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Galanter's Style on L.A. City Council Was Blunt

Known for speaking her mind for 16 years, she still says 'She Won't Back Down.'

June 30, 2003|Jessica Garrison | Times Staff Writer

Moments after the Los Angeles City Council voted earlier this month to kill Mayor James K. Hahn's budget plan, Councilwoman Ruth Galanter popped out of her chair and began passing out a flier from her first council election in 1987 that read: "Ruth Galanter -- She Can't Be Bought ... She Won't Back Down."

With a sly smile, the councilwoman said she wanted to send a message that, after 16 years on the council, she was not about to trade her vote, despite what she described as unusually heavy lobbying by the mayor's office.

"I am not prepared to sell out," Galanter said.

The contrarian councilwoman, an irascible poet who pens verse during public meetings and is known for speaking her mind, said this most recent piece of political theater underscored that she was leaving office as she came in -- with her integrity and independence intact.

Hailed as an environmental crusader who would take on developers and usher in a new era of grass-roots activism at City Hall, Galanter, 62, who is leaving office today, won her first election from a hospital bed after a near-fatal stabbing in her Venice home. Ever since, she has not flinched from some of the city's toughest political battles.

Her positions sometimes defied expectations, and her blunt style could be alienating. But even some of her critics credit her with sharp intelligence and significant accomplishments during her tenure.

Along with El Segundo Mayor Mike Gordon, Galanter led the fight against former Mayor Richard Riordan's quest to expand Los Angeles International Airport. Early in his second term, Riordan predicted he would finish planning and start construction on an expanded LAX before he left office in 2001. He was stymied by Galanter and others.

"She was one of the most intelligent people in public office I've ever dealt with," Riordan said.

Galanter was also in the middle of the divisive, years-long battle over the development of Playa Vista. She surprised many of the project's backers, who expected a rabid foe and instead found a policy wonk who, in the words of one developer, was "tough but fair." That, in turn, shocked Playa Vista opponents who watched with furious feelings of betrayal as Galanter negotiated deals allowing development to go forward on some land while preserving and restoring the Ballona Wetlands.

Through it all, the councilwoman methodically plugged away at improvements in her 6th Council District, from the construction of libraries to the restoration of the Venice canals and pier.

"She was very responsive," said a Westchester resident, Judith Ciancimino, a constituent who became a friend. "She gave me more faith in politicians."

Her former colleague Jackie Goldberg, now in the state Assembly, describes Galanter as "a very bright, talented, able legislator. The conscience of the council on issues having to do with the environment."

Despite these accolades, the last few years in office have not turned out as Galanter once hoped. As one of the longest-serving members on a body being infused with new faces because of term limits, Galanter said, she had imagined herself as "a professor emeritus, teaching everyone who was interested everything I know."

Instead, many of her colleagues seemed to view her as irrelevant. Two years ago, fellow council members rejected her bid to become council president. Then last fall, they redistricted her right out of her beloved Venice community, moving her district to the San Fernando Valley, an area she barely knew.

"It's not the way I would have chosen to finish my tenure," Galanter said. "But you can't rewind the tape."

The only child of a teacher and an advertising salesman, Galanter grew up in the Bronx section of New York, dreaming of becoming an artist, or maybe an investigative reporter. The shy young woman, who lost her father when she was 6, never imagined a career in politics.

By the time she got to the University of Michigan in 1960, however, social revolutions were rumbling and Galanter was swept along, attending sit-ins and agitating for change.

After graduating from college six months early, Galanter studied urban planning at Yale, then took a series of jobs in New York, advocating for welfare rights and access to medical care.

In 1970, Galanter packed up and moved to Los Angeles. "I decided I needed a change in my life," she said. She settled on the Westside and became active on affordable housing issues. In 1973, she became the first California resident to file an appeal under the state Coastal Act. Four years later, she was appointed to the California Coastal Commission.

Playa Vista

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