Pasadena mayor speaks softly -- and keeps winning

Times Staff Writer

Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard proudly credits his landslide reelection March 6 to voters finding him effective -- and dull.

“My political style,” deadpanned Bogaard, 69, explaining his win of a third term with 89% of the vote, “is to actively pursue [voter] boredom.”

Not so his only opponent, 25-year-old Aaron D. Proctor. A self-described goth, he wears eyeliner and debated Bogaard with his platform for rent control and ending the city’s $3 overnight parking fee. Proctor ran his campaign via cablecast television interviews and on his website with YouTube video.


Even in defeat, he praised Bogaard’s courtly manner and widespread appeal to Pasadena’s 146,000 residents. He said Bogaard could have mocked Proctor’s work experience as a video store clerk, his studded leather jacket with 22 rock band buttons, or “the fact that I wear makeup. But Bill did none of that.”

Other than saying that Bogaard “is about 170 years old,” Proctor added, “I really couldn’t find anything wrong with Bill.... What’s not to like?”

Based on the election results certified by the city clerk late Thursday, it would appear that voters in this city known for the Rose Parade and Rose Bowl concur.

There will be an April 17 runoff election among candidates for Pasadena’s 1st and 2nd District council seats because none earned more than 50% of the votes, but Bogaard was reelected to his third term by about a 9-to-1 margin.

A retired corporate securities counsel and husband of the city’s most formidable historical preservationist, Bogaard in 1999 became the city’s first elected mayor since 1911. Previously, the council appointed the mayor and vice mayor for one-year terms.

Bogaard had won election to the City Council, on which he served from 1978 to 1986, including a term as appointed mayor. His enduring appeal among voters daunted any political establishment opponents.


“I think there is an almost unprecedented sense of connection and access to city government because of the mayor,” said Bernard Melekian, Pasadena police chief for the last 11 years.

“Most people think of Pasadena as two square miles of mansions and once a year we have a parade,” Melekian said. “And the reality is that this is the [seventh-largest] city in the county, it’s ethnically and economically diverse.... It’s a very complex city.”

Indeed, Bogaard had few if any outspoken critics during the campaign. Several observers said it didn’t hurt that the 22 1/2 -square-mile city is thriving with a vibrant downtown and strong real estate market.

Only 10 miles from downtown Los Angeles, Pasadena’s office vacancy is at a stunningly low 2.4%, down from an already low 7% a year ago, according to the Cushman & Wakefield brokerage firm. All 7.6 million square feet of Pasadena’s industrial space is leased, down from a 0.1% vacancy a year ago.

About 110,000 people are employed in the city, Bogaard said. Providing more affordable housing for those who can’t afford to live in Pasadena is a goal during his next four years as mayor, an office for which there is no term limit.

New and denser building is planned near the Gold Line light-rail line in the commercial core, but some residents worry that it will mar Pasadena’s stately charm.

“When you add developments, you bring more traffic, and when you inconvenience people more than before, there will be a reaction to that,” said Ken McCormick, a member of the city’s now-dissolved affordable housing commission and of a group working to revive Colorado Boulevard around the Pasadena Playhouse.

McCormick met Bogaard during the 1970s while trying to save old buildings during the birth of the city’s historic preservation movement. He was an investment banker at First Interstate Bank, where he introduced Bogaard, who became general counsel for the bank’s holding company, First Interstate Bancorp. After Wells Fargo merged with First Interstate Bancorp in 1996, Bogaard left to become a full-time visiting law professor at the University of Michigan. From 1997 to 1999, he was a part-time law professor at USC. He also worked part time in arbitration.

McCormick said that if anyone can bring the community to a civil consensus as it grows denser and more urban, it is a man married to Pasadena’s most potent preservationist.

Claire Bogaard co-founded Pasadena Heritage, the city’s powerful historical preservation group. Bill Bogaard wrote the group’s bylaws. He may be mayor, but it is often said that anyone wanting to build in Pasadena had better get Claire Bogaard’s blessing.

She and most of their family celebrated his victory on election night. A few days later she left for Rome, and could not be reached for comment.

In a large Victorian off South Orange Grove Avenue, the couple raised four children. Their daughters live in Spain. One works for an English-language publisher, the other teaches English. Their eldest son leads a Seattle-based national group that works to protect wild salmon. Their youngest son is a San Marino police officer. They have four grandchildren.

They met on a blind date when she was attending the University of San Diego studying Renaissance history and he was majoring in English and philosophy at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. They soon married.

The couple lived in Morocco while he served as an Air Force meteorologist. After he earned his law degree at the University of Michigan, the couple settled in Pasadena. He joined the bank, she joined the Junior League; he served on the City Council in the 1980s, and she fought -- and usually won -- preservation battles.

In the late 1990s, City Council fights devolved into arguments so intense that at least one elected official publicly cussed out another. “It was not the Pasadena way,” Bogaard said.

He ran for and was elected mayor in 1999 and is roundly credited with restoring what he called “old-fashioned civility” to city affairs. He was reelected in 2003 with 85% of the vote.

“He’s the best I’ve ever seen at bringing that really balanced approach to problem-solving so that everyone feels we’re doing our best,” McCormick said.

“When I first came to Pasadena someone told me quite accurately, ‘We have every big city problem you can imagine, but we know each other’s names,’ ” Melekian said. “The mayor seems to be at every meeting and at every event. He’s there to listen. He’s the real deal.”

Undramatic is good, Bogaard said.

“My success has come from remaining calm, speaking last, letting other council members speak first. As a result,” he added dryly, referring to televised council meetings, “the cable TV ratings have plunged.”