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OBITUARIES : Doris 'Dodo' Meyer, 1924 - 2008

San Fernando Valley's link to City Hall

September 30, 2008|Elaine Woo | Times Staff Writer

Doris "Dodo" Meyer, who served for two decades as the San Fernando Valley's liaison to City Hall during the Tom Bradley administration and helped forge the black-Jewish coalition that was crucial to his electoral successes, died Saturday at Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica. She was 83.

The cause was emphysema, according to her daughter, Patricia.

Meyer was a politically active mother of four when she became an early supporter of Bradley during his first, unsuccessful run for mayor in 1969. When he won in 1973, becoming the first African American mayor of Los Angeles, he made Meyer his representative at a time when the Valley was undergoing significant growing pains, buffeted by busing, demographic shifts and major development.

"Dodo was a catalyst for change. She was the mayor's eyes and ears for what was going on there," said Craig Lawson, a former longtime Bradley aide.

One of her major accomplishments was establishing a center of city government in Van Nuys so that Valley residents didn't have to drive downtown to get a building permit or a business license. She also brought the mayor to the Van Nuys City Hall at regular intervals to meet constituents and hear their concerns.

She quickly became known as an effective advocate for that huge swath of Los Angeles.

"She was definitely the mayor of the San Fernando Valley," said Councilman Richard Alarcon, who was a City Hall analyst when Meyer presided in the Valley and later succeeded her in that job.

Meyer worked out of the Van Nuys City Hall for 17 years, during which time she estimated that she represented the mayor at 18,100 breakfasts and an even more staggering number of dinners.

She spent the last three years of the Bradley administration, from 1990 to 1993, assigned to special projects at City Hall. She retired in the mid-1990s after working briefly for Los Angeles County Supervisor Ed Edelman.

Meyer was born in Racine, Wis., on Dec. 4, 1924. She moved to Los Angeles in 1939 when her father, Nathan Blumberg, became the head of Universal Studios.

"The backlot of Universal was her playground, but her real passion was politics," Patricia Meyer said Monday.

She attended UCLA for a year before serving as a nurse's aide at a military hospital in the Valley during World War II. In 1947 she married Stanley Meyer, who was executive producer and a co-owner of the popular "Dragnet" television series. He died in 1999.

In addition to their daughter, she is survived by sons Michael, Peter and John; and nine grandchildren.

As a volunteer in the 1960s, she campaigned for John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy. She was a major supporter of Wilson Riles, the reform-minded superintendent of public instruction who became the first black official elected to statewide office in California in 1970. She also was a founding member of Women For, an early women's political action committee.

As a Bradley supporter, she played a key role in the coalition of blacks and Jews that united behind him and was a decisive factor in his defeat of Mayor Sam Yorty. "Dodo was the one who really got the Valley to vote for Tom Bradley," said Bee Lavery, who was Bradley's chief of protocol.

After his victory, Meyer focused on "bringing the Valley into Los Angeles," Lavery said. "The Valley had been very neglected. We never had a mayor's office in the Valley before. Yorty didn't have one. They nicknamed her the 'mayor of the Valley.' Tom Bradley used to call her that."

She was known for her passionate advocacy for the arts in the Valley and also was a champion of the L.A.'s Best after-school program. As the area's unofficial mayor, she also handled every kind of complaint, including potholes, overgrown trees, the expansion of the Lopez Canyon landfill, and conflicts between the Burbank and Van Nuys airports.

She once told The Times that one of the most memorable complaints she handled came from a constituent who was convinced that rhinoceroses lived in the Valley's storm drains.

"She claimed they were originally put there by Indians and that the beasts were fed marijuana, getting stoned and then stomping around, thereby shaking her house," Meyer recalled. Her staff investigated and determined that the commotion was caused by heavy construction equipment nearby, but the woman persisted with her rhino theory for four more years.

Services for Meyer, a longtime resident of Encino who moved to Santa Monica about 10 years ago, will be private. Memorial donations may be sent to Saint John's Health Center Foundation, 1328 22nd St., Santa Monica, CA, 90404.

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elaine.woo@latimes.com

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