Los Angeles Fifth District City Councilman Paul Koretz ’79, has felt a call to public service for just about all of his life, and to think others wouldn’t feel the same is rather “mystifying” to him.
The councilman has worn many political hats during his time in the public spotlight — including West Hollywood mayor, state assembly member and his current position as the de facto city steward for Westwood. And during that time, Koretz has never kept UCLA too far from his heart over the years.
“It is a mystery to me that it is even a fight to maintain a better education system for California,” he said.
Koretz attended UCLA in 1973, first as a political science major and then switching to history.
“My parents were skeptical, but it turned out to be right on target and really a good grounding for me and my future political activities,” he said.
Koretz kept busy, noting that probably the most meaningful thing he did at UCLA was to be a part of the founding fathers of the Bruin Democratic Club (fellow UCLA advocate Rep. Brad Sherman was a peer).
“I took the slow route to graduation — almost six years — but I was active in the club all that time,” Koretz said. “I spent too much time politicking and not as much on my studies, but I think it worked out appropriately.”
The Koretz household is actually full of Bruins — his wife, Gail, graduated in 1984 and his daughter, Rachel, just graduated in 2013.
Although Koretz was always aiming to be a political advocate, he said he was never really expecting to do so from the dais himself.
“I was always involved, but I’m kind of a shy person, so I didn’t really expect to be an elected official,” he said.
In fact, Koretz took time off during his time at UCLA in 1975 to run for a seat on the Los Angeles Unified School District– he lost handily. From then on, he decided to be the person behind the scenes, ultimately helping to elect Alan Viterbi to the first ever West Hollywood City Council.
However, when Viterbi decided he was done with city politics after one term, he tabbed Koretz to make a run for his seat.
“Next thing I knew, I was a council member,” Koretz said with a laugh. A political career was born.
In 2000, Koretz was elected to the California State Assembly, where he could advocate for UCLA on important issues, especially the state budget.
“There are always efforts to cut back the UC system, cut back all of higher education,” he said. “I tried to fight hard, and most of that is behind the scenes, trying to convince your own caucus to support it. But I fought hard to do that and keep tuition down at all levels of higher education. I thought that was critical.”
Koretz said he never really had a crystalizing moment that made him the public advocate he is today.
“I sort of grew up with it,” he said. “My father was very active in his union as a rank-and-file member. So I was carried on picket lines before I could walk. That level of activism I sort of grew up with.”
His parents were also steady volunteers for the local Democrats. Koretz said he remembers taking it a step further as a youngster, going door-to-door campaigning for Tom Bradley at age 12.
When looking at the future of advocacy, Koretz said people should look no further than the crisis all around them.
“I look at it and say, in the next 10 to 20 years, if we don’t get a handle on this, we may have such severe climate change that even the survival of the human race might not be guaranteed. So, how can you not get involved? And if you look at cutting the heart and soul of the state, which is really our university system, it just makes no sense, it’s close to insanity. And yet, we consider it as an option.”