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
“And if not, I’m going to raise my own money to have staff,” she said. “I need my staff. Absolutely. Because like any elected official, you need your staff that is loyal to you, that understands what your constituents need.”
Those comments drew a jab from school board member Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte, who opposed the mayor’s bill and is the one incumbent who handily fended off a challenge. “You can’t have two masters,” she said. “You can’t be both for [the Villaraigosa bill] and against it.”
It just seems that things were simpler back in 1999, when the battle for the soul of L.A. Unified was a clear contest between two forces that hated each other’s guts: the UTLA and then-Mayor Richard Riordan. In that election, Riordan picked four candidates, dumped a pile of money on them and swept the teachers union’s candidates out the door. Four years later, the UTLA exacted its revenge, knocking out two of Riordan’s candidates.
These days, things are far more opaque. Once viewed as an electoral powerhouse, the UTLA settled for defensive rear-guard action this year, working to defend incumbents LaMotte and Lauritzen while staying silent in two other races. The union’s timid approach was yet more blow-back from its decision last summer to back Villaraigosa’s school bill. While UTLA’s leadership favored a backroom deal with the mayor in Sacramento, the outraged rank and file formally voted to oppose the bill, weeks after Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had signed it.
That leaves UTLA and Villaraigosa fighting on just one front — the upcoming runoff battle between Lauritzen and Galatzan. On Tuesday, Galatzan clearly spoke as though she had the momentum, having pulled five percentage points ahead of her opponent. “I think the voters understood that this election was about more than a new school board. This was about the future of Los Angeles,” she said.
Actually, most of the voters understood that they needed to ignore the race entirely, since only 9.3 percent of the electorate cast votes in the Galatzan race, according to preliminary figures. Still, if Galatzan wins, she will have cemented her district’s status as an arena for electoral combat. In the past eight years, UTLA-backed Jeff Horton was pushed out by Riordan-backed Caprice Young, who was turned out by UTLA-backed Lauritzen, who is now being targeted by Villaraigosa-backed Galatzan. Fortunately for the public, Measure L also imposes term limits, to make sure board members don’t stay too long.
Villaraigosa seemed to acknowledge that the public is growing tired of the continual city-school combat. The mayor said he had placed a call to Lauritzen on Election Day pledging to work with him — a bizarre move considering Villaraigosa is trying to oust him.
Lauritzen, in turn, planned to hang on to his seat even as he receives chemotherapy for the brain cancer that forced him to undergo radiation treatment last year. “He is overcoming that, just as he will overcome this election,” said Lauritzen chief of staff Ed Burke, who described Lauritzen’s cancer as being in remission.
While Villaraigosa bet the farm on Galatzan, he found himself tiptoeing around South Los Angeles, refusing to endorse African-American candidate Williams, the charter-school founder and advocate who tried to unseat LaMotte, the school board’s only black member. Indeed, each time reporters asked him, Villaraigosa insisted that he had not picked a candidate in the race.
The city’s black elected officials weren’t buying it. Councilwoman Jan Perry, one of several black leaders supporting LaMotte, accused Villaraigosa weeks ago of recruiting Williams and assembling his campaign team. After all, Williams was the mayor’s commissioner at the Department of Recreation and Parks. Villaraigosa’s political consultant Ace Smith was assigned to Williams’ campaign. And the Accelerated School, which Williams runs, was used as the backdrop for Villaraigosa’s education-themed State of the City address in 2006, where he spoke in favor of mayoral control of L.A. Unified.
U.S. Representative Maxine Waters urged Villaraigosa to stay neutral on Williams. And Councilman Bernard Parks, the former police chief who campaigned heavily for Villaraigosa in 2005, declared weeks ago that the black community would fight “tooth and nail” to protect LaMotte.
LaMotte beat Williams by a 2-1 margin. On election night, Parks argued that voters in LaMotte’s district had sent a message to the contributors “outside the community” who had bankrolled Williams — a group ranging from Riordan to Wal-Mart executives in Arkansas to Beverly Hills dowager Edith Wasserman, who gave a $100,000 contribution to the charter-school executive.
IF THE SCHOOL BOARD RACES were obscure and largely ignored, the contests for the Los Angeles City Council were straightforward and ugly. Five incumbents had no opposition, two others handily won re-election, and one former councilman — Richard Alarcón — returned to reclaim the seat he left in 1998.
In the only two contests with even a whiff of competition, the campaigns were devastatingly negative. How else to describe an election where one candidate’s head was superimposed on top of a frog, a second was made to look like Homer Simpson, and two others were accused of coddling sex offenders?