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
BACKERS OF ARELLANO remained suspicious, saying Duffy obtained the background information from two sources with close ties to the mayor — California Teachers Association representative Don Attore, who served on Villaraigosa’s transition team, and UTLA attorney Jesus Quiñonez, a longtime personal friend of Villaraigosa who works for UTLA’s law firm, Geffner and Bush. Quiñonez is also a mayoral appointee to the board of the Metropolitan Water District, where Villaraigosa recently tried without success to install former Assemblyman Richard Katz as that agency’s CEO.
Hours before UTLA’s meeting on Arellano, Attore and Quiñonez conferred with the union’s leadership, presenting them the package on Arellano’s candidacy and criminal background. The California Teachers Association, which had sent Arellano a $50,000 check, had already decided to pull its money. UTLA activists, on the other hand, were deeply skeptical about the union’s ties to Geffner and Bush, now that the mayor was seeking passage of a municipal takeover.
On election night, Arellano emerged from days of media seclusion, showing up at a campaign party in Lincoln Heights that was attended by UTLA stalwarts, as well as lawyer and peace activist Art Goldberg — brother of Jackie, the state assemblywoman — and renters’-rights advocate Elena Popp, who is running to replace Goldberg in the state Legislature. While a DJ played reggae versions of Cher’s “Believe” and R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly,” Arellano spoke in halting terms about his past, saying he is sorry about misleading voters about his academic record at USC and admitting that he put Duffy in a “tough situation.” Still, Arellano said he thought he could overcome a gap of nearly 30 percentage points, by talking about the less flattering aspects of his life.
“I’m perfectly willing to sit down with the public and say, ‘Hey, I made dumb decisions, but look what I’m doing now with my life,’ ” Arellano said. “Look how I’ve changed my life around. It’s important for our youth to know that yes, you make mistakes, but you can always do better.”
In an odd way, Arellano’s personal storyline bore eerie resemblances to the biography of the current mayor. Like Villaraigosa, Arellano was a onetime dropout who went on to earn a bachelor’s degree at UCLA. Like Villaraigosa, Arellano had a brush with the law in his mid-20s, only to rebound a decade later as an organizer with UTLA. But where Villaraigosa proved a master of his own biography, shaping its unpleasant parts into tales of personal triumph, Arellano overreached with his repeated declarations that he had gone from an eighth-grade dropout to a USC master’s recipient. In fact, he had finished the course work in one degree and needed another semester to finish the other. Furthermore, Villaraigosa worked doggedly to ensure that there were no surprises left in his past; Arellano seemed uncomfortable, even on election night, with spelling out precisely why his adolescence and early adulthood had been so troubled.
Only a few miles away, Villaraigosa stood onstage at the Puente Learning Center at the election-night party for García, the candidate who secured an impressive 47.1 percent finish in the five-way primary election. The mood was ebullient, with García standing before a buoyant crowd surrounded by the city’s new political stars: Villaraigosa, Councilwoman Wendy Greuel and García’s old boss — Councilman Jose Huizar. Huizar voiced some disappointment that the school-board district, which covers neighborhoods that surround downtown Los Angeles, would be without a representative for three more months. But he effusively praised Villaraigosa for wading into the public school debate.
“Let me welcome a person who’s passionate about education, who doesn’t say no when people tell him he can’t be and should not be involved in education,” said Huizar, who served on the school board for four and a half years. “I just want to say, it’s our children too.”
García dodged the question of mayoral control throughout the campaign, initially speaking against the concept but later refusing to say whether she had an opinion. And on election night, she and Arellano agreed on one thing — that the election should go well beyond the debate over mayoral control to focus on the dropout rate, classroom overcrowding and quality teachers. But García supporters also made clear that they view their candidate as unstoppable, with one privately saying UTLA could put up $1 million and still not overcome their candidate’s powerful connections and tremendous momentum.