Bobbi Fiedler, who rode an anti-school busing platform to political prominence, stood out as the potential vanguard for Jewish conservatives when The Jewish Journal profiled her as its first cover story in February 1986. Fiedler had served on the Los Angeles school board (1977-1981) and won election to Congress (1981-1987). In The Journal's first year, she was running for the U.S. Senate, a campaign that fell short.
The Journal recently caught up with the still-active Fiedler, 69, between civic activities. She's a member of the San Fernando Valley Coalition on Gangs, the LAPD's Devonshire Division advisory council and the community enhancement committee that works with the Mission Hills police station. A registered Republican, the Northridge resident has two children and five grandchildren.
Jewish Journal: Tell us about some of your current work with law enforcement agencies.
Bobbi Fiedler: The San Fernando Valley Coalition is trying to prevent gang membership and drug use. We're assisting a variety of agencies in trying to find and help the at-risk kids before they actually get into gangs or involved with drugs.
The enhancement committee is trying to improve the quality of life in North Hills -- recommending various locations that have problems with lighting, with the broken-window syndrome, with homeless encampments. These are the sort of community problems that tend to deteriorate a community if not attended to.
JJ: You came to prominence through your opposition to mandatory busing. Would Los Angeles be better off if the fight over busing had never happened?
BF: Yes, unquestionably, because a large number of mothers, as an example, had to go back to work to pay for their kids in private school. And a large number of families would not have left the city and would have continued to enhance its economic base. Yes, it would have been a lot better had we not had to fight that fight. But we did, and ultimately we were successful in court and in creating magnet programs with voluntary busing, which meant expanded educational opportunities for students.
JJ: How do you feel about possible mayoral control of the Los Angeles Unified School District?
BF: I understand the public's frustration with the quality of public education. The school district has problems -- no question about it -- and I think Mayor Villaraigosa's very well meaning. But the mayor has a big challenge on his plate as mayor, and he also has another big challenge in having a leadership post with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. I don't think it's feasible for one person to be able to control those two things and the school district.
JJ: What would you suggest as far as amending who's in charge?
BF: I would let everyone in the city vote for all seven school board members, instead of just the one in their area, as it is now. At-large elections were how it used to be. Going back to that would make it more difficult for the teachers union to be in control.
The school district is on the right track as far as pushing for achievement levels that are much higher than they've been in the past. I would say the worst thing that happens in the school system is the lack of expectations for children who come from a minority background.
JJ: How has Congress changed since you were there?
BF: There are always a lot of good people in elected office, but there is much more partisanship. Today there are Americans who are abject enemies because they are in opposing parties, and the whole country is terribly polarized as a result of their bad example.
Howard Blume is the former managing editor of The Jewish Journal.