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
All the challengers have merits. Nellie Rios-Parra, 35, is a well-educated teacher, parent and preschool-program administrator in the tiny Lennox school district. But perhaps because her career has been outside L.A. Unified, her knowledge of district issues is general at best. And it’s difficult to see her as a forceful personality on the school board. She’ll have the big dollars that come with her recent endorsement by Riordan and Broad’s Coalition for Kids.
Jose Sigala, 33, also a parent, and a top deputy to Assemblyman Marco Firebaugh, is well-versed on this vastly divergent district. He lives in the northerly Echo Park area and has served the South Gate environs as Firebaugh’s liaison on school issues. Except for school construction, Sigala has only a loose grasp on education matters, though his street smarts and knowledge of government would serve him well. His connections to the Eastside political machine have skeptics speculating whether he would improperly influence the awarding of contracts, but no one has offered any evidence that he would. Sigala has support from Supervisor Gloria Molina and other Latinos — an ethnocentric faction apart from both Riordan and United Teachers Los Angeles.
The diversified background of Maria Lou Calanché, 34, includes an advanced degree, community-college teaching, consulting work for an elementary school and experience as a field deputy for an L.A. City Council member. She’s also completing a doctorate in citizen participation and land-use policy based largely on district issues. Her Achilles’ heel is a paucity of political and financial support.
So why the push for regime change? For one thing, this district was originally carved out to elect a Latino, and Tokofsky (an Anglo who speaks Spanish) has thwarted that aim. For another, Tokofsky is disliked or distrusted by board colleagues and top administrators because he asks endless questions, requests reams of information, delays board actions, and leaks stories and confidences to reporters. Unable to build his own majority coalition, he often has worked most effectively in opposition or as a fountainhead of ideas that others have to carry forward.
And yet, a number of district advances in recent years have his stamp on them — including setting up an Inspector General’s Office to serve as a watchdog on spending, improving the way legal advice is obtained and ensuring environmental safety at schools. On this board of education, he serves as a helpful irritant, an antidote to the excesses of the superintendent and board majority, willing to ask uncomfortable but often necessary questions. He also contributes a thoughtful, lively brilliance to questions of policy.
Tokofsky will never win a popularity contest at school-district headquarters, and that’s precisely why he deserves to stay on the job.7th District — Mike Lansing
The district of one-term incumbent Mike Lansing encompasses a swath of South Los Angeles that plunges straight down to San Pedro. Lansing faces only long-shot opposition because 37-year-old challenger Gilbert Carillo, a tax auditor, failed to secure the teachers-union endorsement and the campaign money that comes with it. Lansing, 46, has demonstrated through his integrity and intelligence that he deserves a second term.MEMBER, LOS ANGELES COMMUNITY COLLEGE BOARD
The format in this election is stupefying. Each board member represents the entire geography of the nine-campus system — an area larger than those represented by either City Council or school-board members. But at the same time, each seat on the board is treated as a separate office. The result is that you combine the worst features of both at-large and district elections.
You could, for example, end up with all seven board members living on the same block. That’s the problem with at-large elections. You don’t necessarily get a representative for each geographic region.
Or you could have the best challenger running against the best incumbent and not be able to choose them both, even though four seats are open. That’s the problem with elections by district: Some races may have only weak candidates; others may have more than one who is worthy. In the community-college board races, a challenger has to pick one and only one incumbent to go after.
In this cycle, four incumbents are trying to hold on to their seats. This group of incumbents was endorsed, as a bloc, by labor and faculty in 1999. All of them were elected to this board for the first time in 1999, although Georgia Mercer had been on the board for a year after being appointed to fill out the term of a board member who died. This gang of four are still chummy with labor and each other, and they are trying now for a second term.
Overall, they deserve to continue in office. Each brings some valuable skills to the table. Furutani was a former L.A. school-board member and is a veteran legislative aide in his work outside the board. He brings lobbying and political know-how. Sylvia Scott-Hayes manages a testing center at Cal State L.A., providing perspective from another rung of the higher-ed system. She’s especially keen on equity issues, increasing academic standards and using bond money to build environmentally sustainable campuses. Georgia Mercer is a veteran public servant especially attuned to women’s issues, such as the training of child-care providers. She also sits on the statewide community-college board. And she’s the only board member who lives in the San Fernando Valley. As for Mona Field, she may not have written the book on California politics, metaphorically speaking, but she has written a book on how state politics works. She uses this handy reference in the course she teaches at Glendale Community College, where she’s been a faculty leader for years. She has an innate understanding of governance, and her Glendale position allows her to apply the insights of another system to Los Angeles. She also has a sensitive ear for the much-abused part-time faculty members upon which the community colleges rely. And she makes a point of attending school-bond oversight meetings.