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12 Years on Council Turns Picus Into Savvy Politician

Joy Picus used to be called the “Mary Poppins of the City Council” because of her always smiling, schoolmarm demeanor.

But after 12 years on the Los Angeles City Council, the former suburban housewife has evolved into an outspoken feminist and savvy politician who enjoys strong financial backing from corporations and developers.

“She’s worked her district well, attended community meetings religiously and paid attention to little nuts-and-bolts issues like traffic signs and street closings,” said a veteran City Hall political consultant.

Phone Number Listed

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The 58-year-old councilwoman, who represents the west San Fernando Valley’s 3rd District, is one of the few council members whose home phone number is listed.

“I really pride myself on the fact any constituent who wants to see me gets to see me,” she said. “I recently got a call at 5 a.m. from an irate constituent who was awakened by noise. . . . He felt if he was going to be disturbed, I should be disturbed too.”

Joy Newberger was born in Chicago on Nov. 8, 1930, a month before her father died.

“My mother named me Joy because my father had been ill, and she told me I was the only happy thing in her life,” Picus said. She was raised by her mother, who supported the family by managing an apartment house.

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She entered the University of Wisconsin at age 16. After graduating with a degree in political science, she married. She followed her physicist husband, Gerald, to Washington, had three children and moved to California with him in 1959.

Picus got into politics through her community work with the Cub Scouts, PTA and League of Women Voters. “I used to bring Cub Scouts to City Hall to be introduced by their City Council member,” she recalled.

Feminism caught up with her in 1964 when a female friend was denied an appointment to a nonpartisan position because of the woman’s husband’s political activities.

“That was my awakening,” Picus said. “Until that time, I had no problem being Mrs. Gerald Picus.”

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In 1973, Picus ran for the council seat held by Donald Lorenzen but lost by 551 votes.

Later that year, she won election to the West Los Angeles Resource Conservation District. In 1977, Picus ran again for the council. This time, she won by 5,000 votes. She credited her victory to Lorenzen’s pushing through a street-lighting project in the district over strong objections from property owners who would have to pay the bill.

Won Reelection

Picus has won reelection despite charges that she is too liberal for the conservative district. Renters have appreciated her support of rent control. She has successfully campaigned among older voters. And she has a strong electoral base among fellow members of the Jewish community.

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Picus, named one of Ms. Magazine’s 12 women of the year in 1985, once considered running for mayor and even governor, but she says she is no longer interested in those jobs. “If I were to change jobs, I would like it to be in a major policy-making position for a Democratic governor or president,” she said.

She has been a leader on the council on such issues as child care and has been a leading proponent of recycling as one solution to the city’s trash disposal crisis. Among her accomplishments, Picus authored laws prohibiting discrimination in private clubs and establishing an incentive-based pay raise plan for city department heads.

Her record for the past couple of years includes sponsoring a measure to restrict building in Reseda’s business district until a new development plan can be prepared, and winning council approval for legislation requiring developers of new buildings in Warner Center to pay for traffic improvements.


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