As a student of politics, I’m often interested in the lives of renowned office holders before they entered the political world. For example, Harry Truman was a haberdasher in Kansas City. (Meaning he owned a men’s store and I know that term because my father did, too, though thankfully not in Kansas City.)
Jimmy Carter commanded a nuclear sub and later was a successful peanut farmer. JFK wanted to be a writer and won a Pulitzer Prize for his 1956 book, “Profiles in Courage.”
JFK’s handsome and outgoing older brother, Joe Jr., had been tabbed by his father to become president. Upon his death, Joe Sr.’s aspirations fell on JFK, who joked, “It was impossible to say no to the old man.”
Twenty-year Santa Monica resident Bobby Shriver didn’t seek a career in politics, surprising given his late parents were Eunice (JFK’s sister) and Sargent (Peace Corps director and vice presidential candidate.)
Bobby was a Yale-educated attorney, an activist and an entrepreneur. (He also founded organizations that raised millions for The Global Fund to Fight AIDS and Special Olympics, which his mother created in the 1960s.)
Call it fate or officious bureaucrats, but Shriver’s “path” changed in 2003 when he and 700 other Santa Monica property owners were put on notice by the city. The height of their hedges exceeded city limits and the fines for non-compliance were $25,000 a day! (And you thought our parking meters are a rip-off.)
The city was so arrogant that Shriver ran for council to change the culture at City Hall. A huge number of residents agreed because that November Bobby received the most votes in Santa Monica history. (An independent in a city polarized between landlords and residents, four years later Shriver again garnered the most votes.)
In 2003, I got a phone call from candidate Shriver asking if I would host a “meet and greet” at the Shores, the 532-unit apartment building where I live. He knew that, in 1960, my mother assisted Ted Kennedy in establishing Democratic Clubs throughout the state for JFK’s California campaign. I readily agreed to Shriver’s request, though I joked to friends, “It was impossible to say no.”
When Bobby came to the Shores he brought the star of the night, his mother, Eunice. Regal and yet remarkably congenial, she was seated prominently in front of Bobby and facing the audience.
Then I introduced Bobby, who outlined his goals should he win a council seat. In the Q and A, a tenant asked what seemed a cynical question. “Given your family background, isn’t council an unimportant office?”
Before Bobby could respond, Eunice beat him to it. “Every office is important,” she said with great vigor. “Public service is the backbone of our democracy!” After an awkward silence, Bobby announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, I give you my mother.”
Everyone broke up in laughter. Shriver couldn’t have written a better comedy line. Unfazed, Eunice sat tall in her chair having struck a blow for public service.
On council, as mayor pro tem and as mayor, Shriver’s proudest accomplishments included cleaning up Santa Monica Bay and the beaches, including under the Santa Monica Pier where the pollution was the worst; the building of the beautiful Annenberg Community Beach House, which had been a blight since the 1994 earthquake; and, despite red tape and roadblocks, finding housing for homeless veterans!
Shriver was also widely credited with helping to change City Hall from a bureaucrat-serving to a resident-serving culture. Now he’s running for L.A. County supervisor in the Third District, which includes Santa Monica.
As Eunice noted, every public office is important, but supervisor really is. L.A. County has 10 million people, a $25 billion budget and only five supervisors.
“I’m committed to solving tough problems and getting projects done on time and on budget,” Shriver said. “I can because I’ve done it before.”
Among the issues he’s focusing on are: minimizing homelessness, addressing allegations of misconduct in county jails, job creation, foster care, traffic and gridlock, and improving fire and police protection.
The supervisor’s seat is non-partisan and one of Shriver’s greatest strengths is working across ideological differences. (Much like his late uncle Ted.) As Shriver points out, “It wasn’t easy getting $15 billion for Africans with AIDS from a conservative Republican administration but we did.”
Surprisingly the attacks on Shriver from one opponent have been harsh, to put it mildly. (I can only imagine what Eunice would have said.) The primary in this important election is June 3 and the general is Nov. 4.
However it turns out for Shriver, to think, it might not have happened at all had his hedges been shorter.
To learn about the Shriver campaign go to bobbyshriver.nationbuilder.com. Jack is at facebook.com/jackneworth, twitter.com/jackneworth or email@example.com.