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Tammy Bruce, Outspoken President of NOW's L.A. Chapter, Resigns

Feminism: She says she will start a new group with Denise Brown that will be dedicated to women's and children's issues.

May 07, 1996|SHAWN HUBLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Tammy Bruce, the outspoken and provocative president of the National Organization for Women's Los Angeles chapter, announced her resignation Monday, five months after she was publicly called on the carpet by NOW's national president for her comments on race in the wake of the O.J. Simpson case.

Bruce, who garnered national attention with her condemnation of Simpson's acquittal, said she is quitting to launch a new national nonprofit organization dedicated to women's and children's rights.

Working with her at the helm of the nascent Women's Progress Alliance, she said, will be Denise Brown--sister of Simpson's slain ex-wife, Nicole. The Mid-Wilshire-based organization, which also will have offices in New York and Washington, will focus on domestic violence, women's health issues, family equity and the image of women in the media, Bruce said.

"We both have been controversial," Bruce acknowledged, "and we both will remain controversial. . . . We also are both people who will not be defined by men who would like to discredit women who call attention to the truth."

Bruce, 33, has been making headlines since 1989, when she was sworn in as the youngest woman at the time to lead a major chapter of NOW. Under her sound-bite-savvy leadership, the Los Angeles chapter grew to become the feminist group's largest branch, and Bruce earned a place in the local pantheon of pundits, commenting regularly on television and on a radio talk show.

During the Simpson trial, however, her comments on the case earned her the wrath of NOW's national leadership and sparked an embarrassingly public rift within the group. Even after Simpson was acquitted, Bruce repeated publicly that she believed that he had killed his ex-wife and Ronald L. Goldman, and complained that the domestic violence implications of the case got short shrift amid all the talk of race.

Shortly after the verdict, Bruce told journalists that she had a message for Simpson: "You are not welcome here, you are not welcome in this country, you are not welcome on our airwaves, you are not welcome in our culture."

Later, she was quoted in an Associated Press report as saying that she did not want to discuss the Simpson case on a TV program because she did not want "to argue with a bunch of black women."

Bruce later said she had been misquoted on that matter, but she did appear on ABC's "Nightline" to discuss the social implications of the case.

"What we need to teach our children is . . . not about racism but is about violence against women," she remarked on the show, prompting NOW's national president, Patricia Ireland, to publicly condemn her for making racially insensitive and inflammatory remarks.

Ireland said the remarks gave black women in NOW the false impression that NOW does not regard racism as a problem, adding that if Bruce did not apologize, the board would move to oust her. Bruce attributed the censure to internal politicking and refused to apologize, prompting four members of the Los Angeles chapter to file grievances against her at the national headquarters.

In an interview Monday, Ireland said that by April the feud had become so bitter that Bruce would not even return the phone calls of NOW leaders working to organize a series of nationwide campus demonstrations. When she stepped down, Ireland said, Bruce did not bother to notify the national headquarters--an omission that was unsurprising since, in fact, she had not spoken to national leaders in months.

Bruce, meanwhile, said the decision to create a new organization was one of two paths her supporters had urged her to take after her falling out with Ireland. It was either branch off, she said, or challenge Ireland for the national presidency, which she felt would have been counterproductive to the mission of the group. She noted that she will continue to serve on the chapter's 10-member board.

Bruce will be succeeded at Los Angeles NOW by Janice Rocco, 25, a UC Santa Barbara student who for the past three years has been president of the group's Santa Barbara chapter. Rocco said her focus will be on such issues as affirmative action, abortion rights and violence against women--a broader agenda than Bruce pushed.

"This is ultimately a move that will be good for everyone," Rocco said.

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