By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
But the mayor never met with Flores Aguilar, one of the city’s best-known advocates and advisers for child-care programs, with experience in both the public and private sectors. She’s also an appointed board member of the L.A. County Office of Education, a $523-million-per-year operation that offers staff training and financial oversight for county school systems.
In this instance, too, the determining factor could well have been past personal history with Riordan. In 1996, Flores Aguilar, then a city staffer, was a finalist to head the city’s Department for Children, Youth and Their Families. Riordan, however, had his own candidate in mind, child advocate Sally Thompson, whose husband, Mike, had earlier been appointed by Riordan as director of the city’s Criminal Justice Planning Office. When Riordan reopened the civil-service procedure to let in Thompson, City Councilman Mike Hernandez issued a challenge, questioning why a strong Latino candidate was being passed over for an Anglo who hadn’t even taken part in the original selection process. "From my perspective, this man has a terrible track record when it comes to appointing Latinos to positions of authority in L.A.," explained Hernandez in an interview last week.
At this point, Flores Aguilar could have helped Riordan by bowing out. As Hernandez noted, "Yolie refused to step down as a candidate."
After several months, Hernandez conceded the battle to Riordan, but sources in the Tokofsky and Riordan camps suggest that the incident may have soured Riordan on Flores Aguilar.
For his part, Tokofsky quickly recognized that the mayor’s support was pivotal, and he determined to get it. Over several months, he met repeatedly with corporate and academic leaders of the LEARN reform effort, as well as with the mayor and his advisers. He made the case that he had tried to spearhead reform at L.A. Unified, but that too often he simply didn’t have the votes. Ultimately, Riordan was won over.
This support is crucial for Tokofsky, an Anglo running in a district that was carved out with the intent of electing a Latino representative. Four years ago, in his first bid for office, Tokofsky prevailed in a run-off against Latino parent volunteer Lucia Rivera by only 76 votes.
Flores Aguilar is, by many counts, a stronger opponent than Rivera, and, for the first time, a majority of the voters in the 5th District — which stretches from the east Valley across Eagle Rock, Mount Washington and East L.A. — are Latino. Tokofsky, however, can counter with endorsements from some key Latino politicians and funding from the teachers union. He’s not getting an equal share of Riordan dollars — only one-tenth of what Lansing and Young are seeing — partly because his jigsaw district doesn’t lend itself to a cable-TV buy, partly because the mayor is gambling on Tokofsky to carry his own weight. Tokofsky benefited from the Riordan endorsement regardless. At the very least, he kept a huge bankroll out of the hands of his challenger.
One of the many ironies of the campaign is that the Riordan ticket includes two candidates — Hayes and Tokofsky — who are endorsed by the teachers union. More than a year ago, when Riordan and his allies first turned their attention to the school-board elections, one of the main topics of discussion was undercutting the influence of the teachers union in elections. Over time, the teachers union had become the rainmaker of school-board politics — because it spent the most money on the elections, and because voters trusted the teachers’ endorsements.
But in recent times, critics have accused the union of pushing the school board to overemphasize job security — i.e., protect bad teachers — and higher salaries.
Somehow these issues have slipped to the sidelines. The teachers union is not endorsing in the Young-Horton race, and only opposes Riordan in Lansing’s campaign to topple incumbent George Kiriyama, whose 7th District encompasses the southernmost portion of the school system, including San Pedro. Kiriyama, a retired adult-school principal, won his first term without the support of the teachers union, but he’s since locked arms with union leaders. From its perspective, the union is largely pleased with Kiriyama’s voting record; from Kiriyama’s standpoint, union support is mandatory to offset Riordan dollars.
Kiriyama’s challenger, like Caprice Young, is a Riordan-created candidate. Mike Lansing, the executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of San Pedro, had no plans to run for the school board, and turned Riordan down twice. He felt obligated, he explained, to stick instead with the Boys and Girls Club, which is deep into a major fund-raising and expansion effort. He changed his mind after the club’s board of directors urged him to accept Riordan’s draft.
Also like Young, Lansing, 42, was not previously involved much in school-district matters, although he was active in organizing youth programs in connection with the local L.A. City Council office. And he also has 17 years combined experience as a teacher and administrator at private schools.
All told, the Riordan ticket is a study in contradictions. The mayor opposes Horton, the staunchest supporter of a school-reform program the mayor helped launch. And although Riordan allies fault the school board for micromanaging the school system, he supports the board member (Tokofsky) who’s most often accused of micromanagement. Despite misgivings over the role of the teachers union, Riordan opposes the inveterate foe (Boudreaux) of the teachers union, a person of whom Riordan thought well enough in the past to appoint him to city commissions. And although Rior-dan has talked of throwing out the incumbents, his ticket includes one.
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