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Professor of political science and Fulbright recipient Raphael J. Sonenshein.

The French Connection

Professor tapped for his expertise on local, national and global politics

May 6, 2008

By Mimi Ko Cruz

When print and electronic media are hot on the trail of stories about politics, race relations and immigration issues in Los Angeles, reporters often come looking for Raphael J. Sonenshein, professor of political science.

Besides responding to media inquiries, the popular professor is a much sought after speaker on California's future as well as the roles of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa at public venues such as last year's Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.

Today, the issues he's examined in L.A. for decades have become what Sonenshein calls "the flavor of the year" in national politics. And, the media wants to know what he has to say about the hotly contested race between Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination and the upcoming general election contest against Sen. John McCain for the leadership of the free world.

"First of all, things are not as bad as they seem for the Democrats," Sonenshein recently told a room full of journalists. "Democrats always think things are worse than they are …. The stuff the presidential candidates are saying is so ridiculous, so absurd, I see it as just fun. I'm such a fan of political rhetoric."

Peppered with humor and poetic insight, Sonenshein's commentary kept his audience, much like his students, enraptured. Little wonder that France is calling—Sonenshein has been tapped to spend the fall semester in Paris as a Fulbright Tocqueville Distinguished Chair Scholar.

"Dr. Sonenshein's proposal to teach and do research at the University of Paris 8's Geopolitics Institute was selected for several reasons: his expertise on minority politics, a topic which is of prime importance in France and for which comparative approaches are extremely valuable; his work on the Los Angeles Charter reform, which demonstrates interest in conflict over territories; his understanding of segregation dynamics and their political consequences in terms of minority empowerment but also potential tensions and conflicts, an issue which is fully linked to the debate on minority integration in France; and his experience with the media, as an expert on elections, and his very valuable expertise at the time of the U.S. presidential elections," said Arnaud Roujou de Boubée, executive director of the Fulbright Commission in France.

Sonenshein will be teaching and collaborating on research with Frederick Douzet, author of "The New Political Geography of California" and a professor at the French university.

"I know that our students and my colleagues will be delighted to work with Raphe as he tends to spur enthusiasm, energy and intellectual emulation," Douzet said. "We are very fortunate and honored to host him for a semester."

Sonenshein, author of "Los Angeles: Structure of a City Government" (2007), "The City At Stake: Secession, Reform and the Battle for Los Angeles" (2004) and "Politics in Black and White: Race and Power in Los Angeles" (1993), said he plans to become a global authority on politics.

"This Fulbright award is an opportunity for me to take my research and kick it up to another level," he said. "I'm going to learn a lot about immigration issues in France, where there is a large population of Muslim and North African immigrants."

As a political pundit abroad, Sonenshein said he expects he will be explaining America's electoral college and telling his European audiences which states to watch in the upcoming presidential election.

"Issues of racial and social integration are very current in France at the moment, and the American experience attracts considerable interest and study," said James L. Bullock, minister counselor for public affairs for the U.S. Embassy in Paris. "Sen. Barack Obama's campaign for the Democratic party's nomination, for example, is a major fascination for the French. Professor Sonenshein will enlighten us on political topics in which the French are interested. I am personally excited to see someone with Dr. Sonenshein's background who can help us assist French academics and political observers to better understand current political developments in our country.

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