Roberta Weintraub, the longest-serving member of the Los Angeles Board of Education, was honored Monday in an emotional retirement ceremony celebrating the controversies and quirks of her 14-year career.
From the strident anti-busing campaign that won her election in 1979 to her penchant for fitness and big, dangling earrings, Weintraub was honored as a passionate force for whatever cause she embraced, and as a woman whose ever-changing image and interests reflected the city around her.
"No other elected official has shown so much growth over time and has been so impossible to pigeonhole," board member Mark Slavkin said of Weintraub, who is leaving to campaign for the breakup of the Los Angeles Unified School District. She also said she may pursue a partisan political career.
Long identified as a conservative voice for the San Fernando Valley, Weintraub, 57, was a brassy doctor's wife when she joined the school board and is still remembered for angering the African-American community by calling Rita Walters--at the time the board's only black member--a "bitch" on a live radio broadcast.
But on Monday, a dignified Weintraub fought back tears as unlikely allies talked of how she had defied their expectations.
African-American board member Barbara Boudreaux, a former principal, remembered Weintraub for being unafraid to visit her inner-city school. "You just stepped out of the car and I appreciated that," she said. And City Councilwoman Walters, though not present, was the sponsor of a council resolution passed in Weintraub's honor.
In the most emotional moment of the ceremony, Boudreaux also thanked Weintraub, whose younger son Michael died in a car accident nearly eight years ago, for her kindness when Boudreaux also lost a son.
Other well-wishers included retired Superintendent Bill Anton and City Councilwoman-elect Jackie Goldberg, the liberal former school board member whose platforms so often clashed with Weintraub's.
"Some people called us 'Frick and Frack,' and at times it seemed we were on opposite ends of the world, pulling at each other," Goldberg said Monday, as she presented Weintraub with a bouquet of red roses. "But one thing made it possible to work together and that was knowing how sincere she was about what she believed in."
Weintraub served four terms on the board and was elected its president three times.
Though she began as a conservative Republican and staunch anti-busing opponent, she has championed liberal causes over the years, such as equal pay for the district's women employees.
Two years ago, Weintraub switched party affiliation, prompting speculation that she wanted to leave the school board for political office--possibly the seat held by longtime ally state Sen. David A. Roberti (D-Van Nuys), who must retire in 1994 because of term limits.
Last year, she angered many parents and school activists, who accused her of betraying the Valley's interests by supporting a district reapportionment plan with boundaries designed to get Latinos more voting power on the board.
She did not seek reelection to a fifth term this spring, and her seat representing District No. 6 will be filled by Julie Korenstein.
At a reception in her honor, Weintraub said she was still undecided about running for political office but that the "door is open."
For now, Weintraub said she plans to hit the national lecture circuit when not working with Roberti on breaking up the district.
Waxing nostalgic as she nibbled on fresh fruit and trail mix set out in her honor, the health buff said she has changed along with the Valley over the years.
"There's no resemblance to the Valley of yesteryear," she said. "So I'm happy with what I've done."