It was the kind of celebration that seldom comes to Los Angeles City Hall.
Ruth Galanter cried for joy. So did many of her supporters on the day nearly four years ago when she became a member of the City Council.
Even her small acts--responding softly "here" to the council roll call--inspired shouts of support and an extended ovation from supporters who packed the council chamber.
After all, not only had Galanter unseated Pat Russell, the council's powerful president, she had done it while recovering in the hospital after a brutal stabbing in her home nearly killed her. She had won by taking on "Big Developers" with the help of a funky band of liberals in the 6th Council District. She had become the champion of average people who, by extension, saw her as their crusader on every issue.
The size and enthusiasm of the crowd that watched Galanter's every move that day created powerful images--and anticipation--at City Hall.
"People expected her to be some sort of Leon Trotsky on land issues," says one council colleague.
Says another: "The expectation was of some fire-breathing anti-growther."
But as Galanter heads into a June 4 reelection runoff against county supervisorial deputy Mary Lee Gray, City Hall colleagues and observers say two things: Those early expectations were unreasonable and the reality of her tenure has been much different.
Trained at Yale University as an urban planner, the 50-year-old Galanter is now known around City Hall as an unreformed technocrat who can pick through a committee report or dissect a proposed ordinance with the fervor of a Talmudic scholar. She seems less comfortable, sometimes almost shy, in speaking in public or lobbying for votes to support her position, both friends and foes say.
Colleagues say that she is not interested or adept at the political maneuvering that surrounds many issues at City Hall, preferring instead a "just the facts" discussion of the matters at hand. Ironically, one supporter and one critic used the same phrase to describe her style: "She is just not a player."
And on the growth and development issues that powered her to City Hall, Galanter has proved to be far from the dogmatist that some hoped for and others feared. Doug Ring, a lawyer and lobbyist who frequently represents developers, said he is supporting Galanter's reelection and donated $500 to her campaign because he has found her willing to discuss issues reasonably, even if she does not always support his positions.
Others in the City Hall Establishment have found Galanter reasonable as well, as evidenced by a "Max-out Party" held this year in her honor. A City Hall who's-who of nearly 40 lobbyists and politicos sponsored the cocktail party at a downtown hotel, giving other guests the opportunity to donate the maximum legal contribution of $500.
Galanter has been a surprise at City Hall on more than just development issues. For instance, she voted against an ethics and council pay raise package that was approved last year by her colleagues and voters. She also fought against initial proposals for greater council control of the Community Redevelopment Agency, which foes have accused of favoring big developers.
If people have been surprised by her stands, Galanter says, it is often because the issues are oversimplified by her colleagues and the media.
In the ethics debate, for example, Galanter objected to the measure tying together three separate issues: limits on outside employment and income for city employees; a 40% pay raise for council members, and public campaign financing.
Supporters such as Councilman Michael Woo said that in the wake of allegations of ethical impropriety against Mayor Tom Bradley, it was important to reassure the voters of the honesty of government. Thus, despite its catch-all nature, the ballot measure was needed, Woo and others argued.
"Most of the people on the council jumped on an oversimplified, media-genic position," Galanter says in a raspy whisper, the lingering result of the throat wound she suffered in the 1987 stabbing. "They were not willing to go through the thing in detail and look at what it really was."
Her position has been vindicated, said Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, by continuing calls for rewriting some of the law's confusing financial disclosure provisions.
On increasing council oversight of the CRA, Galanter said she believed the early proposals "would cause more political trouble than they would solve." She eventually supported changes that give the council the authority to overturn CRA actions without granting the elected officials control over every routine action the agency takes.
Friends and foes alike say that even when logic is on her side, Galanter has been misunderstood because she has not mastered the game of political "spin" control.
"Tooting her own horn is not one of her strengths," said Councilman Marvin Braude. "But that doesn't make her any less virtuous or admirable."