By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
|Riordan, Ted Soqui|
Richard Riordan bought himself an education revolution this week, claiming apparent victories in three school-board races and throwing the fourth contest into a runoff that favors his endorsed challenger.
Although the results were promising for Riordan in all the contests, he achieved clear-cut wins in two races, with challenger Mike Lansing unseating incumbent George Kiriyama and challenger Caprice Young defeating incumbent Jeff Horton. A probable win was scored by David Tokofsky — the only incumbent Riordan endorsed — but the narrow margin of victory leaves that outcome technically in doubt until all remaining ballots are counted. The fourth and final race will be settled in a June runoff pitting incumbent Barbara Boudreaux against challenger Genethia Hayes.
Just as he had vowed, Riordan collected some $2 million to pour into these school-board races, and it was this money that allowed the Riordan-endorsed candidates to convey their message that the city’s schools are in crisis and their governing board in need of a major overhaul.
"I think Dick Riordan has tapped into the public sentiment about the deterioration of the schools," said Democratic political consultant Harvey Englander. "He also has taken the next step: to do something about it. He has supported or opposed on other issues, but never like this has he come up with real plans to do something."
Riordan’s somethingis, by most accounts, the most expensive school-board campaign in the nation’s history. Even though the targeted incumbents raised more money than ever before, Riordan-supported challengers outspent them all by margins ranging from more than 2-to-1 to nearly 6-to-1, according to campaign disclosure forms updated on Election Day. The greatest disparity was in District 7, the southernmost part of the school system, including San Pedro, Gardena and Watts. In this contest, incumbent Kiriyama raised a respectable $138,000, but Riordan-backed challenger Lansing was handed $815,000. Of this total, about $771,000 came directly from Coalition for Kids, the political-action committee Riordan established to fund his candidates.
Kiriyama, with the financial backing and endorsement of the teachers union, tried to turn Riordan’s support into a negative. "They want to take over our schools," proclaimed one mailer. "Let’s send the powerful outside interests a message." Another flier featured a clenched fist holding dollars: "Stop the power grab," went the text. "Don’t let outside interests buy our school district . . . Our children’s future is not for sale." Kiriyama presented himself in campaign materials as the school board’s good-natured, pork-barrel trustee, someone who’d delivered millions of dollars in programs for schools in the areas he represents. Kiriyama did not convey this message effectively in person. A slow and halting speaker, Kiriyama avoided several joint appearances with Lansing. And then, a week before the election, he made matters worse for himself after agreeing to appear at one particularly high-profile debate. Before the discussion began, Kiriyama proceeded to read a speech, stride off the stage and bustle out the door — a stunt that received broad and unflattering media coverage.
Kiriyama’s race was the only one that pitted the mayor directly against the powerful teachers union — up until now the main provider of funds in board elections. And the mayor — with more money on the table — prevailed handily as Lansing bested Kiriyama by more than 8 percentage points.
Like Kiriyama, incumbent Barbara Boudreaux found herself a financial underdog. Her District 1 encompasses South-Central Los Angeles, an area dominated at the polls by elderly black voters. Her strategy was to trump the mayor’s money with the race card. Boudreaux, an African-American, and her key supporters accused Riordan of attempting to disenfranchise black voters by putting forward a puppet black candidate. The tactic was not enough to beat back challenger Genethia Hayes, a well-known, independent-minded community activist who had entered the race before Riordan decided to offer his support.
But Boudreaux is no pushover on the campaign trail either; she had prevailed in two previous elections despite concerted opposition from the teachers union. This time around, Hayes, a first-time candidate, received more votes than Boudreaux, but failed to claim a majority in the four-person race, necessitating the June runoff. That outcome was a relief to the Hayes camp. "Get an incumbent in a runoff and they’ve got big problems," noted Riordan political consultant Bill Carrick.
The dynamic in the Jeff Horton– Caprice Young contest for District 3 boiled down to who presented the best portfolio as a school reformer. This district includes the liberal strongholds of Echo Park and Silver Lake, neighborhoods that have, in the past, strongly supported Horton, a protégé of popular City Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg. In a series of well-crafted mailers, Horton underscored steps he’d taken to improve student achievement. Meanwhile, on the school board itself, he quickly offered a flurry of motions to strengthen his portfolio as a solid fiscal custodian.
Besides the campaign-funding gap, however, Horton (and Boudreaux) had another serious problem: the $200 million, scandal-plagued Belmont Learning Complex, the most expensive high school construction project in state history. As consultant Englander noted, Belmont is a tailor-made issue for a challenger. "People can say Belmontand you know exactly what they mean, in the same way that the words Watergateor Whitewaterhave meaning."
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