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Defeated Councilwoman : Stevenson Lashes Those Who ‘Ganged Up’ on Her

Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles City Councilwoman Peggy Stevenson was down, but not yet out. So on Wednesday, as she waded through the ashes of her loss to Councilman-elect Michael Woo, Stevenson, usually a woman of few words, had her say.

Forget that tenet about being gracious in defeat. Stevenson, 61, had nothing left to lose. When asked, she seized the opportunity to lash out at those elected officials she said “ganged up” on her and caused her defeat, ending a 16-year Stevenson reign by her and her late husband, Councilman Robert J. Stevenson.

Her sometimes-bitter comments in her council office Wednesday contained fire and conviction--ironically, the very qualities her opponents said she largely lacked during her 10-year council tenure. On Wednesday, surrounded by supportive longtime friends, she laid most of the blame at the feet of state Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles), Woo’s former employer.

“Sen. David Roberti, that’s R-O-B-E-R-T-I, had a vendetta, and he won, he finally won,” Stevenson said. “Why? Because Roberti hates me, and that’s the gospel truth.”

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The bad blood between her and Roberti, who also represents Hollywood, goes back several years, stemming from various conflicts including Stevenson’s reluctance to endorse candidates he favored and her refusal to hire his wife, Stevenson said. After Roberti failed to exert influence on her office, he eventually backed his legislative aide, Woo, to run against her, she said.

Roberti strongly denied as an “absolute fabrication” the notion that his wife ever wanted to work for Stevenson. The decision to run against Stevenson “was completely Michael Woo’s. He worked six years for it,” said Roberti, who gave Woo $48,000 in contributions and loans.

He and Stevenson had disagreed about endorsements in the past, Roberti said, “but I don’t hate her. It’s a friendship that faded, that’s true.”

Stevenson also had some choice comments for elected officials aligned with the Westside political organization of Democratic Reps. Howard Berman of Studio City and Henry Waxman of Los Angeles. Waxman, and others associated with the organization, endorsed woo.

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Sees a Trend

“I’m concerned that we’re beginning to see a new trend, the end of nonpartisan control of the council,” she said. “I predict there’ll be another attempt in two years by the Berman-Waxman machine to oust another council person. . . . I only take orders from the people who elected me, not the machine.

“I’m not a sore loser; I’m speaking honestly. I’m not doing anyone a service if I don’t tell people what I feel.”

Stevenson’s mood Wednesday, she said, was one of “mixed emotions.”

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“Being an elected official is wonderful. I have high respect for the City Council, and I’ll never forget that I was among the delegation that went to Athens to bring the Olympic Games here,” she said. Stevenson, who is of Greek heritage, also speaks the language. “On the other hand, in 16 years of public life, and I’m counting the time my husband was in office, you have no private life. On the way in today I saw a dirty street and stopped before I remembered, ‘Gee, I won’t have to worry about that any longer.’ ”

1969 Campaign

Although elected after her husbands’s death in 1975, Stevenson’s political career really began in 1969 when she managed his first campaign.

“I was always interested in politics. Bob shared his public life and business life with me,” she said. She recalled how Robert Stevenson was an early advocate for gay rights, “even though many people tried to tell him it was political suicide. But I agreed with him and carried that on, although I paid the price in hate mail. Because I gave a proclamation for Gay Pride Week, I had mail calling me a fallen woman.”

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The gay community in general did not desert her at the polls, she said, “but a lot of the gay spokesmen you hear about now were just kids when Bob and I took our stand in 1969.”

Reapportionment of her district since the last election also hurt her this time, she said. But she saved her harshest criticism for other elected officials who opposed her, including two council colleagues, Zev Yaroslavsky and Marvin Braude. “I’ll never forget that,” she said.

View of Members

Yaroslavsky and Braude said they disagreed with her on development and environmental issues. Other council colleagues, although they did not oppose her, had said privately that Stevenson didn’t seem to care much about issues except around election time. Her critics have been heard to wisecrack that Stevenson’s biggest contribution to council discussion is that she often moved to end it.

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“She’s blaming every conceivable source for her defeat but herself,” Yaroslavsky said. “She has to accept it without looking for excuses.”

Most of her council colleagues Wednesday consoled Stevenson, coming over to hug or kiss her. But council members also were quick to offer reporters praise of Woo, their new colleague with whom they must deal.

Even Councilman Joel Wachs, Stevenson’s close friend who ushered her into Wednesday’s council meeting, gave credit to Woo for winning a tough campaign. Wachs even thought of an “up” side to his friend’s defeat. Because council members sit alphabetically, Wachs will sit next to Woo, which means “I won’t have to sit next to Zev anymore,” a smiling Wachs said of his political rival.

Stevenson, who enjoys traveling and is a rabid UCLA sports fan, plans to spend more time with her 29-year-old son and his wife, and says she will work in private business.

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“But not lobbying,” she said. “I’m not interested in being a politician anymore.”


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