Michael Berman, who shaped California politics for generations as the mastermind of Los Angeles’ vaunted “Berman-Waxman Political Machine,” died Friday. He was 75.
Berman burst onto the political scene before he was old enough to vote, running Henry Waxman’s first campaign for the state Legislature in 1968 and helping to unseat Democrat Lester A. McMillan, who had represented the Westside for 26 years. But it wasn’t his age or the long-shot win that earned Berman notice, it was his new approach: devising a plan with UCLA sociologist Howard Elinson to harness demographic data to target where campaign mailers should be sent for maximum impact.
Those micro-targeted mailers forever changed how races are won in California and remain standard political operating procedure. Berman used the same approach to carry his brother, Howard Berman, to the Legislature in 1972 over another longtime incumbent. While Michael Berman remained behind the scenes, his methods propelled Howard Berman and Waxman to the top of the political firmament — and kept them there for decades.
The Waxman-Berman Machine, as the trio would begrudgingly be known, became a powerful force that helped elect a network of allies who wielded enormous influence in Sacramento and Washington….
In the 1970s and 1980s, Michael Berman was the go-to expert in redistricting, the once-a-decade process of creating new political maps after each census. He was instrumental in mapping congressional districts that helped Democrats expand their majority. Those methods were not without controversy: Critics said Berman’s strategies manipulated political levers to create safe congressional districts for allies at the cost of fair representation for constituents.
Friends said Berman was a brilliant and blunt Democratic consultant who helped make generations of political careers in the state.
Condolences to his family and friends.