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.