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Women to Watch


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For the last 15 years, Diablo has chosen May as the month in which we applaud the contributions and successes of women in our community. This year, we continue the celebration with this look at seven women of exceptional fortitude, grace, and intelligence—whose ongoing achievements are examples for us all.

The Enforcer
Nicole Kozicki
36, Moraga, state fish and game warden

Nicole Kozicki doesn’t exactly fit the PETA brand of animal rights activism, and seems an unlikely hero for local environmentalists. She grew up hunting with her dad, and she’s a national women’s fly casting champion. But make no mistake about it, she loves the outdoors and has no patience for those who would destroy ecosystems. Albert Seeno Jr., one of Contra Costa’s most powerful developers, learned the hard way that it’s not a good idea to defy Kozicki. In 2002, he was fined $1 million for violating the Endangered Species Act after workers at one of his construction sites ignored her order to not drain ponds that were home to the endangered California red-legged frog. Kozicki is now working on another case against a high-profile developer. “I’m not opposed to development,” says this mother of two young girls. “I think there’s a right way to do it: a way that saves the habitats so you can save the critters.”

The Eco Mom
Jill Buck

35, Pleasanton, founder,Go Green Initiative

In an effort that she calls “a love letter to her children,” Jill Buck,
mother of three and a former naval officer, is getting schools across the country to create environmentally friendly campuses. And she’s not just talking trash: Last year, Pleasanton’s Go Green schools recycled more than 134 tons of paper, 5.2 tons of cardboard lunch trays, and 3 tons of plastic. That translates into saving nearly 1,600 trees. With schools in nine states already participating, the potential benefit to the public and the environment is huge. Buck hopes the number of schools with recycling and environmental education programs will more than triple after Go Green’s first national conference in Pleasanton this spring.

The Activist
Joan Blades
49, Berkeley, cofounder (with her husband,Wes Boyd) of www.MoveOn.org

Joan Blades has seen how the World Wide Web can influence popular opinion and create a groundswell of activism. In 2003, her political action Web site, www.MoveOn.org, persuaded more than 100,000 people to join an antiwar march in San Francisco. And leading up to the organization’s high-profile effort to unseat President Bush, MoveOn raised more than $7 million for Democratic candidates. After redefining Internet-based campaigning, MoveOn now boasts more than 3 million members. “Our goal is to empower people to get involved and take a stand on political issues,” says Blades. Next up: promoting politicians, including Al Gore, who speak out on global warming; supporting efforts to save Social Security without privatizing it; and gearing up for the 2006 elections.

The Athlete
Natalie Coughlin
22, Vallejo, Olympic swimmer

Natalie Coughlin first made waves as a member of the elite Concord Terrapins swim team. Last summer, she was an Olympic star, becoming only the third American woman to claim five medals at one meet. So what does an Olympic legend do for an encore? Since leaving Athens, Coughlin has been finishing her undergraduate studies in psychology at UC Berkeley, and traveling both as a swimmer and as a spokesperson for Speedo, Sprint PCS, and the American Egg Board. Of course, she’s also getting asked for autographs and mapping out her future. “After my swim career is over, I’d like to pursue a job in sports broadcasting,” she says. For the next three years, she will be pool-hopping to a host of national and international meets to prepare for the highly anticipated 2008 Olympics in Beijing, where the world will be watching her every perfect kick and superlative stroke.

The Player
Amy Trask
43, Oakland, chief executive officer,Oakland Raiders

As the only female chief executive officer in the NFL, Amy Trask shattered the proverbial glass ceiling and proved she’s got game. For a longtime fan of the boys in silver and black, getting hired by the Raider Nation in 1987 was a dream come true. Becoming the team’s chief executive 10 years later was icing on the cake. “I’m not a businessperson who works in football,” she says. “I’m a football person who also happens to be a chief executive.” Trask’s commitment to gridiron glory was evident in 1985, when she rushed to her own wedding only after watching a televised Raiders game go into overtime. The attorney measures her personal success by the team’s achievements on the field. Her proudest moment was watching the Raiders win the AFC Championship in 2003. But, she says, that moment will be eclipsed when her team wins the Super Bowl. Soon. Very soon. n

The D.A.
Nancy O’Malley
51, Pleasant Hill, chief assistant district attorney for Alameda County

Nancy O’Malley doesn’t just prosecute the bad guys; she has made a career of making the system better for their victims. She regularly works with local, state, and federal lawmakers to create programs and write laws that help battered women, rape survivors, children, and mentally and physically disabled victims get their day in court. Her advocacy has made her much in demand at national conferences, and it didn’t go unnoticed by Alameda County District Attorney Tom Orloff. In 1999, Orloff took a chance and chose O’Malley as his second in command, despite her lesser seniority, making her the first woman ever to serve in the job. In June, she opens the Alameda County Family Justice Center in Oakland, a one-stop shop of public and nonprofit services for victims of domestic violence.

The Caregiver
Mary Ann Thode
59, Alameda, president, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Hospitals Northern California Region

Mary Ann Thode is busy. As president of Kaiser’s Northern California Region, she oversees 19 medical centers, 40 medical offices, 150 pharmacies, and 54,000 employees—all of which provide care to more than 3.2 million people. Currently on her to do list is a $9 billion plan to build or rebuild eight medical centers in Northern California within the next seven years, including hospitals in Antioch, Oakland, Vacaville, and Vallejo. Then there’s her effort to get more nurses. “By 2010, the state of California will be short 20,000 nurses,” says Thode. “Since 2000, we’ve recruited 6,795 nurses, and are working to expand capacity in nursing schools and to support nursing students with scholarships and loans.” Armed with degrees in nursing and law, Thode says her main goal is ensuring that patients, not profits, are the bottom line.

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