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Wall Street to Main Street

Cindy Simon, former Democrat and bond trader, campaigns without controversy.

October 23, 2002|Nicholas Riccardi | Times Staff Writer

San Diego — Cindy Simon seems like a natural today, standing behind a podium in a posh ballroom, talking about business policies like workers' compensation reform and bashing Gov. Gray Davis. But a year ago, she had never made a political speech, and this group -- the Conservative Order for Good Government, open only to registered Republicans -- would not have had her as a member.

Simon, a child of suburban Illinois and former Wall Street bond trader, was a Democrat until she switched to the GOP last year so she could vote for her husband, Bill Simon Jr., in the Republican primary for governor. Uneasy at first with his decision to run for office, she has thrown herself into the campaign with the same practical, hands-on enthusiasm that has marked many of her other unexpected turns. "When she embraces something," Bill Simon said in an interview, "she does it enthusiastically."

With a red, elephant-checkered scarf dangling around her neck, she tells the white-haired Conservative Order crowd that "family, faith and fitness" keep her going each day; that she needs her early-morning walks more than ever during the hurly-burly of campaigning; that California is falling apart under the Davis administration; and that the state is desperately in need of the expertise her husband can bring to Sacramento.

Afterward, the questions start on a high note. "At our table, we've decided you would make a great U.S. first lady," says one man. Simon beams.

But soon, things get complicated. The next questioner says Simon's husband looked bad in his debate against Davis, and a woman rises and asks for Bill Simon's position "on the homosexual agenda and gay marriage."

Simon freezes at the podium. It's a touchy topic -- her husband was barraged with criticism for first pledging to back gay marriage, then reversing his position after his conservative supporters cried foul.

"I don't really feel prepared to talk about that issue," she says, hesitantly. But unlike a more experienced campaigner, she doesn't let it end it there. "Bill is a man of inclusion.... We'll get you that position. I'm not sure what it is."

Simon, 47, likes to call herself her husband's best advocate. "The person who seems even more comfortable on stage than Bill and seems able to communicate her effervescent personality is Cindy," said John Morrissey, a friend and neighbor.

Until the campaign, her full-time job was raising their children: William, 14; Lindsay, 13; and Griffith, 10. Now she can spend 18-hour days on the road, sometimes holding more public appearances than her husband, whose campaign has been dogged by missteps. She wolfs down a sandwich or edamame beans before lunch speeches so she can talk to people. She describes it as a dream job for a biography junkie who devours obituaries because she is fascinated by people's life stories.

"I feel privileged to meet all these people across the state," Simon said in an interview. In an online journal she keeps for the campaign, she elaborates: "Was I really flying on Air Force One? Did I really share a joke with Condoleezza Rice? Was I really standing up there on the stage next to my husband Bill, hands clasped in front of me in nervous excitement, while he proudly proclaimed his victory speech on primary night?"

Woman of many roles

To her friends and family, Simon's charm is that she has managed to play many roles while remaining the same down-home Illinois native who, after 12 years on L.A.'s Westside, still gets excited when she spots a celebrity at her local supermarket.

"While she's been able to accomplish all these things and do all these incredible things, she's still Cindy," said her younger sister, Julie Head. "She's just very natural and down to earth."

Cynthia Louise Stewart was raised in Oak Park, a middle-class suburb of Chicago. Her father, Glen, was a manager at Sunbeam; her mother, Dorothy, worked briefly as a teacher but spent most of her time raising her three children.

Two forces dominated the household: local service and the basketball team at Indiana University, which every member of the Stewart clan had attended or would. The family gathered around the television during the season to root for Indiana; they also stood together at elevated-train stops to hand out fliers for Glen Stewart's successful campaign for the local Parks Council.

At Indiana, Cindy majored in sociology. Many of her classmates were focused on getting jobs after graduation; she was more interested in learning about other people. It was pure happenstance that put her on a track to Wall Street.

The summer after her freshman year, Cindy joined her parents at a church picnic and met a representative from the financial firm Kidder Peabody. He offered her an internship in Chicago that paid 25 cents an hour more than her previous summer job, at the Schwinn bike factory.

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