Women’s History Month: Jan Perry

Monday, March 22, 2010
By Abbey Khan

March is Women’s History Month and to celebrate we interviewed Councilwoman Jan Perry who represents the communities of the Ninth District on the Los Angeles City Council. Now in her third term, some of Perry’s accomplishments includes affordable housing with supportive services to shelter chronically homeless individuals, work opportunities for underprivileged youths and adults in her district, and she has secured over $70 million for improvements in the parks in her council district and additional funds to develop the second wetland park.


FUSN: Congratulations, your most recent success was opening up the Fresh & Easy grocery stores in your district.
JP: That’s the second grocery store we’ve open in the last six months.
FUSN: And you did this to get residents to eat healthier and to prevent obesity.
JP: Right, but there also weren’t any grocery stores. I hate using this term but it really is a food desert for options and I wanted to provide people with more options.
FUSN: First Lady Michelle Obama announced plans last month to fight childhood obesity and was widely criticized, do you think that was fair?
JP: No. I was widely criticized when I introduced a land use initiative to control the spread of fast food restaurants because we didn’t have a lot of available land left to develop in the district and I wanted to be able to develop the land for better use. So what I did is, that if somebody wants to come in and build a fast food place, they can come in and do it as part of a larger project, so the door is not totally closed. What I wanted to do is for the land that is available is to try to get grocery stores and restaurants in and it’s actually working.
FUSN: This sounds like a very effective plan, so then what criticism did you receive?
JP: I got a lot of criticism—they called it “Nannystate” meaning that I was trying to control people’s behavior. I’m not trying to control people’s behavior, I’m just trying to bring people options, that’s all. We do outreach, we have six new fitness zones in the district for people to come and work out for free, which is incredible.

FUSN: Are you following this up by providing healthier options at schools?
JP: Yes. We work very closely with the schools. We’re doing “5 A Day” which is five fruits and five vegetables a day. And we’ve been doing this for a while. People who criticize me don’t take the time to do their research and they don’t know what’s already being done.

FUSN: A lot of times before you can be successful, you have to fail. Can you talk about some of your past failures and what you have learned from them?
JP: I haven’t had a lot of failures because there was only one direction to go and that was up.

FUSN: Being of African American descent and being a woman must have presented some challenges, did you find people of your race and gender against you and how did you handle them?
JP: I ran the first time in 2001 and no one took me seriously and I got elected. One of the things I realized is that by people not taking me seriously got them out of the way so I could run things the way I wanted to them to run, so people weren’t there dragging me down.

FUSN: Since you work with a lot of men in your field, do they ever show you disrespect based solely on your gender?
JP: (joking) I like to say sometimes I feel like I work on a pirate ship. I think I’ve earned the respect of a lot of the people and a lot of the men because they see how hard I am willing to fight and how I can sustain my focus, my attention, and my effort and that I can push as hard as anybody to achieve my own success.


FUSN: Do you feel like you’re one of the guys or do you ever try to act like one of the men to fit in?
JP: No! I always feel like I’m a woman and I’m happy about that. I’m very proud of that.
FUSN: So, we won’t see you in pantsuits?
JP: I wear a lot of skirts and dresses. I like pantsuits, but I wear a lot of dresses.

FUSN: I was reading your bio, and although segregation existed when you were growing up, you had very supportive parents, which is probably one of the reasons you are such a success today. In your division, a lot of these young girls don’t have that support system and come from very low economic status, what advice can you give them so they can have a chance in the world?
JP: Get as much education as you possibly can. Read as much as possible—read the newspaper and watch the news so that you can be educated about what’s going on around you. Try to join clubs, get involved in afterschool activities. The biggest thing is to take care of yourself and your own physical well being because I think that affects the way you see the world in every way.

FUSN: Any other words of wisdom?
JP: To girls, I say “Show no fear.” That’s how you make it in the world. And remember that you have to reach back and take care of somebody else.

You’re sure to hear a lot more from Councilwoman Jan Perry! Last year, she filled in as acting Mayor of Los Angeles for a few days in Antonio Villaraigosa’s absence and is now toying with the idea of running for Mayor in the next election.

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[…] to Perry, “I got a lot of criticism—they called it ‘Nannystate’ meaning that I was […]