bid, warning that he’s in for an “extremely difficult fight” with a “strong challenge” in the Democratic primary. Left unnamed was his likely opponent: Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), another longtime incumbent.

A new configuration of a west and southern San Fernando Valley congressional district will most likely pit Berman, whose support for industry issues has been so persistent that he’s been dubbed “Hollywood’s congressman,” against Sherman, whose current constituents include many rank-and-file showbiz workers.

The prospect of an intra-party battle for the newly drawn 30th congressional district, which includes Warner Bros., Universal, NBC NBC and the CBS Studio Center, leaves many Democrats unsettled and some industry donors hoping that a way will be found to avoid having Berman and Sherman go up against each other. A battle for endorsements is already under way.

Earlier this month Sherman unveiled a long list of “supporters and endorsees” of elected officials and San Fernando Valley leaders, led by a flattering quote from former president Bill Clinton.

Zach Horowitz, prexy and chief operating officer of Universal Music Group, said in an email that he hopes “at the end of the day they run in separate districts because I would like to see them both remain in Congress.

“While I respect Brad, Howard has been such an effective representative for our community that I will personally support him in this election, and the people I am talking to sound like they will do so as well,” he said. “Like me, many in the industry have personal relationships with Howard, forged over decades.”

Support for Berman is reflected in campaign finance figures: So far this cycle, Berman is the top recipient in the House of contributions from the entertainment industry, and he has been among the top three in every election cycle since 1998, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

That’s why some observers believe that, if push comes to shove, Hollywood leaders will throw their weight behind Berman. Even Sherman acknowledges that Berman has closer relationships to entertainment CEOs. With almost 30 years in Congress, Berman holds high seniority on the Judiciary Committee that has influence over industry issues, in particular copyright legislation, and is the ranking member of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

In that regard, he has a reputation for a hardline stance on the rights of content creators in the digital age. Richard Bates, senior VP of U.S. government relations for the Walt Disney Co., said Berman “knows our industry inside and out” and that members depend on him for guidance about industry concerns. “He is so well respected when it comes to our issues that he is the first call,” he said.

While California’s redistricting effort faces possible legal challenges and even a referendum, Berman said, “I operate under the assumption that if that district is the (redrawn) district, I am running for it.”

Sherman has his own set of advantages as a potential faceoff shapes up — according to the latest campaign finance reports, he has a hefty $3.7 million on hand to Berman’s $1.5 million. His biggest advantage, however, may be that the newly configured district contains so many of his current constituents.

Following passage of voter-backed initiatives, a redistricting plan was devised by a citizens commission, not Sacramento lawmakers. The 30th congressional district includes the homes of both Sherman and Berman, but only about one-fourth of Berman’s current constituents are within the new boundaries.

Much of the rest of Berman’s district was carved out for an east San Fernando Valley district where a Latino representative is expected to have an advantage, reflecting the area’s demographic makeup. Los Angeles City Councilman Tony Cardenas has announced his intention to run for that post.

Meanwhile, given that candidates for Congress are not required to live in the district they wish to represent, Sherman rejects suggestions that he run in a congressional district to the north, in Ventura County.

“Howard would prefer that I run in a new seat that has been created in Ventura County, but currently not a single one of my constituents lives in that district, and if I were to move into that district, I would be moving out of my present district,” Sherman said recently.

At times outspoken and even irreverent, Sherman, 56, has represented the Valley since 1997 and emphasizes his ties to San Fernando Valley leaders. His campaign recently put out the results of a poll it conducted showing that he has a wide lead over Berman. When an expected Republican candidate, Mark Reed, was put into the mix, Berman came in third.

A CPA and member of the Financial Services and Foreign Affairs committees, Sherman also has wooed industry support. Live Nation chairman Irving Azoff held a fund-raiser for him last year, although Azoff has given to both Berman and Sherman this year.

Sherman is chairman of the congressional Entertainment Industries Caucus, and says he will introduce legislation to extend section 181 of the tax code, which provides for an immediate writeoff of the first $15 million of productions. Another corporate tax change he made while he was on the State Board of Equalization in the mid-1990s “is still bearing fruit for those who produce products and movies in California,” he said.

In his quote, Clinton said Sherman “has done a great job for the people of his district and he has a keen understanding of both the challenges facing our country today and innovative ideas on what to do about them.” Sherman said that Clinton provided the quote this summer “well aware of the redistricting possibilities.” Other names on his list include Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, and while Sherman acknowledges that it is possible some may also endorse Berman, he thinks the number who do so will be “1% or 2%.”

On Wednesday, Berman announced his own list of endorsements, including California Gov. Jerry Brown, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

What could really set the race apart is not just the match-up of two longtime incumbents but that they may be facing each other twice, as California’s open primary law holds the prospect of a June primary followed by a November runoff.

Political consultant Bill Carrick said neither candidate has run a competitive race in a long time, meaning that he suspects that there is a great deal of “soft support” in the district or a lot of undecideds.

“The campaign will be fully engaged, and there will be a lot of communications, tons of mail, tons of TV,” Carrick said. “This is going to be one where the campaign really matters.”

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