A year after a rough-and-tumble campaign for Congress nearly grounded her political career, an upbeat Harriett M. Wieder said Friday that she will seek a fourth term on the County Board of Supervisors.
After her unsuccessful bid to win the Republican primary in the 42nd Congressional District last spring, there was widespread speculation that the 61-year-old Wieder might retire from active politics when her term as supervisor ends next year. She entered the congressional race as the favorite but finished a distant second after her damaging admission that she had lied about receiving a college degree on various resumes over 25 years. She even failed to carry her hometown of Huntington Beach.
But rather than fade away, Wieder has bounced back with renewed vigor and ended political guessing about her future on Friday by saying that she will run for reelection in the 2nd Supervisoral District in June, 1990.
"My agenda is not complete," she said in a phone interview. "I've still got a lot of work to do."
Though her grip on the 2nd District is considered firm, there are at least two challengers on the horizon: Westminster City Councilwoman Joy L. Neugebauer and former Huntington Beach Councilman Jack Kelly. Both Neugebauer and Kelly said that Wieder's decision will have no bearing on any plans they might have to run.
"As the saying goes, 'A new broom sweeps clean.' Harriett has been a great innovator. But a change in leadership is always healthy," said Neugebauer, a Westminster council member for 17 years and the city's first popularly elected mayor in 1984.
Said Kelly, whose two terms on the Huntington Beach council ended in 1988: "Wieder has been fine, but anybody's work can be improved upon. I believe I would make a better candidate, largely because I can deliver results."
Wieder, the only woman to serve on the County Board of Supervisors, readily acknowledges that her ill-fated run for Congress has invited candidates to oppose her.
"There is no question that the congressional race didn't do a lot of good for my career," she said. "It may come back to bother me. But I'm tough."
And she is apparently resilient, political experts say.
"To misquote Mark Twain, the reports of Harriett Wieder's demise have been greatly exaggerated," said Harvey Englander, a Newport Beach political consultant. "Harriett has a strong grip on that seat, and I don't see any substantial opposition out there."
Still, Wieder, who had a recent brush with cancer, said she is taking nothing for granted. "I know there are a lot of people that covet this seat," she said. "It's a honor to serve, and I won't give it up lightly."
Wieder will officially launch her drive for reelection June 29 with a $250-a-person fund-raising dinner at the prestigious Center Club in Costa Mesa. She predicted that it will cost at least $250,000 to retain the 2nd District, which includes Huntington Beach, Seal Beach, Los Alamitos, Stanton, Cypress, and parts of Garden Grove and Westminster, as well as the unincorporated community of Rossmoor.
Since her election to the board in 1978, critics and foes alike agree that Wieder has evolved into a crafty politician who knows how to read issues and generate publicity for herself. Her style is brassy and bombastic. But she is widely admired for taking on tough issues, such as water and air quality.
Wieder founded the Southern California Water Committee, a coalition of business, civic and government leaders in eight Southern California counties organized to formulate policies on key water issues facing the state. She is also the Orange County representative on the board of directors of the South Coast Air Quality Management District and has helped spearhead local efforts to ban oil and gas drilling off the Orange County coast.
She said the recent settlement in the 15-year battle over the Bolsa Chica wetlands is one of her most significant achievements as a supervisor. Wieder played a pivotal role in forging the agreement between preservationists, developers and local officials, who were at odds over how much development should be allowed in the wetlands.
"That issue has been my jail, my airport," Wieder said. "It has dragged on and on and on. Finally, we've got something solid. I want to see this through."
Earlier this year, Wieder's health had been a subject of concern among friends and political allies. Physicians discovered what Wieder described as a "tiny amount" of cancerous tissue in one of her breasts. The tissue was removed during a lumpectomy, and Wieder said that recent tests have shown no recurrence of the cancer.
"I'm feeling great," she said. "I've been given a clean bill of health and I'm ready for four more years."
Besides Wieder, Board of Supervisors Chairman Thomas F. Riley and Supervisor Don R. Roth are up for reelection next year. Riley, 76, said he will not announce his plans until later this year, though most observers believe that his advancing age and poor health weigh against another run. Roth, however, plans to seek reelection.