Bowen, Butler, Galanter and Lucks call on locals to run for Venice Neighborhood Council seats

By Gary Walker

Betsy Butler, Linda Lucks, Debra Bowen and Ruth Galanter Photo courtesy of Ari Ruiz

Betsy Butler, Linda Lucks, Debra Bowen and Ruth Galanter
Photo courtesy of Ari Ruiz

The auditorium of Westminster Avenue Elementary School is a long way from the state capitol — in some ways a lifetime ago for former California Secretary of State Debra Bowen. But every journey begins somewhere.

“I got my start [in politics] in a room like this,” said Bowen. “Who knew at the time where it was going to lead?”

Bowen joined former state Assemblywoman Betsy Butler and former L.A. City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter last Thursday for an event dubbed “Politics Ain’t for Sissies,” a showcase of the ex-lawmakers’ careers that doubled as a recruitment drive for candidates in the Venice Neighborhood Council elections on June 5.

Venice Neighborhood Council President Emeritus Linda Lucks moderated the discussion, which drew about 60 people.

Bowen, Butler and Galanter — the “three grande dames” of Westside politics, as Venice Neighborhood Council  parliamentarian Ivan Spiegel called them — served nearly 40 years in office combined, though each made different entries into the political arena.

Butler worked for three elected officials and in the Clinton administration before deciding to run for public office. It was Bowen who encouraged Butler to run after an Assembly seat covering Venice, Marina del Rey and Santa Monica became open in 2012.

“In life and in any profession I believe that you need mentors who see things in you that even your family may not see,” Butler said.

Bowen, a Venice resident who was an attorney before holding public office, cut her teeth in local politics by representing the former Venice Town Council and later acted as counsel for a group of locals fighting development of a regional mall at the current Costco location on Washington Boulevard.

“You can make a difference at any level, and that includes the local level. I really hope that people who are not candidates will now sign up,” said Bowen, who also served as a state assemblywoman and state senator.

Galanter, who was on the Los Angeles City Council from 1987 to 2003, said she decided to run for office after three male elected officials told her that she had “no chance” of winning. “Waste and stupidity,” she said, were what made her decide to run for office.

“The councilwoman at the time, Pat Russell, was about to waste the remaining [Ballona Wetlands] that were left over after it was turned into Marina del Rey. I thought what she was doing was a waste of natural resources,” Galanter said. “Venice turned out in record numbers for me that year. Looking back at it, in so many ways it was more satisfying than anything else that I could have ever done.”

For several years running, the Venice Neighborhood Council has posted the highest election turnouts in the area.

“We put a lot of effort into recruiting as many candidates as possible,” said Lucks, a two-time council president, who advised council hopefuls not to be shy about getting out the vote.

“The way to get elected on the neighborhood council is to ask everyone you know to vote for you,” she said. “If you can’t make the ask, don’t do it.”

Venice activist Karen Wolfe heard a common theme among the speakers: “Just do it — before you know how hard it will be, before you know who else is running, before you talk yourself out of it.”