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December 08, 1987|TED VOLLMER

'I'm not interested in the public sector any more.'

Over 18 years, Pat Russell built a political base at Los Angeles City Hall that most local officeholders only dream of attaining.

From a community activist outsider, Russell rose to the position of pre-eminent insider, eventually becoming Mayor Tom Bradley's powerful alter ego on the City Council. As council president for four years, Russell also frequently served as mayor whenever Bradley was out of town.

Her diminutive physical appearance belied the fact that Russell had climbed mountains for years and had run marathons, 10Ks and other endurance races. A ready, disarming smile masked her skillfulness in brokering from behind the scenes such important and complex policy issues as development, traffic and air pollution.

In recent years, Russell's position on these matters, however, began to alienate constituents in her district, which included the Venice, Westchester, Baldwin Hills, Palms, Mar Vista, Los Angeles International Airport and Crenshaw areas. Instead of the limited growth favored by Russell and Bradley, many of her Westside-area constituents wanted even tighter restrictions on the development that they blamed for traffic congestion and smog.

To them, Russell was not listening to their concerns and on June 2, they voiced their frustration at the polls by voting her out of office.

Today, Pat Russell tends to her garden. At 63, she still climbs mountains, and, friends say, she is still running.

But with her reelection trouncing by political novice Ruth Galanter, Pat Russell the power politician is becoming a memory. As a public figure she has all but disappeared.

The most complex project that the former councilwoman has been involved in lately has been the planning of her daughter's wedding.

And from all appearances, that's just fine with her.

"I've really been catching up on things," said Russell in a brief telephone interview. She then added politely but firmly, "I'm not really ready to talk about what I'm doing until after the beginning of the year."

It was not just with a reporter that Russell has guarded her new-found privacy.

One of Russell's closest colleagues on the City Council, Joy Picus, said that while she talks to Russell periodically and finds that her spirits are "wonderfully high," her friend has not revealed much about her future. Several other former aides and political associates echoed Picus, all using descriptions similar to Russell's own--"catching up on things."

"She is talking to people in the private sector in order to make some future plans," Picus said. "She has not been any more specific than that." But Picus added that whatever Russell decides, it will probably not involve a political office.

When it was rumored several months ago that Bradley would name Russell to a vacancy on the Board of Public Works, Picus said she asked Russell straight out if there was any basis for the story.

"She said, 'Absolutely not. I'm not interested in the public sector any more.' "

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