Between them, Joy Picus and Joan Milke Flores put in almost 30 years on the Los Angeles City Council. They had records of accomplishment, friends in high places and, as their time in office proved, loyal supporters in each of their districts.
But on Tuesday, none of that mattered as much as the voters' thirst for change, and the two councilwomen--from very different parts of Los Angeles--were ousted. In their place, their constituents chose a community relations consultant from North Hollywood and a paint store owner from Wilmington.
For Picus, a onetime activist for the League of Women Voters, and Flores, whose adult life has been spent at City Hall, there was no need for a civics lesson. Both knew what voters were saying and both were resigned to the message--as hard as it was to accept.
So even though it was hardly business as usual Wednesday, Picus and Flores were at their familiar seats in City Hall. And after council President John Ferraro gaveled the meeting to order, each received kind words, condolences and hugs from friends before they embraced each other.
Although both were poised, Flores seemed the more upbeat. She has spent 12 years on the council, but had made it clear in recent years that she was ready for a change. The 56-year-old Republican had twice run for--and lost--higher office since 1989. And if she had won this race, many believe, it would have been her last for the 15th District, which runs from Watts to San Pedro.
Flores knew her district about as well as any politician can; she had spent years learning it as a council aide before ever considering political office. Beginning at City Hall as an 18-year-old stenographer, Flores went to work for the legendary council President John S. Gibson Jr. in 1955 and succeeded him when he retired in 1981.
"Joan's loss was very devastating to the City Hall family because she has had very close relationships with lot of people. . . . She worked her way the council from the bottom up," said Flores' press secretary, Nikki Tennant.
But if the defeat was shattering, Flores did not show it.
"Part of the reason I lost was that voters were going through a tough time," she said Wednesday. "They were losing their jobs, their homes. They were concerned about safety and security and they were just looking for a change."
While Flores' contest was relatively close, Picus' 17-percentage point defeat was decisive.
"Losing is the pits--winning is a lot better," Picus told her supporters Tuesday night when it was clear that she would lose the West San Fernando Valley seat she has held since 1977.
But amid an emotional concession speech, Picus, 62, found comfort in the length of her service and the fact that new council term limits mean no one will represent the 3rd District for more years than she did. "I've left a legacy no one will ever match," she said.
That legacy includes Picus' determined fight for more women in top government jobs and more Valley representatives on city commissions, Ferraro said. Just as Flores was one of the council's best-prepared members, he said, Picus could be among its most pugnacious on such issues as pay equity for female city employees.
"I love this building," a tired-looking Picus said Wednesday at City Hall only hours after her defeat. "Whenever you spend 16 years anywhere, you have a strong feeling about it."
For now, Picus said she plans to spend more time with her three grandchildren. And when she returns to political activism, she said, she will become an advocate for children's issues.
Flores' plans sound similarly flexible. She will spend more time--and play golf--with her daughter, an attorney. "And I will probably do some traveling," she said.
"I always knew I had to go back to the real world someday," Flores said. "And I am looking forward to it."
Times staff writers Lee Harris, Tracey Kaplan, Lisa Richardson and John Schwada contributed to this story.