Robert J. Stevenson (1915–1975) and Peggy Stevenson were a husband and wife who served consecutive terms totaling sixteen years in representation of the Hollywood-Silver Lake-Highland Park area on the Los Angeles City Council—Robert between 1969 and 1975 and Peggy, after his death, between 1975 and 1985.
Peggy and Robert Stevenson
Robert Stevenson was born on October 10, 1915, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
Stevenson was news editor and commentator for WHN radio and newscaster for "Around the World News" on CBS Radio in New York City and also worked for CBS in Los Angeles, California. He was a staff announcer on The Jack Benny Program and a motion picture and television actor, with 119 credits between 1946 and 1971.
In 1957, Stevenson was cast as Dave Weller in the episode "Deep Fraud" of John Bromfield's syndicated crime drama, Sheriff of Cochise, set in Arizona.
In 1958, Stevenson had a recurring role as "Big Ed, the town bartender in the 26-episode NBC western television series, Jefferson Drum, starring Jeff Richards as a crusading Old West newspaper editor. After Jefferson Drum, Stevenson appeared in two episodes as a police lieutenant named "Ringer" in the short-lived ABC series, The Man from Blackhawk, starring Robert Rockwellas a roving insurance investigator.
Stevenson subsequently appeared in other western series, including nine episodes of Richard Boone's Have Gun - Will Travel, six times on Bonanza, three times each on Gunsmoke and Rawhide, and twice each on Tales of Wells Fargo and The Virginian. He was cast too in minor roles in two episodes ofCBS's The Twilight Zone.
Stevenson served in the United States Army during World War II.
His offices and memberships included president of the Nichols Canyon Association, trustee of the Buckley School, Greater Los Angeles Press Club, International Footprint Association, International Society for the Protection of Animals, American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and the Screen Actors Guild.
Peggy Stevenson was born in Los Angeles, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Victor Constance, who had immigrated from Greece. She had a sister, Catherine. Peggy graduated from Fairfax High School and then attended UCLA, where she studied political science. After graduating she became assistant radio director of an advertising agency, where she met Robert Stevenson. They were married and had a son, Robert, born in 1956. The family lived in the Hollywood Hills, just above Sunset Boulevard. She was a member of St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral.
She was "only a little over 5 feet tall" and said that she had to alter her own clothes to fit.
Peggy was chairwoman of an annual fundraiser for underprivileged children sponsored by the show-business Masquers Club, as well as being active in the Retired Senior Volunteer Program. She was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters from Columbia College in Hollywood.
Robert died in Northridge, California, on March 4, 1975, after cardiac arrest, complicated by hepatitis and an infected gallbladder. He had been ill for several months and underwent surgery for multiple retinal breaks in October and November 1974 but managed to return to his city council seat in December of that year. A funeral service was held in Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, with the Reverend Frank Kelly of St. Athanasius Episcopal Church officiating.
See also List of Los Angeles municipal election returns, 1969 and after.
The Stevensons—first Robert and then Peggy—represented Los Angeles City Council District 13, which in that era (1975) included Highland Park, Hollywood, Hollywood Hills, Los Feliz, Silver Lake, Atwater, Glassell Park, Cypress Park, Elysian Valley, Mount Washington and parts of Echo Park and Eagle Rock. In 1969 the district also includedChinatown.
They were the second husband and wife to serve consecutive terms on the Los Angeles City Council—the first having been Ed J. and Harriett Davenport between 1945 and 1955.
Robert Stevenson began his City Hall career as a field deputy for Councilman James Potter and later had the same job for Paul H. Lamport in the 13th District. He resigned and successfully ran for election against his old boss in 1969.
Stevenson scored reelection to the city council in 1973 by soundly defeating policeman Irving Kaspar. The conservative Kaspar criticized Stevenson's indictment and trial on charges of conspiracy and bribery in a Chinatown gambling scheme (below). Stevenson attacked Kaspar in a tabloid publication for allegedly having been "a known John Birch Society sympathizer." Kaspar went to court and got a temporary restraining order against further circulation of the campaign sheet on the grounds the statement was untrue. In the end, voters cast 27,231 ballots for Stevenson and 21,062 for Kaspar.
Robert Stevenson was known as "a widely respected reformer and moderate who often served as a peacemaker between clashing colleagues." Nevertheless, he was also seen as "warring" with fellow Councilman Arthur K. Snyder, partially occasioned by Stevenson's support of redistricting of Snyder's neighboring councilmanic District 14.
Known for his "progressive voting record," Stevenson was "the innovator of a new system of council hearings," being the first councilman to hire outside counsel to conduct an investigation. Other positions:
1969. He voted against allowing churches to be established in single-family residential neighborhoods as a matter of right, stating: "I don't have the right to say arbitrarily 'you people in the neighborhood are going to get a church whether you like it or not.' "
1970. He and Council Member James B. Potter, Jr. took the lead in successfully opposing a proposed freeway (State Route 160) through Laurel Canyon that would have linkedSlauson Avenue in Ladera Heights with the San Fernando Valley. They said the idea was a "scheme to bury huge areas of Hollywood, the mountains and Studio City under a blanket of concrete."
1973. Stevenson submitted an ordinance that would have required outdoor eating places along Hollywood, Ventura and Wilshire boulevards to be enclosed as a way to prevent the spread of litter.
1973. In urging the establishment of minibus routes through the Santa Monica Mountains, he and Council Member Joel Wachs disagreed with a Southern California Rapid Transit District report that the proposed routes would face safety hazards on the "steep and narrow roadways."
1974. Stevenson proposed an ordinance that would, among other things, have made job discrimination illegal against homosexuals. After his death, the City Council unanimously voted in 1975 to kill it. Police Chief Edward M. Davis was one of its more vocal critics.
Conspiracy and bribery
Indictment and decision
Robert Stevenson and eight other people were indicted in February 1970 on charges of conspiracy and bribery in the asserted proposed establishment of gambling dens inChinatown the previous year. Authorities said a multimillion-dollar-a-year operation was planned. All defendants were freed when a jury could not reach a verdict and JudgeJoseph A. Sprankle Jr. declared a mistrial, acquitting Stevenson and seven of the other defendants. He said he did so reluctantly in Stevenson's case because he thought the councilman "probably knew something about what was going on," but that "the voters can take care of this in the next election."
In 1973 Stevenson filed suit against fellow City Councilman Arthur K. Snyder over Snyder's remarks about Stevenson during a radio interview concerning the bribery-conspiracy trial. Nineteen months later, a settlement ensued with Snyder making an apology but with no money changing hands.
Stevenson Manor, a 61-unit apartment project at 1230 North Cole Avenue, Hollywood, was named for Councilman Robert Stevenson.
Peggy Stevenson won a special election for the 13th District seat on May 27, 1975, over Irving Kaspar and 27 other candidates. With her seating on June 9, she and Council Member Pat Russell became the only two elected women up to then to serve on the council at the same time.
Peggy Stevenson's two electoral battles against Michael Woo were heated. Endorsed by Police Chief Daryl Gates, she won her first fight against Woo in 1981 by a vote of 20,162 to 13,018, but Woo was victorious in 1985 by 16.417 to 12,052.
1981. In the 1981 race, Stevenson jettisoned the volunteers that had guided her primary campaign and hired Butcher-Forde Consulting of Orange County for the final vote, which was criticized for having "racial overtones." Even her primary campaign had been criticized for sending out fliers asking Republican voters if they wanted the candidate supported by the Mexican American Political Association and the Asian Democratic Caucus "or Councilwoman Peggy Stevenson." She denied they were meant to raise racial questions but simply to point up Woo's "ultraliberal" support.
At one point, a debate between Stevenson and Woo "exploded into a verbal brawl" when the former, 56, attempted to turn Wilbur Woo, the father of 29-year-old Michael Woo, into the major issue of the campaign. She called him "a wealthy banker who doesn't even live in Los Angeles, let alone our district," and who "has put together a $300,000 bankroll from his associates and from borrowers of his bank to finance a totally immoral and untruthful campaign against me." The Los Angeles Times reported:
The candidates tried to outdo each other as champions of gay rights and rent control. Woo ridiculed economic development in the district and Stevenson said she had brought in one billion dollars worth of construction in four years. Woo said he'd like to see proof.
1985. The 1985 race was an expensive one—expected to be a million dollars for both candidates together. Stevenson was supported by "some of the city's most prominent political fund-raisers" and the "real estate industry," while Woo could again count on his banker-businessman father.
Stevenson blamed a "Westside political organization" headed by U.S. Representatives Henry Waxman and Howard Berman for her loss. In an "unusual rebuke," the Timesreported, her fellow Council Members Zev Yaroslavsky and Marvin Braude had endorsed Woo over her, "partly because they said she was too supportive of projects in their districts backed by big developers who contributed to her campaign."
Peggy Stevenson and Councilman Joel Wachs sponsored what Wachs called "the strongest gay rights ordinance in the U.S.," prohibiting job and housing discrimination based on sexual preference. Other positions:
1980. Peggy Stevenson charged that there was an "alarming trend toward overdeployment of police for relatively minor disturbances at gay bars" and held a hearing before her Police, Fire and Public Safety Committee on the situation.
1985. As a member of the Recreation, Library and Cultural Affairs Committee, she voted in favor of doubling the park ranger staff of the Recreation and Parks Department and allowing the rangers to carry guns.