By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
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By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
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Goldberg — who lives on the same block as Fernandez — threw her backing to Arellano; her brother, lefty-lawyer Art Goldberg, is part of Arellano’s kitchen cabinet, and Art’s son is on the UTLA board.
Who could ignore a takeover duel that pits Villaraigosa against Goldberg, a seasoned politician with her own mastery of the spoken word and deep roots in organized labor.
WHAT THE 133,000 VOTERS in District 2 are left with, oddly, is what they have deserved for years — a highly competitive school-board race featuring a diverse, decently experienced field of candidates with brand identity.
There’s Gárcía, the mayor’s candidate, with four years in the district working at Huizar’s side; Arellano, the teachers’ union activist with a compelling story about his struggle for a diploma; Fernandez, who attended L.A. schools for 12 years and now specializes in charter schools; and Gasca, a small-business owner with a background in policy who lives in Boyle Heights.
District 2 certainly wasn’t blessed with such a rich menu of options in 2001, when Huizar won an open board seat with only a token challenge. But then, school-board races tend not to generate much media attention in Los Angeles, which may help to explain why three incumbent board members faced no opposition at all in 2005 — even amid a mayoral election where public schools were the No. 1 issue.
But with the election 10 days away, the race has been largely ignored by the larger, English-speaking media. To David Abel, chairman of the advocacy group New Schools, Better Neighborhoods, the lack of coverage provides a clear rationale for a mayoral takeover. A news media that breathlessly follows the deeds of a big-city mayor will have no choice but to talk about schools once he gains control of them.
“To not have a serious conversation about the quality, competency and priorities of the candidates who are running for the open seat is a tragedy for the community,” he added.
Since Huizar stepped down from the board on November 8, the Los Angeles Times ran 10 pieces — eight articles and two editorials — dealing with Villaraigosa’s bid for mayoral control. By contrast, as of Wednesday, it had devoted only a single article to the campaign for Huizar’s seat, covering Villaraigosa’s endorsement of Gárcía.
That event, staged outside a newly built primary school in Boyle Heights, felt more like a segment of MTV’s TRL than a press conference, with student supporters of Gárcía shrieking gleefully as Villaraigosa rolled up to the curb with Nuñez, the Assembly speaker. Yet even with the rock-star treatment of the mayor, Villaraigosa’s overarching message was a bit confusing, what with his plan to eliminate school-board elections and all.
Gárcía, peppered with requests for her own view of the takeover issue, said repeatedly that she simply wants to work with the mayor and sees no need to discuss a plan that won’t be released by Villaraigosa until April. Villaraigosa, not shy himself about offering a coy response to a press question, hinted that he just might appoint Gárcía to the school board once he gains control of the district.
Gárcía, whose high-energy speaking style draws comparisons to Councilman Tom LaBonge, bobbed and weaved at her rally as she was asked three more times whether voters should be allowed to directly elect school-board members.
“I’m saying the voters should directly elect me,” she declared. “That’s what I can say before March 7.”
Union activists say that position has recently shifted, a message echoed by the two candidates who oppose a takeover.
“She has said in writing and in public meetings that she’s against a public takeover, but that was before her endorsement” from Villaraigosa, Arellano said. “Now that she has the endorsement, it’s unclear where she stands.”
Although each candidate has shown a commitment to public schools, it’s a wonder that any of them want the job in the first place. From all accounts, the winner will receive $24,000 annually, see their personal life eviscerated and step into four years of political combat — only two, of course, if Villaraigosa scores his mayoral coup at the school district.
Yet the seat is somehow attractive enough that Gasca loaned his campaign $35,000, according to the most recent contribution statements. Fernandez, on the other hand, saw more than two-thirds of her money — $20,000 out of $28,000 reported last month — come from charter schools advocate Frank Baxter, who helped push Villaraigosa last year to sign a pledge promising to limit every campus to no more than 500 students.
Those contributions are small feed compared to the much-feared Last-Minute Money Dump predicted by each side of the mayoral takeover debate. The UTLA has already committed $150,000 to Arellano. Teachers’ union activists fear that philanthropist Eli Broad or former Mayor Richard Riordan will step in with huge sums for the two candidates who are publicly equivocal on mayoral takeover — Fernandez and Gárcía.
Gárcía will likely get a boost next week, with the L.A. County Federation of Labor’s endorsement. Although distracted by the troubles of its departing leader, Martin Ludlow, the County Fed could make a financial and logistical difference in a runoff between the top two candidates.