When former Rep. Bobbi Fiedler lost last June's Republican U.S. Senate primary, it appeared that the curtain had suddenly dropped on the stormy political career of the suburban housewife who went to Washington.
After all, she had relinquished her "safe" congressional seat to run for the Senate. She had finished a disappointing fourth and won a mere 15% of the vote in her San Fernando Valley base. And, although eventually exonerated, she had suffered through a nationally publicized indictment for allegedly trying to illegally induce state Sen. Ed Davis to leave the race.
No wonder, then, that one pundit wrote: "Her raucous, populist political life may have ended as the U.S. Senate primary ballots were counted."
But nearly a year after the primary debacle, those who expected the combative Fiedler to go quietly into the political night appear mistaken. In fact, a 1989 Los Angeles mayoral race may be in the offing.
Here, for instance, is Fiedler publicly blasting Metro Rail as a boondoggle that "will never be built." There she is at a news conference joining city school board candidate Barbara Romey in denouncing "the school board's backdoor effort to bring back forced busing," the issue that launched Fiedler's political career. Here she is again, encouraging a group of residents who have gathered to fight prostitution on Sepulveda Boulevard.
The Northridge conservative is most visible, however, in about 630,000 living rooms across Southern California twice a week on KABC-TV's top-rated 5 p.m. news show. Since January, she has been verbally dueling liberal commentator Bill Press on issues ranging from a proposed tax to add police in South-Central Los Angeles to surrogate motherhood.
Always the consummate broadcast politician, Fiedler is reaping the kind of media exposure few public figures could readily afford. And she's getting paid to do it.
A year from now, no one will ask, "What's Bobbi Fiedler doing these days?" said Los Angeles-based political consultant Allan Hoffenblum. "You turn on Channel 7 and you see her."
Adds Fiedler: "I get a pretty good reaction from my constituency base, so to speak."
Fiedler's high profile is augmented by the behind-the-scenes role of her partner, Paul Clarke, who is also a paid campaign consultant for Romey and City Councilman Hal Bernson. The media-savvy Clarke, formerly Fiedler's campaign manager, top congressional aide and house mate, became her husband Feb. 16. Each had been married once before.
"Bobbi and I have been doing things as a team for 10 years," said Clarke, a 41-year-old former radio reporter with an impish wit who met Fiedler during the anti-busing movement and who now works alongside her in a cramped office at their three-bedroom home. "So it's a little hard to do something totally separate from each other."
Time of Transition
Fiedler, who left Congress in early January, is at a crossroads. Or, as Roberta Weintraub, a Los Angeles school board member and friend, put it, "a lull between the storms."
Fiedler had hoped to join several corporate boards of directors but said the firms that made her offers were too small and paid too little. She is lobbying for National Technical Systems, a Los Angeles engineering firm that has defense contracts, and Conejo Circuits Inc., a Ventura County circuit-board manufacturer, but says she's not seeking more lobbying clients. She receives honoraria for speaking engagements, although she won't disclose her rates. And she appears on KABC-TV for three to five minutes, usually on Mondays and Wednesdays, but she won't discuss the terms of her contract.
Since leaving Washington, she says, she has also enjoyed more time with her two young grandsons. Despite her graying pageboy, she only recently turned 50, a relatively young age for a woman whom friends and foes alike call "a political animal."
Amid much media speculation and urging by supporters, Fiedler says she is weighing a return to elective politics--less than four months after she cleaned out her congressional desk.
"It's something I think about," she said with typical earnestness during a recent interview, conducted with Clarke at her side. "And I have been thinking about it a lot."
The office most on her mind these days is mayor. Though she says she's six months away from seriously weighing a 1989 candidacy, when she discusses Tom Bradley, who has announced he'll seek a fifth term, Fiedler sounds like she can't wait to take him on.
"I think he's vulnerable," she said. "He has a certain amount of personal popularity because of mere exposure over a lot of years, but I think that's wearing thin at this point, and people no longer feel a strong sense of loyalty to him. Personally, I have always been appalled by his lack of leadership."