Mayor Barbara Doerr has never been one to cozy up to the Establishment. In her hometown of Chicago--where Republicans are almost as rare as surfers--Doerr campaigned door-to-door for GOP Sen. Charles Percy during the early 1970s.
And since moving to Redondo Beach 10 years ago, Doerr has repeatedly taken on the political and business establishment: In 1981, in her first run for public office, she soundly defeated incumbent David Hayward, and now, in seeking a second four-year term in the March 5 municipal election, Doerr is battling the city's business community, which has thrown its considerable political muscle and finances behind the candidacy of two-term Councilman Jerry Goddard. (A third candidate, airline pilot Gary Smith, has not mounted much of a campaign so far.)
"I am the residents' representative at City Hall," she declared in a recent interview.
To her political opponents, the 41-year-old mayor is seen as outspoken and intractable.
"If there's a difference of opinions or philosophies, I find it virtually impossible to discuss my differences with her because the mayor squints her eyes, sets her jaw and shakes her head 'No,' " said Councilman Archie Snow.
But supporters, including leading citizen activists who have fought to restrict development projects, glowingly praise her resolve and principles.
'She Hasn't Changed'
"The one thing you always hear is that once you get in office you change, you see a different side," said Tony Baker, who competed with Doerr for mayor in 1981 but is now her staunch supporter. "Well, she hasn't changed, she's the same person she was when elected. She's taken a lot of abuse, criticism and smearing and stuck to her convictions. And she has for the most part done everything in her power to fulfill her campaign promises."
In her own eyes, Doerr is a "strong and firm" leader. While some observers refer to her as the Jimmy Carter of Redondo--mostly because of her meteoric rise and popular support base--Doerr prefers to think in terms of "Rough and Ready" Teddy Roosevelt or Ronald Reagan (both Doerr and Goddard describe themselves as staunchly conservative Republicans).
"You know what he stands for," said Doerr of President Reagan. "He's not wishy-washy, and he's not changing, jumping back and forth on the issues depending on who's putting on the pressure."
In her own case, Doerr stands for caution--or, to opponents, unfair restrictions--concerning new development.
"I wouldn't say it's no growth versus growth," Doerr said, comparing her outlook to that of the pro-development Goddard. "But I believe growth has to be managed and controlled."
Doerr, what's more, appears unafraid to carry that message straight to the den of the enemy. Unlike several other candidates who are opposed by city business leaders, Doerr did not boycott a recent election forum at King Harbor staged by a newly formed political group called AWARE (Active Women About Redondo's Environment).
"I know there are candidates who have chosen not to attend the forum because of the origins of this organization," said Doerr to the audience, referring to the fact that AWARE's directors are also leaders of Goddard's campaign organization. "But I believe as mayor I must work with all members of this community."
Doerr proceeded to quote nationally known developer James Rouse, who helped create such projects as the Faneuil Hall-Quincy Market restoration in Boston and the Baltimore Harborplace: "Growth is a marvelous thing to harness and use for the vitality of the city, and it can be a terribly destructive thing. In too many cities of the West, they're going to awaken 5, 10, 15 years from now to a polluted, congested, deteriorating environment."
Doerr concluded that she has promised "to represent the residents of Redondo Beach, not special interest groups."
Although she can be combative, the mayor, with her quick laugh, does not project a formidable image. And while some may say she is not overly intellectual in her approach, she nonetheless is politically crafty, carefully backing issues she views as having the support of the majority of city residents.
So far, she has proved correct. Not only did she trounce Hayward in her first election fight, but she also supported the victorious side in two major city ballot initiatives last year, one in which voters narrowly agreed to save recreation facilities at the closed Aviation High School campus and the other in which voters agreed by a wide margin to halt a citywide road-widening project along Flagler Lane.
It's a long way from Chicago for the former Western Electric computer programmer. A decade ago, when she and her husband of 20 years, Bob, moved to South Redondo--his employer Amoco Chemicals transferred him here from the Midwest--she never dreamed of someday becoming mayor.
Indeed, at first Doerr--who has a 3-year-old daughter, Cynthia--was content to return to college at California State University, Long Beach, to complete her bachelor's degree in political science (she graduated in mid-1980).
Over the years, however, she became deeply involved in the League of Women Voters, for which she served as an appointee to a county committee studying the contracting of services for county government.
She also focused increasingly on city issues, serving as a member of the Redondo Beach Crime Prevention Committee (She was recommended for the post by Goddard) and eventually becoming a regular attendee of City Council and city commission meetings.
"When we moved here I was disappointed at the kind of development I saw along the coast," Doerr explained. "I attended many council meetings. I did not like the way people who were coming to those council meetings were treated by the mayor. And I also disagreed with the positions taken and the philosophy of the mayor."
Forging a small but active coalition of similarly unhappy citizen activists, many of whom are again supporting her, Doerr ran for mayor. She campaigned for a halt to unresponsive government, high government costs and overdevelopment, winning 4,076 to 2,439.
Life as mayor, though, has not turned out to be a breeze.
With a majority of council members--particularly Goddard, Ron Cawdrey and Doerr's one-time ally Snow--stacked against her, the mayor has often been forced to make her point through her veto powers.
"(The veto) is a tool I can use," she said. "I've always tried to represent my point of view on issues, especially the more critical issues."
But in several instances--including a proposal for a 156-room hotel and health club at King Harbor--her vetoes have been overridden.
That has led to her use a second tool--support of citizens' ballot initiatives such as the successful ones on Aviation and Flagler Lane. Doerr is currently co-sponsoring a measure that would limit new development in the King Harbor area--including the King Harbor hotel project--that may be brought before city voters later this year.
Council meetings have sometimes proved rocky too. Occasionally, discussions have degenerated into point-counterpoint tiffs between Doerr and Snow--with Doerr forced to pound her gavel to restore order.
Doerr, indeed, has sometimes looked as if she was about ready to haul off and whack Snow with the gavel. Doerr denies she has ever become that angry, saying, "No, (pounding) the table is fine."
As mayor, Doerr has also spent many hours undertaking the largely ceremonial tasks of attending community observances and awards banquets.
Even then, she has not been immune to indigestion. Take the crazy day she served as a judge for a 40-contestant TRW chili cook-off during the afternoon--and then rushed home, changed, and ran back out to serve as the city's representative at a sit-down awards dinner.
In her first few months on the job, Doerr said, she was repeatedly faced with the embarrassing situation of being taken as the mayor's wife when introduced. But it does not bother her excessively, she said, particularly because she has made the same mistake herself with other mayors.
As for outright experiences of sexism on the job, Doerr said that opponents might tend to characterize her as stubborn rather than strong because she is a woman. Her difficulties with Snow, however, cannot be attributed to sexism, she said, because Snow often insults people he disagrees with.
To Doerr, who says she works 40 or more hours a week on the part-time mayor's job, major achievements of her first term have included helping stop the Flagler Lane project, making average citizens feel that their views will be listened to at City Hall and saving one-third of the Aviation campus for city-run recreation facilities.
During a second term, she said, she will seek to complete the Aviation recreation project and help update the city's general plan--with a close look at the issue of residential density.
Doerr bristles at criticism that she is anti-business.
"That's a foolish statement," she said, pointing to her support of an plan that would have allowed shops in the Triangle Redevelopment area to remain open if their owners could agree on a plan to rehabilitate the shopping district in the vicinity of King Harbor.
"When I came into office, the majority of the City Council determined we would respect the property rights of the owners of that property and businesses," she said. The businessmens' effort failed, and now a Sheraton hotel is slated for the site.
During her first term, the mayor has not been immune to foot-in-mouth syndrome. In one instance, she drew flak when she was quoted as suggesting that a group of day laborers--primarily Latinos and believed to be in this country illegally--who traditionally waited for work at a North Redondo street corner should be persuaded to congregate instead in neighboring Lawndale. Doerr claims that her statement was misinterpreted.
At this point, Doerr, who had a campaign war chest of about $5,000 in mid-January, mostly from small contributions, is confident of victory, saying she will win the votes of residents concerned about the "character of the community and the quality of life."
She is also looking anxiously toward the concurrent City Council election, which could turn the council tide in her favor if Snow is not reelected and if City Treasurer Alice DeLong wins election to Goddard's vacant council seat. DeLong is one of Doerr's leading supporters, along with Baker, City Clerk John Oliver, longtime political activist Henry Burke and residents Frank and Alice O'Leary and Frank Bostrom, who led the Flagler referendum fight.
Views on Chamber
Doerr asserts that she is also backed by many small businessmen, whose views are not always taken into account by the harbor-oriented Redondo Beach Chamber of Commerce. The chamber, she said, "might be jeopardizing their own (nonprofit) status" since its leaders are so ardently supporting Goddard.
As for her own ambitions, Doerr, who under the City Charter cannot serve as mayor for more than two terms, is noncommittal.
"Early in this term," she said, "I realized you can't look beyond what you're doing.
"If I can be reelected based on what I've done, so be it."