THOUSAND OAKS — To her friends, she is the Thomas Paine of the pizza biz, bravely spreading the good word about a bad politician on the boxes of outgoing pies.
To her foes, she is the Cruella De Vil of deep dish, harnessing her pepperoni-based power source for nefarious political purposes.
In her own view, Jill Lederer is neither, though "The Pizza Queen," as she has become known, concedes the rags-to-riches story of her Domino's pizza empire does have an all-American, fairy-tale quality.
Just a few years out of college, Lederer sold her little Toyota and many of her belongings to open her first pizza shop in Thousand Oaks in 1983. She walked to the store every morning, tossing pies and mopping the floor late into the night.
The Long Island native came to California and chose Thousand Oaks for her Domino's business after seeing the movie "E.T." and realizing the state's homogenous suburbs were the perfect breeding ground for pizza franchises.
Her entrepreneurial gamble paid off handsomely. Lederer now owns 10 Domino's pizza shops in the Conejo and San Fernando valleys. Her BTR Inc., named after Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run," now employs about 250 people.
She recently traded in her Porsche for a BMW. Her vanity plates read "PZZA MKR." She is happily married. Pizza profits are raining down like sprinkles of mozzarella. Life is pretty darn good.
But there is still that outspoken councilwoman, Elois Zeanah.
As Lederer, 40, is first to admit, she has a personal beef with Zeanah dating back to Lederer's days as president of the Conejo Valley Chamber of Commerce.
Lederer contends Zeanah tried unsuccessfully to recruit her into the Zeanah political camp, then turned vicious when Lederer chose to manage Andy Fox's successful 1994 City Council bid--charges Zeanah strongly denies.
Zeanah, Lederer says, is bad for Thousand Oaks--so bad that she must be recalled now, even though she faces reelection next year.
And Lederer is not afraid to put her money or her business reputation on the line to take her down.
Lederer decided earlier this year to send out notices promoting the Zeanah recall on all pizzas at her Thousand Oaks locations--a practice she quickly stopped not because of the criticism it sparked but because of concern over the safety of her employees, she maintains. She is also one of the people funding the current recall drive against Zeanah, though she declined to reveal the level of her support.
"Elois Zeanah has gotten significantly worse in the past year," Lederer said in an interview at her Thousand Oaks headquarters. "To wait another year and a half is to prolong the divisiveness on the council. There is no doubt that the problem with Thousand Oaks is Elois Zeanah. She governs by intimidation."
Zeanah, of course, sees things much differently. In her opinion, it is people like Lederer who are besmirching Thousand Oaks politics by spending big money in hopes of altering the democratic process. Zeanah estimates that in the last year alone, Lederer has spent at least $40,000 on city politics.
"Jill Lederer doesn't like me because she's become part of the old money-making machine in town, and those people don't want me to talk about the truth," Zeanah said. "I will not sell out to them or the developers, and that's why I'm their target.
"I have ordered Domino's, but I never will again," she added. "A business wants to stay neutral. They don't want to make enemies, they want to sell, in her case, pizzas. And that hate mail showed she was willing to take a personal risk to hurt me. That showed she had a political agenda."
Lederer began her pizza career in the way many teenagers start and finish theirs, working the phones at Domino's on the campus of her college, Ohio Wesleyan University. She found that she enjoyed the hubbub of a pizza parlor and often went to class bleary-eyed after working until 3 a.m.
"I was majoring in human psychology and fraternity parties," Lederer quipped. "I was pretty disinterested in school. But I liked pizza."
After graduating in 1979, Lederer moved to Manhattan to work for Simon & Schuster, the publishing giant. But after a year in the Big Apple, she realized she missed the pizza business too much. She decided to make pizza her life.
Lederer soon found herself at the University of North Carolina campus in Chapel Hill, managing a Domino's store frequented by the school's fabled college basketball team, which then featured a young player named Michael Jordan. A picture of the superstar in full tongue-dangling flight still hangs in her office.
After a year in North Carolina, Lederer moved up the corporate ladder to Indianapolis, where she oversaw the building of 11 new Domino's stores as well as the training of new employees and management.
But it was cold and snowy in Indiana, she said, and the experience of seeing "E.T." made her long for California, still virgin territory for Domino's at the time.