Serena Josel, center, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood… (Allen J. Schaben, Los Angeles…)
At 8:30 a.m. Saturday, in an event hall filled with women, one stranger turned to another and asked: "What made you get out of bed to be here?"
Vallerie Wagner took a deep breath.
"Well," she said. "I've often toyed around with the idea of running for office."
Many of the women around her had done the same. The purpose of Saturday's seminar was to persuade them to take the next step.
For years, women's groups have hosted boot camps across the country to instruct women in the art of campaigning and the realities of public office. Such efforts have increased in Los Angeles recently, partly because of the dearth of elected female officials in city government.
One woman sits on the 15-member Los Angeles City Council, a statistic that one of Saturday's speakers, Assemblywoman Betsy Butler (D-Marina del Rey), called "so depressing."
The picture at the national level is also distressing, she and others say. This year, the number of women sworn in to Congress fell slightly for the first time in 30 years. And the number of female lawmakers in state capitals nationwide decreased by the largest percentage in decades.
"We are not making the gains we should be making," West Hollywood City Councilwoman Abbe Land told the audience, gathered at an event center in Plummer Park. The city of West Hollywood co-sponsored Saturday's event, along with several women's political groups and the California Commission on the Status of Women.
Outside, children ran through the park and elderly Russian immigrants played cards. Inside, the tone was serious.
"You're not going to change the number of women elected to office until you change the number of people who run," said Rachel Michelin of California Women Lead.
Speakers offered practical tips on how to organize campaign volunteers and ways to spend donations effectively. (One hint: Don't waste campaign funds on business cards; instead, hand out envelopes printed with your name and information to make it easy for people to contribute.)
They also stressed the importance of getting women appointed to government commissions and state and local redistricting committees, helping to ensure that there are women well positioned to run for office in the future.
Event speakers included Jan Perry, the lone woman on the Los Angeles City Council, and City Controller Wendy Greuel. Both are seriously considering runs for mayor in 2013.
And both said that while campaigning for office, they faced naysayers who told them they would never win.
But women are resilient, Greuel said: "We give birth."
In the end, Wagner said she was "inching a little closer" to a run for office, perhaps the Westside seat currently held by L.A. City Councilman Bill Rosendahl.
A longtime community activist who works at AIDS Project Los Angeles, Wagner said she planned to accept the offer from one of the day's speakers of a free political consultation and had taken notes on building an effective social media profile.
But she said that before she makes any announcement, "I've got a lot of homework to do."