Stuart Waldman, the new chief executive of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, came to his new role from politics. For most of the last 12 years, he was an aide to Assembly Speaker Robert Hertzberg and Assemblyman Lloyd Levine, both Democrats. One of his responsibilities was meeting with various interest groups, including VICA, as Hertzberg and Levine crafted legislation. Last year, Waldman, 40, decided to run for the Assembly himself. At first, he had Levine's endorsement, but then the lawmaker fired Waldman and backed Waldman's opponent, Bob Blumenfield, then-district director for Rep. Howard Berman. Blumenfield defeated Waldman in the June primary and is expected to win election next month to the Assembly seat in the historically Democratic district. Meanwhile, VICA Chief Executive Brendan Huffman left, and Waldman replaced him as head of the group, which lobbies for pro-business policies and San Fernando Valley interests. Waldman met with the Business Journal at his Van Nuys office recently to discuss the ups and downs of his political life and the outlook he brings to his new job.

Question: How did you first get involved in politics?

Answer: I was always interested in politics, but it was purely by chance that I got involved. Back in 1991, after I had been out of the Army for nearly a year, I was visiting Little Rock, Ark., and I heard then-Gov. Bill Clinton at a rally talking about change and I decided then and there to sign on to the campaign.

Q: Did you stay in Arkansas?

A: No, I came back to Los Angeles to be a college field organizer for Clinton this was at a time when almost no one had heard of him.

Q: What was it that drew you to politics?

A: The same thing that draws many: I really believed in the need to change things for the better. That's what I liked about Clinton.

Q: What did you do after the election?

A: I returned to college, first to Valley College and then to Cal State Northridge. I decided that to get ahead in the world, I should pursue a legal degree, too.

Q: You went on to law school but never practiced law. Why?

A: My first love was always politics. In 1995, right after I received my law degree, I joined the campaign of Bob Hertzberg. I rose through the ranks to become his chief of staff.

Q: What drew you to Hertzberg?

A: I really admired his energy and passion for the job. Also, I liked his moderate stance on the issues. He went into office to solve problems, not to promote an ideology.

Q: What were some of the things you were most proud of during the Hertzberg years?

A: The crowning achievements were helping to get the Orange Line built and creating the first statewide witness protection program. We also managed to pass a budget on time, while Bob was speaker. These days that's quite an accomplishment.

Q: You stayed in Sacramento when Hertzberg was termed out and returned to Los Angeles in his unsuccessful bid for mayor.

A: Yes, I sort of came with the office when Lloyd Levine succeeded Hertzberg in the 40th District. I was Lloyd's chief of staff for five years.

Q: What was it like in Sacramento when Arnold Schwarzenegger won the recall and took office?

A: We had no idea what was going to happen next. Then, after Arnold took over, we had no idea whether our bills would get signed or vetoed. Yes, he was willing to work with both sides of the aisle for a while at least. But he has been very unpredictable.

Q: Why did you decide to run for the Assembly?

A: I wanted to effect change and I really wanted to make things better for the Valley. In a term-limited environment, I thought I had a very good opportunity to get elected. And I believed running for office is not so different than being involved in a campaign.

Q: How did you feel when Levine pulled his endorsement?

A: While I was disappointed in Lloyd's decision, I understood that it was a decision based on politics. Lloyd decided to endorse my opponent and I was the collateral damage.

Q: So what did you do once you were out of a job?

A: I decided to become a substitute teacher. It was something I could do while I was also campaigning.

Q: What was that like?

A: My first day was teaching kindergarten that was quite a challenge, dealing with a roomful of 5-year-olds. In the next few months, I taught in private schools and charter schools. It also made education one of the centerpieces of my campaign.

Q: Of course, you ultimately lost the campaign. Was there a lesson you took away from that experience?

A: There really wasn't one big lesson from the campaign. I looked upon it as a great opportunity to debate some ideas and a great experience overall. However, I never want to run for office again.

Q: Why not?

A: This was a one-time deal with my wife. My original intention if I had won was to serve briefly in Sacramento and then come home again. My wife and I want to start a family and running for office just doesn't fit in with that.

Q: So what happened after the election?

A: I found I had reached a turning point. I had to decide what I wanted to do. I was thinking about putting that law degree to work and becoming a lawyer. But, as often is the case, life has a way of making that decision for you. Less than six weeks after the election, I heard that Brendan Huffman was leaving VICA. During my time as chief of staff in Sacramento, I worked closely with VICA and in the last couple years, with Brendan. So, I had a good sense of what VICA did and I also knew that when VICA speaks, lawmakers listen, both in Los Angeles and Sacramento. I decided to put my name in to succeed him.

Q: How could you really have a sense of what it's like to run a business? Your career has been in politics.

A: That's not exactly true. I spent six years working at a pension firm while I was going to college I had to find some way of paying for my education. I worked on the purchasing and operations side of the business. I learned quite a bit about what it takes to run a business.

Q: What are your goals at the Valley Industry and Commerce Association?

A: First, I want to increase VICA's membership. We're now at about 300 members, so we have a lot of room to grow. But our No. 1 priority is protecting the San Fernando Valley's interests and the interests of businesses in the Valley. That means we will continue to fight against anti-business measures in both Sacramento and Los Angeles.

Q: Any other goals?

A: I would like to institute something I'm calling "Business 101 for Legislators," where they can actually see first-hand the impact of the laws they pass on business. I'm still working on this, but once we get something that is effective, I'm hoping other business groups can use it.

Q: What about the economic crisis that we're in right now?

A: No question that the challenge right now is the economy. The jobless rate is high, businesses are closing and that's without any additional detrimental legislation from Sacramento. That only reinforces the need to make sure that legislation negatively impacting business is kept to an absolute minimum.

Q: What is the best piece of advice you've received?

A: Solving the problem is more important than distributing blame. I have found this to be very valuable over and over again, because problems are going to happen. People often waste time finger-pointing and this is counterproductive. I've been given this advice repeatedly during my career in politics.

Q: How are you finding the time to spend with your wife now that you've got your new job?

A: My wife is also busy she's an attorney. So we make sure we have one date night each week.

Q: How did you meet your wife?

A: We met at a Young Democrats party in 1999. After four months of my trying to ask her out on a date, she finally agreed to go out with me.

Q: Tell me about your military service.

A: I had spent several years in the Army in the late 1980s. Shortly after the war started, I was called up to go to the Gulf, but the war ended before I was to be deployed there.

Q: What do you like about traveling to Latin America?

A: I've had the opportunity to travel all over Latin America, to countries like Uruguay, Argentina, Guatemala I especially love Guatemala, its people and the country itself. Another thing: Right now, traveling in Latin America is relatively cheap, at least compared to Europe and other parts of the world.

Stuart Waldman

Title: Chief Executive

Organization: Valley Industry and Commerce Association

Born: 1968; Houston

Education: B.A., political science, Cal State University Northridge; juris doctorate, Loyola Law School

Career Turning Point: Joining the presidential campaign of then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton in 1991

Most Influential People: Former Assembly Speaker Robert Hertzberg; former President Clinton; the late Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir

Personal: Lives in Van Nuys with his wife, Nicole, an attorney, and their two dogs

Hobbies: Traveling, especially in Latin America; self-described news junkie

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