By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Added Riordan consultant Carrick: "People were really angry about Belmont, and it’s something they knew about. It’s become a metaphor for what’s wrong with the school board."
Horton was a proud prime mover for Belmont, and in the main, he still is. But backers of the project have lost the public-relations war. Knowing this, the Horton campaign tried to portray their candidate as a latter-day Belmont watchdog, but the make-over didn’t appear to stick. Nor did Horton’s negative characterization of Young, who had worked in middle management at both the Mayor’s Office and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. In mailers, the Horton campaign juxtaposed headlines detailing MTA boondoggles with text asserting that "Caprice Young wants to do for our schools what she did for the MTA." But Horton’s camp never made any real connection between Young and MTA scandals, and never successfully distanced their own candidate from the problems at Belmont. Young outpolled Horton 56.7 percent to 43.3 percent.
Although they weren’t running against each other, the campaign, at times, seemed a contest between Horton and fellow incumbent Tokofsky. Horton has forged a reputation as the respected, earnest gradualist, someone who has made peace with the bureaucracy, someone who defends the school system while working agreeably from within in the direction of reform. Tokofsky, by contrast, is the school board’s Jeremiah, loudly proclaiming the system’s multiple sins; he’s an iconoclast who’s comfortably at war with a bureaucracy that in turn views him as an irritant and an impediment. Even though Horton has steadfastly supported LEARN, Riordan’s favored school-reform program, the mayor sided with Tokofsky. Horton, he concluded, was simply not bold enough for the crisis at hand.
While voters identified with Riordan’s message about a deficient school district, they failed to appreciate the mayor’s distinction between Horton and Tokofsky. To many voters, apparently, an incumbent is an incumbent, and Tokofsky nearly went down alongside Horton on Tuesday.
At press time, Tokofsky led challenger Yolie Flores Aguilar by less than one percentage point — 310 votes to be exact. Citywide, about 10,000 so-called provisional ballots remain to be counted from voters who delivered their absentee ballots to polling places on Election Day. The math seems to favor Tokofsky, but it could be days before election officials declare an official winner.
Tokofsky was expected by many to trounce Flores Aguilar, given his endorsement by some prominent Latinos and his funding from both the teachers union and the mayor. In fact, neither the union nor the mayor mounted a full-court press on Tokofsky’s behalf; it didn’t seem necessary against the underfunded Flores Aguilar. But besides the widespread anti-incumbent sentiment, Tokofsky, an Anglo, represents a district that, for the first time, has a majority Latino voting population. Moreover, his District 5 overlaps heavily with two City Council districts that featured hotly contested races with strong Latino candidates, an equation that propelled a turnout of voters less inclined to support Tokofsky. He also suffered an unintended pummeling through the television ads of Riordan-backed challengers in other school-board races. Their cable-TV buys — with a powerful anti-incumbent theme — bled into Tokofsky’s jigsaw district, which snakes across the city from the east San Fernando Valley to East L.A. And then there was Flores Aguilar herself, a fierce campaigner and well-known advocate for children’s programs.
Although Riordan’s anti-incumbent slate is noticeably devoid of a specific policy platform, his candidates share a respect for Tokofsky; each one characterizes him as a philosophical ally who would assist their understanding of how the district operates. Given that sentiment, it would be strange indeed if Tokofsky loses while those who would ally themselves with him prevail. If, as expected, he does survive the final tally, it will fall to Tokofsky to show that he can lead a new majority as effectively as he opposed the old one.Aaron M. Fontana and Sara Dunn contributed to this story.