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Diary of a First-Time Candidate

December 01, 1985|BOB WILLIAMS | Times Staff Writer

What was a shy, sheltered lady like Cindy Miller doing in the middle of an aggressive campaign for a seat on the Palos Verdes Peninsula school board?

There she was through the months leading up to the Nov. 5 election, taking on a school board president who was backed by the Peninsula's political and social Establishment, speaking up at forums, racing from one kaffeeklatsch to another, fielding questions from skeptical reporters, stuffing mailers and licking stamps, walking door to door.

It was not at all what one would expect of a woman who had been voted the most bashful girl in her high school class and who, until she plunged into politics, would never have dreamed of challenging any authority figure.

"Getting into a political race was so totally uncharacteristic of me that I still can't believe I did it," said Miller, a 43-year-old Rolling Hills housewife and former librarian. "I kept thinking that somebody else must be doing this."

Like many other ordinary citizens who try their hand at politics for the first time, Miller said that anger with the actions of officeholders was her primary motive for giving up the comfortable obscurity of private life.

She said she was angered by the district's handling of school closures and other problems brought on by declining enrollment, and determined to do something about it--in effect, echoing the age-old cry to throw the rascals out and let a newcomer take charge.

Miller's personal reflections are taken from tape-recordings that she made for The Times during the campaign and after the election. Additional material was obtained through periodic interviews.

The purpose of the project was to chronicle the experiences and impressions of a first-time candidate for public office. But the real story of Cindy Miller's venture into politics--one that may hold lessons for others--is in the personal victory that she and her friends say she achieved in the campaign.

"I once heard a radio psychologist say that death and public speaking are the two things that people fear most. Death will come when it will, so I can't do anything about that. But when I finally decided to run for the school board, I knew I would have to do something about the fear I've always had when I get out of my comfort zone."

Over the years, Miller recalls, she made several attempts to overcome her shyness in public by getting involved in community service. Once she filed for the Peninsula Library Board, but then quickly withdrew when she realized that even running for an uncontested seat entailed some public speaking.

Some time later she signed up for a leadership seminar, thinking that it might help bolster her self-confidence. She was fascinated by the speaker's assertion that influencing other people involves skills that can be learned by almost anyone.

"I had always believed that leaders were born," she said. "If you weren't born a leader, you followed. Somebody has always told me what to do and I would do it. Someone has always run my life."

In retrospect, Miller said, she believes that the control began in the middle-class Boston home where she grew up. Her parents provided for all of her needs and kept her sheltered and protected, but she could never do anything completely right.

'Always Qualifiers'

"Whatever I did, I could have done it a little bit better," she said. "I was praised, but there were always qualifiers. Eventually, I became my own worst critic--and so incredibly shy. Really, a very solitary person. Whenever there was a social event, nobody knew I was there."

She attended Michigan State University in the early 1960s, when the whole world seemed turned upside down. "When the feminist movement came along . . . it didn't seem to have much to do with me."

She knew Tom Hayden, the assemblyman, when he headed the radical Students for a Democratic Society at Michigan State, and Rennie Davis, who like Hayden was to become a member of the "Chicago Seven." Once she stayed up all night typing a paper for them.

"But I didn't really feel involved in a personal way," she said. "Well, in a fruity sort of way I was involved, but I never felt swept up by what others thought were the cosmic issues of the day."

An Issue Was Born

About 20 years later an issue came along that affected her in a personal way--the well-being, education and future of her 12-year-old son, Matthew.

In 1983, the year that Matthew entered the Dapplegray Intermediate School, the district trustees took up a proposal to close the campus and consolidate its students in a 7th-through-12th-grade configuration at Miraleste High School.

"The idea of putting kids of Matthew's age on a high school campus was just totally crazy and unacceptable," Miller said. "When I heard about it, I got really angry and upset. I had to find out what was going on."

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