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Parting From Thousand Oaks Proves Bittersweet for Zukowski


She is reunited with her husband in Boulder, Colo., far from the emotional Thousand Oaks politics she was immersed in just a year ago.

But with a stroke of the mouse every morning, as she pores over the day's Ventura County newspaper articles on the Internet, former Councilwoman Jaime Zukowski is transported back to the town she loves.

And she loathes what she sees.

Not from the newspapers, of course, although the softly outspoken Zukowski is still known to call long distance and ever-so-politely critique local journalists if she encounters a story she considers unfair.

For example, that recall effort against Councilwoman Elois Zeanah, her former political ally, which she considers an undemocratic attempt by deep-pocketed business interests to quash Zeanah's viewpoint.

Also, the way her protege, Councilwoman Linda Parks, is treated by her council foes, and the futility Parks encounters in trying to amass the needed votes to accomplish any of her promises to voters--a subject that hits close to home for Zukowski.

"That's how it looks from this side of the Rockies," the 40-year-old Zukowski said last week in a telephone interview. "It's just gotten so bad. Reading about it on the Internet, I get so frustrated.

"Sometimes I feel that if I [hadn't had] to leave, maybe I could have done something to stop what is happening," she added. "But I know I shouldn't think of it like that. There's probably nothing I could have done."

Opportunity lost: That is the way Zukowski feels about Thousand Oaks. And that is one of the reasons, she concedes, that she has found the city so hard to leave behind.

In Zukowski's view, and that of many of her supporters, she would have coasted to a second term last year had she not decided to step down.

Combined with Zeanah and Parks--the leading vote-getter in the election--the three would have formed a new majority that could have accomplished such common goals as limiting campaign contributions, approving a less costly sewer plant upgrade and giving no slack whatsoever to developers.

"We would have gotten it, there is no question in my mind," Zeanah said. "Jaime had the name recognition, and she was known to be a slow-growth fighter."

Or so the thinking goes, anyway. As it happened, Zukowski supporter and political newcomer Dan Del Campo placed third in the two-seat race behind Parks and incumbent Mike Markey.


Markey said he is offended by such presumptuousness. The way he sees it, Zukowski might have won reelection under that scenario, but Parks would have had a tough time even coming close to victory in a race with two incumbents.

"I think it is very arrogant to make that type of remark," Markey said. "I think they're kidding themselves. The fact is, I was reelected. To be frank, I think there is a good chance Zukowski wouldn't have been reelected had she stayed anyway."

Zukowski feels differently, and the notion of missing a chance at a council majority lingers in her mind.

"I do feel that had I run again, I could have been the difference, and that is perhaps why I still keep in touch with what is happening," Zukowski said. "There is some regret on my part. I just didn't have that option. My family came first."

Her husband, Mark, a scientist with Amgen Inc., was transferred from the company's Thousand Oaks headquarters to its Boulder facility more than two years ago. Zukowski initially stayed behind with her two boys, Daniel and Thomas, often flying to visit her husband on weekends.


But after sticking it out for about a year, she concluded that the situation was taking too high a toll on her family and decided to resign from the council--a move greeted with respect even by her political opponents, who acknowledged the personal sacrifice she had made.

Zeanah--who along with Zukowski made up the tight political alliance known as "The Zs"--said that as much as her supporters would have enjoyed seizing a council majority, Zukowski did the right thing by leaving.

"I don't want her to feel badly about it," Zeanah said. "I admire her for staying as long as she did. If she didn't care about Thousand Oaks, she would have left like a faucet turned off. But she hasn't. You still hear from Jaime."

Indeed, although Zukowski now lives far from Southern California, she still finds time to lend her voice--sometimes in person--to local causes when she sees fit. For example, Zukowski flew into town just before last year's council elections to campaign for Parks and Del Campo, and she recently spoke before her former colleagues to criticize a proposal by Markey to black out the public-comment portion of council meetings from television. The proposal was tabled amid mounting public criticism.

And Zukowski still keeps in close contact with Parks, sometimes offering words of encouragement the day after a losing vote.

"She's kind of a little rooting gallery, and it's nice to get her support, it really is," Parks said. "She's been there, and that helps a lot."

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