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Bobbi Fiedler

b. 1937

by Susan Khanweiler Pollock

Retired Congresswoman Bobbi Fiedler of Northridge in Los Angeles considers herself “a very private person” who was “pushed into politics by necessity, not by plan.” The year was 1976. Fiedler was a thirty-nine-year-old mother and housewife, dividing her days among the PTA, temple affairs, and a family-owned pharmacy. But her tranquil suburban world was abruptly shattered by news that Los Angeles schools were headed toward a court order to desegregate. Unless someone acted quickly, the city’s children—her own two included—would soon be riding buses to schools far away from home.

“I felt I had to stop it,” she later explained. In the company of parents who shared her concern, she started a group called BUSTOP, which quickly mushroomed into a citywide antibusing crusade. While she could support voluntary integration, she believed forced busing deprived parents of the right to choose where their children attended school.

Identifying children by race or ethnicity was anathema to her, evoking the historical plight of the Jews in Eastern European ghettos. “Being Jewish had a very strong impact on my political philosophy—not necessarily in the spiritual or religious sense—but in the sense of being a minority, of being the object of discrimination,” she said.

Before the year was out, Fiedler won a seat on the Los Angeles Board of Education and quickly built a political machine that finally put the brakes on busing in Los Angeles. In 1980, after a single term in local office, the scrappy Republican ran for Congress in the Twenty-first District and narrowly defeated James C. Corman, a widely respected ten-term Democrat who favored school busing.

Bobbi Fiedler was born Roberta Frances Horowitz on April 22, 1937, in Santa Monica, California, the second of two daughters born to Jack and Sylvia (Levin) Horowitz. Her Brooklyn-born-and-bred father—middle-weight boxing champion, artist, plumber, a builder of the Empire State Building, laundry owner, and building contractor—shared his broad, eclectic worldview with her. Sylvia, born in Springfield, Massachusetts, passed along her interest in Jewish affairs and devotion to Zionism to her younger daughter. Bobbi and her sister, Esther Horowitz Michaels, drew close as young children when their mother joined their father in the family laundry.

Fiedler attended Santa Monica Technical School and Santa Monica City College and was an interior designer before starting a family with her first husband, a pharmacist. Her daughter Lisa was born in 1961 and her son Randy Alan in 1964.

Fiedler’s deep concern for individual rights and intense distrust of government—the catalysts for her opposition to busing—took root during her childhood as World War II raged in Europe. “I recall very clearly what happened to the Jews—how everything they owned, everything they had, including their lives, was taken from them by a government that had no respect for anyone’s needs but its own,” she said.

Her combative spirit had a similar genesis. Coming of age in a neighborhood where Jews were a rarity, she became accustomed to being the target of antisemitic taunts. “Although that hurt at the time, it also helped [me] build some strength and resiliency against the realities of life,” she told the Los Angeles Times in 1981. “I was always pretty much a fighter. I don’t mean physically fighting, but fighting for your rights.”

Elected to Congress in 1980 as the only female member of California’s delegation, Fiedler kept on fighting. She quickly became known among her peers as feisty and aggressive. She ignored House tradition, which required new representatives to keep their opinions to themselves and make an effort to learn from senior members. However, she won plaudits from both sides of the aisle for her diligence and thoroughness.

Although she rode into Congress on President Ronald Reagan’s conservative coattails, she describes herself as an independent Republican who voted her conscience. Her record bears her out. As a member of the House Budget Committee, she upheld party doctrine by fighting for tax and spending cuts, championing defense spending to save jobs, and salvaging nine B-1 bombers that had been marked for extinction. At the same time, she broke with party leadership over her support of abortion rights and the Equal Rights Amendment.

She was not afraid to clash with the U.S. Navy over the lives of 1,500 goats on San Clemente Island. And at times she took the middle road, as when she sponsored bills providing tax credits for child care and pension reforms. Her unswerving support of Israel won her an A+ rating from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the pro-Israel lobby.

Fiedler left the House in 1987 to run for the Senate. She finished fourth in a highly contentious primary and temporarily withdrew from politics to join the private sector as a political commentator and consultant. Earlier that year, Fiedler, who was divorced in 1977, married Paul Clarke, her campaign manager and chief adviser throughout her three terms in Congress.

Since leaving Congress, she has advised New York real estate tycoon Donald Trump on business dealings with the Los Angeles School Board, fought off a vicious case of lymphoma, helped put George Bush in the White House and Pete Wilson in the California governor’s mansion, and used her expertise to get several Republican women into local and state office. In 1993, she was appointed by Los Angeles mayor Richard Riordan to the city’s embattled Community Redevelopment Agency and by the governor to the California Lottery Commission.

But public life had lost its luster for her. Fiedler retired from both boards after a single term and turned her attention to her family, especially her grandchildren.

Fiedler has received at least one hundred awards and honors for her years of public service. They include the Anita Perlman Award from the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization, Outstanding Legislator from the Los Angeles Jewish Federation Council, Legislator of the Year from the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Bulldog Award from the National Taxpayers Union, and an honorary doctorate of law from the West Coast College of Law.

But far beyond her many successes, she cherished a warm, mutually rewarding friendship with President Reagan. She was thrilled to be asked to make his seconding speech during the 1984 Republican Convention. Writing the speech herself, she applauded the president for his strength, vision, and courage and called on her fellow Republicans to join her in choosing a leader “who will encourage us to dream, to build those dreams and to dream on.”

Bobbi Fiedler grew up fighting because she was a Jew in a gentile neighborhood. She developed a distrust of government because she grew up at a time when Jewish people an ocean away were being fed into ovens. She entered politics because she believed the rights of children and parents were endangered. She voted her conscience because she knew no other way. As a woman and a Jew, she has forged her own course.

Bibliography

Bergholz, Richard. “Who Can Beat Alan Cranston?” California Journal (May 1986); Cuniberti, Betty. “Fightin’ Fiedler Steps into the Ring on Capitol Hill.” Los Angeles Times, November 29, 1981; Fiedler, Bobbi. Speech delivered to second the nomination of President Ronald Reagan, Dallas, Texas, August 22, 1984, and telephone interview with author, San Diego, California, August 19, 1996; Neumeyer, Kathleen. “The Fiedler Formula: ‘Busing … Children … Boston.’” California Journal (December 1981); U.S. House of Representatives. Office of the Historian. Women in Congress, 1917–1990 (1991); Who’s Who in American Politics (1993–1994); Who’s Who in the West, 25th ed.

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Congresswoman Bobbi Fiedler began her political career in an antibusing crusade. Although she supported voluntary racial integration, she believed that defining children by race or ethnicity was unconscionable, evoking the historical plight of the Jews of Eastern Europe. She is shown here with her friend, President Ronald Reagan.

Institution: Ronald Reagan Presidential Library

How to cite this page

Pollock, Susan Khanweiler. "Bobbi Fiedler." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 1 March 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on August 1, 2014) <http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/fiedler-bobbi>.

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