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Hayden Picks Veteran Activist to Lead Statewide Organization

June 11, 1987|ALAN CITRON | Times Staff Writer

Assemblyman Tom Hayden, who belonged to the generation that did not trust anyone over the age of 30, has handed over the reins of his statewide political organization to a 29-year-old political activist from Santa Cruz.

Cathy Calfo, who serves as secretary of the state Democratic Party, was named the new executive director of Hayden's Campaign California this week. She was chosen over 20 other candidates.

"She was the youngest applicant we had, but she has packed a lot of experience into her 29 years," said outgoing director Jack Nicholl, 43.

Calfo has been active in Democratic Party politics for more than a decade. She was a teen-age volunteer in Hayden's unsuccessful 1976 Senate campaign, and has been involved in voter registration drives and social causes. She works for Santa Cruz County Supervisor Joe Cucchiara.

Ardent Feminist

Calfo described herself as an ardent feminist. She said Campaign California, which has 35,000 members and an annual budget of about $1.7 million, will continue its commitment to child care, toxic control and liberal political candidates at the state and local level, but may also branch out next year by backing a candidate in the 1988 presidential campaign.

"We are at a turning point right now," said Calfo, who will be paid between $34,000 and $39,000 a year. "But the group has a very bright future. We have intelligent and effective staff and we are skilled at winning elections."

Calfo, who was reared in the San Fernando Valley, said Hayden and other liberal activists from the 1960s inspired her to become involved in politics. Nicholl said she is a natural for the director's post because of her "strong management abilities and progressive political orientation."

Hayden (D-Santa Monica), the group's guru, said he was impressed by Calfo's "activist credentials." The Santa Monica assemblyman said Calfo brings good leadership skills and strong Democratic Party grass-roots ties to Campaign California.

"She has proven herself to be a leader who can work well with a wide variety of people and she has been very effective in the Democratic Party as a statewide party official," Hayden said. "Those were the key factors."

Campaign California will celebrate its one-year anniversary next month. It is the successor to the Campaign for Economic Democracy, the controversial political group that Hayden, a former Vietnam anti-war activist, founded in the wake of his 1976 Senate defeat.

Support From Fonda

The Campaign for Economic Democracy was a grass-roots organization supported largely by profits from the Workout, the exercise conglomerate headed by Hayden's wife, actress Jane Fonda. The organization made strides at the local level by helping to bring rent control to Santa Monica and working to get its supporters elected to local offices. But it also made enemies by advocating redistribution of the nation's wealth and other radical causes.

Hayden tried to win broader acceptance for the group after he was elected to the state Assembly in 1982 by moving it away from its more radical positions, but the effort was largely unsuccessful. Detractors continued to assert that economic democracy was a code name for socialism, and the Campaign for Economic Democracy drifted politically, suffering some major defeats such as loss of the majority on the Santa Monica City Council.

Hayden has had better success with Campaign California, which focuses most of its attention on statewide issues. With offices in Santa Monica, San Francisco, San Jose and Sacramento, the group enjoys a strong membership base. It is also less dependent on the revenues generated by the Workout. Nicholl said half of the group's $1.7-million budget comes from canvassing.

Backed Proposition 65

Campaign California also has made political strides. Along with Hayden and Fonda, it was the major financial backer of Proposition 65, the statewide toxics initiative approved last year. The group also backed Los Angeles City Councilwoman Gloria Molina and Councilwoman-elect Ruth Galanter in recent races. Nicholl said he is happy with the group's progress, and added that he is leaving because the major reorganization work has been completed.

"I built the organization up and helped it grow," said Nicholl, who is looking for another job. "I was getting tired and I needed a different type of challenge. It seemed like an opportune moment to pass the baton to a person with fresh energy."

Calfo said she will stay the course set by Nicholl and Hayden, but she added that one of her goals is to recruit more members from her own generation.

"I feel that the organization has a bright future and that we will be leaders for the next generation of Californians," Calfo said. "And my presence will put the organization more in touch with the new generation."

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