TORRANCE — Councilwoman Katy Geissert, a homemaker whose interest in the education and welfare of her five children drew her into civic affairs nearly 30 years ago, is virtually assured of becoming this city's first woman mayor.
At the close of filing last week for the March 4 municipal election, no one had filed to challenge the popular, longtime resident of the Hollywood Riviera area. Unless an unexpected write-in campaign is launched, Geissert, 59, will become mayor of the South Bay's largest city.
Mayor Jim Armstrong, a longtime friend of Geissert who is prohibited by the City Charter from seeking a third term, said he is not surprised that Geissert drew no challengers.
"She's a formidable campaigner with a broad base of support," he said. "I would also like to think that it means there is general approval of the direction the city is heading."
Many Support Geissert
Most homeowner groups are prohibited by their bylaws from endorsing political candidates, but Michael Bedinger, president of the Council Homeowners Assn. of Torrance, said many support Geissert.
"The feeling of the community is that they will support Katy," he said. "I predicted that no one would oppose her. Katy has always been supportive of homeowner and community concerns. She spends a tremendous amount of time on the job."
It was clear in November that Geissert had no major opposition when former Councilman Dick Rossberg, who was rumored to be a candidate, appeared at a fund-raiser for Geissert and endorsed her.
A month earlier, another rumored candidate, Councilman Bill Applegate, had announced he would seek reelection to the council.
The 5-foot, 10-inch Geissert, who seems to favor conservative business dress, downplays being the first woman mayor or being a spokeswoman for women.
"I don't consider myself militant, but I think the very fact that I'm sitting here, women feel more at ease talking to me about problems or issues that they may not feel as free talking to men about.
"It is nothing that I sought long-range as a career," she said of the mayor's job, which is primarily ceremonial and counts only as one of seven votes on the council. The mayor, like the six other council members, gets paid $100 a month. "I'm not out to prove anything, I'm just trying to do a good job."
In explaining why she wants to be mayor, she said, "I feel that I am the best-qualified person for the job, and that I can best serve the city by serving in that position. That's the simplest that I can state it."
Despite the increased visibility that will come with being mayor, Geissert, a Republican since the age of 21, said she would not use the job as a steppingstone to higher office.
Sacramento Doesn't Fit
"It does not fit in with my personal plans," she said "I want to spend time with my family and my community. I look at the Sacramento scene and I wonder how people can survive in that environment. You are so far removed from your constituency and I am uncomfortable with that.
"I like serving right where I am because you are close to your constituency. It can be an annoyance because you don't have much in the way of privacy, but on the other hand I find that a very exciting aspect of local government."
Geissert said that as a student at Stanford University in the late 1940s, she had thoughts of pursuing a career as a correspondent for Time magazine or working overseas for the U.S. Information Agency. But she decided instead to get married and raise a family after receiving her bachelor's degree in journalism in 1948.
She met her husband, Bill, at Stanford, and when he got a job as a mechanical engineer for what was then Union Oil Co. the two moved to San Pedro. After brief stays there and in Long Beach, in 1952 they bought a home in the then undeveloped Hollywood Riviera area of Torrance. The three-bedroom, 1,500-square-foot house on Calle de Castellana, which cost them $15,000, is still their home.
Got Involved in the '50s
In the late 1950s, she got involved in her children's school and youth activities and joined the Palos Verdes League of Women Voters, which was involved at the time in a school bond campaign.
In 1962, she helped establish a league in Torrance and sat on its board for five years.
"That is what brought me more into the broader community and took me from issues to individuals because I was chairman of various activities in the league," she said.
Geissert said the thing that pulled her into local politics was a two-year planning study by the league to help develop a master plan for the city.
"It really brought me into the political process because there were several critical park projects that perhaps wouldn't be here today if it hadn't been for some of the action that was taken at that time," she said. "It convinced me that certain things that I thought were important in the city weren't going to happen unless there were some changes in the political leadership."