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Is the Year of the Woman Passing L.A. Mayor’s Race By?

You would think that with 52 candidates in the race for mayor of Los Angeles, there would be plenty of viable female contenders. Having attended a recent candidates’ forum, I’d say we barely have one.

The Year of the Woman, it seems, came and went without making a dent in this town.

I’m no local-politics junkie. The machinations of L.A.'s overwhelmingly male-dominated power structure befuddle me. But when I heard that former Deputy Mayor Linda Griego was going to be at a candidate’s forum last weekend, I decided to check it out. She was one of seven major mayoral contenders who slugged it out at the Pacific Design Center.

Well, six of them slugged it out.

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Griego was a model of correct behavior. Very polite. Very ladylike.

I’d read that she was an advocate for women and small business and is a persuasive speaker. Plus, she has an impressive professional background: She was one of the phone company’s first female field supervisors of repair crews, she has started two successful restaurants, and has received high marks for her performance as deputy mayor in charge of economic development. Clearly, this is a woman who knows how to take charge.

But her performance was subdued at best, lackluster at worst. She was soft-spoken and reticent and, despite her Nancy Reagan-red blazer, she didn’t stand out from her blustery colleagues--she was swallowed by them.

At first, Griego seemed to have little sense of her audience, pitching herself as the champion of “people who have fallen through the cracks” to a room of affluent show-business types--folks whose forum was opened with the announcement: “There is a white Mercedes in the parking lot with its lights on.”

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But then she warmed up and I liked what she said. She talked about the importance of people, not policy; of saving jobs, making the city work. What’s not to like?

But, unlike most of the men on the stage, she conveyed no striking or passionate vision about the city, either.

Sadly, although the male candidates resorted to name-calling and constant interruptions, at least they made themselves heard.

So why is Griego running for mayor? Is she trying to increase her name recognition? Testing the waters for some other political office?

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“I do want to be mayor, absolutely,” she told me. “But I am not a politician. I am not able to pander. The traditional way of running for office is to say one thing to one group and something to somebody else. I am just not that way. I am who I am.”

Maybe Griego’s reticence is born of a good heart and sense of decency, which, judging from the bombast emanating from the candidates’ table, are qualities that have been cast aside by her opponents, especially as the race enters the final stretch.

However, sweetness is not a quality much cherished by voters. A recent Times Poll found that Griego’s is only the eighth most-recognized name on a list of the top 11 mayoral contenders.

Griego may be greatly helped by a recent endorsement from EMILY’s List, the national fund-raising network for women candidates that raised more than half a million dollars for Barbara Boxer’s Senate campaign. It is the first time that EMILY’s List has endorsed a mayoral candidate, said its president, Ellen Malcolm. (The name stands for Early Money Is Like Yeast--It Makes the Dough Rise.)

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And the Fund for the Feminist Majority supports Griego too. Its chair, Peg Yorkin, said she wished Griego had been more aggressive at last weekend’s forum. But, she pointed out, on several occasions, Griego had raised her hand to respond, and though the moderator nodded her way, he never called on her.

“I think Linda is very good,” said Yorkin. “She is feisty when you talk to her. I told her she should have grabbed the mike (which she shared with Nate Holden). She is not a politician, but do we really need another politician?”

Last weekend’s forum, it turns out, was Griego’s first.

“I played by the rules,” she said, “but I will not do it again because there were no rules.”

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That may be the only way to get elected in this town. And it may be the reason the Year of the Woman passed us by.


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