The new president of Planned Parenthood is late for a meeting--foiled by her fame. Or rather, lack of it.
She is locked out of her hotel room at the Westin Bonaventure. But because she is registered under a pseudonym, she can't convince the front desk clerk that she is the true occupant. The only credentials she's carrying are for a Pamela J. Maraldo.
And, well, who's \o7 she?\f7
Pamela J. Maraldo, who took over leadership of the massive Planned Parenthood Federation of America in February, laughs at her predicament, which is in keeping with her style. She is easygoing and effervescent, characteristics that will serve her well as she attempts to replace the formidable--and very recognizable--Faye Wattleton, who led Planned Parenthood for 14 years.
Indeed, if any of the organization's 22,000 employees and volunteers worried that their new leader would be unapproachable, Maraldo quickly doused those concerns.
"I found her extremely genuine, personal and compassionate. But she's very focused on where this organization needs to move," says Margie Fites Seigle, chief executive officer of the Los Angeles Regional Family Planning Council. Seigle, like many family planning professionals, met Maraldo for the first time last week at the federation's annual meeting at the Bonaventure.
And, says Jacqueline Jackson, chairwoman of the Planned Parenthood board, which selected Maraldo from among 100 applicants: "She has an ability to get to know people quickly. People at this meeting greet her as if they've known her forever. She lets people know she is listening to them. And that is so important in such a large organization like this one--to feel listened to."
But, nine months into her tenure, it is equally clear that the nice woman with the friendly smile and tousled hair is no pushover. She is not timid about using the sharpest rhetoric to deliver her messages, such as in her description of the "crazy fringe lunatics" who have the "\o7 audacity \f7 to preach only abstinence to sexually active teen-agers."
Maraldo, 46, is a front-and-center feminist. You don't rise to the position of president of Planned Parenthood without being ready and able to go to war on behalf of abortion rights. But while Wattleton made abortion rights her top priority, Maraldo came into office hoping to make issues other than abortion her focus.
"What I love about this job is working to see women become fully equal citizens," says Maraldo, settling into an empty hotel suite at the Bonaventure after a successful battle with the front desk clerk. (Security was especially tight at the meeting because of past anti-abortion demonstrations.)
"You know, being pro-choice is about more than abortion. It's about respecting the right of privacy in peoples' lives and it's about tolerance. I'm a social reformer at heart."
It's clear that Maraldo feels at home in her role. But she concedes that her first months on the job have hardly been smooth.
A policy wonk who earned her bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in nursing, Maraldo was working as CEO of the National League for Nursing when a search team asked her to interview for the job Wattleton was vacating.
The committee was impressed by Maraldo's far-sighted approach to health care--her emphasis on making greater use of nurses to reduce health-care costs--and deft administrative talents. Maraldo came to the National League for Nursing in 1984, when the organization was floundering, and quadrupled its revenues.
"We knew we needed someone visionary because we knew health care reform was just down the road," Jackson says.
The board was also impressed with Maraldo's insistence that Planned Parenthood needed to re-emphasize its basic mission: to provide health care for women and reduce unwanted pregnancies.
She assumed office with the highest ambitions. Then, on March 10, Dr. David Gunn, an abortion provider on his way to work in Pensacola, Fla., was shot by an anti-abortion demonstrator.
"I thought when I came in that it would be a good time to move the organization beyond the abortion issue," says Maraldo, with the slightest tinge of frustration in her voice. "I thought I would be working in health care. But, instead, I've been spending my time raising money for bullet-proof vests and car phones for security and barbed-wire fences. That has been a sobering reality and a daunting one."
Although abortion rights have greater protection under a "friendly" Clinton Administration, the escalating violence directed at providers and clinics has reduced accessibility to the service more than at any time since Roe vs. Wade, Maraldo says.
So, instead of working on her dream of developing a sex education curriculum for students, Maraldo spent weeks setting up a recent meeting with Atty. Gen. Janet Reno.
"I was desperate to get a meeting," she says. "We felt nothing was being done about clinic violence. We felt impotent. But Janet Reno was very sympathetic and very receptive."