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
Mayor Riordan’s candidates for school board share a curious set of attributes: They are in their early 30s, have no children and have little or no experience in the field of education. And it‘s not a coincidence.
Sources close to the mayor assert that inexperience counts when looking for the right people to guide L.A. Unified, the $9 billion institution charged with educating the city’s children.
”I want this board to become an amateur board again,“ said one civic leader with close ties to the mayor, who spoke freely in exchange for not being named. ”There‘s just this giant sucking sound the instant you set your butt into a seat on the Board of Education.“ In other words, if you know too much -- or think you know a lot -- you’ll try to do too much. You‘ll gum up the works by stepping out of the proper role of a corporate-style trustee.
This year’s elections are Round 2 of the Richard Riordan Revolution. For the second time, L.A.‘s self-described education mayor has raised more than a million dollars to put his candidates in office. His 2001 choices are Matthew Rodman, Jose Huizar -- both of them 32 -- and 35-year-old Tom Riley.
”I’m lucky to have strong candidates in each of the board districts,“ Riordan told the Weekly recently.
As described by those in Riordan‘s circle, being a board member is the ultimate starter job: Sure, the pay is low -- $24,000 a year -- but working really hard would be a bad thing, and the fewer credentials the better.
”I’m not sure you want someone with a track record in education,“ commented Eli Broad, another civic luminary, who has joined the mayor both in education philanthropy and in his willingness to wield influence. Broad noted that in Chicago, Mayor Richard Daley appointed a former city budget director to run the schools. And that a former immigration-service official got the nod as superintendent in San Diego. And that General John Stanford handled Seattle‘s schools before his death from leukemia in 1998. ”Where progress is being made, people are coming into the system from elsewhere. That is where we are seeing lots of success stories.“
Of course, not everyone sees the evidence this way, and not all of the mayor’s usual allies are on board with his slate, which was put together with substantial assistance from school-board member Caprice Young, the trustee to whom Riordan is closest. In District 4, which covers the Westside, some of the mayor‘s erstwhile allies wanted to stick with incumbent Valerie Fields. Others favored challenger Marlene Canter, who has considerable experience in education and business.
Coming from outside of education doesn’t have to equate with inexperience. Current L.A. schools Superintendent Roy Romer also lacked a traditional resume, but as the education-minded former governor of Colorado, he brings considerable political savvy, as well as a long focus on schools.
”If you get people in with strong ideas on what to do and so forth, they‘re not very controllable,“ suggested one district critic, who requested anonymity. ”This kind of candidate is. Would anyone apply a rubric of inexperience to any other elected body? It’s ridiculous.“
Indeed, the end point of this less-is-more logic would be electing a hamster to the school board, and, happily, all of Riordan‘s picks have substantially more to offer than a rodent.
Huizar, said Young, is ”a one-man think tank if you look at his academic background.“ A land-use attorney, Huizar has toiled for two years at the respected firm of Westin, Benshoof. For his previous firm, he worked as in-house counsel to several local suburban cities. His degrees come from UC Berkeley, Princeton and UCLA. While pursuing his graduate degree, he worked a year for the California Legislature, helping the Assembly Ways and Means Committee analyze the fiscal impact of education-related bills. He’s also served a year on the local planning commission for East Los Angeles. Huizar has no real competition in heavily Latino District 2, which covers much of downtown and parts east and south.
Young said she had no role in Huizar‘s recruitment, but that’s not the case with Tom Riley, whom Young met while both were fellows in the Coro Foundation, which places promising youths in leadership-training internships. Riley‘s running for District 6, which spans most of the San Fernando Valley. According to Young, ”the best thing about Tom is that he’s really deeply committed to kids. He‘s been active in the Big Brother organization. There are kids he’s seen through elementary school, middle school and high school. He‘s a great cook, and an up-front person. He’s good at taking issues and understanding their essence. There‘s a no-B.S. edge to him that’s refreshing.“
Said Riordan: ”I‘ve known Tom for years.“
Riley helped with Young’s successful board campaign in 1999, and Young encouraged his own budding interest in the school district, especially over the summer. ”I would whine on his shoulders at barbecues and eventually he felt guilty,“ said Young. Riley‘s fledgling business markets electronic bingo and keno game boards. His only clients are nonprofits, though he hopes to expand to casinos.
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