A Capricious Fate
BERNIE STOLTZ HAD IT EASY calling voters on behalf of Jon Lauritzen, the retired teacher who defeated school-board President Caprice Young in a night of school-board election shockers.
Are the bathrooms as bad as he'd heard? a voter wanted to know.
Worse, said Stoltz, an 18-year-old senior at Chatsworth High.
But are the bathrooms better than they have been?
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Worse, he said.
"In the high schools, they are just nasty," he recounted later. "Have you, like, been to the schools? It's a joke. First thing in the morning, it's not too bad. But by lunch, there's stuff all over the floor. There's no doors on the stalls. At lunch nobody goes, because it's embarrassing."
Chalk up another vote for the challenger.
In politics, nothing wins like a good metaphor. And Lauritzen had a great one: new private bathrooms for board members at a total cost of $100,000; zero clean bathrooms for thousands of students at many schools. Never mind that the bathroom "facts" were stretched, this was a landslide formula especially with a dash of leftover secession sentiment and residual Valley indignation over $200 million spent on the unfinished Belmont Learning Complex downtown. Especially if the challenger is a likable teacher and the incumbent a "downtown bureaucrat" from L.A. Unified, that most vilified of all bureaucracies.
This election wasn't supposed to turn out as a 59 percent to 41 percent loss for Caprice Young. West San Fernando Valley voters, who are somewhat more conservative and more Anglo, ought to like Caprice Young, "a Valley mother for Valley schools," as her campaign put it. She also had the backing of former Mayor Richard Riordan, who'd always been popular in the Valley. "Her sense was that she grew up in the Valley and lived in the Valley all her life, except when she went away to school," said Bill Carrick, one of her campaign consultants. He could have added that Young's first-grade daughter had the very same teacher Young had as a child. "Caprice felt very comfortable running in the Valley. But anti-school-
district feelings were so strong they transcended that."
To say the least. "LAUSD is the most corrupt school system in the U.S.," said a 60-year-old Valley Village voter who didn't want his name used. "They don't give a damn about kids. All they care about is their own jobs. It has become bureaucracy first and kids last. Anyone who will spend $100,000 on a bathroom, and go along with Belmont and the current administration, is not paying attention to the needs of the kids." As for Lauritzen, "I got the image of a man trying to do the right thing. Lauritzen has had 35 years' experience as a teacher."
It didn't help that Young's redrawn district was 85 percent new to her, which left an opening for hard-hitting Lauritzen consultant John Shallman to shape voters' views. He'd run a similar campaign to help Marlene Canter unseat a Westside board incumbent two years ago.
"Our guy was a teacher, and a teacher wouldn't make decisions like taking money out of classrooms," said Shallman. "We got a teacher who really speaks the language of the pissed-off voter and the parent in the Valley. As an incumbent board member, you need to match my tone in terms of anger. From the voter's standpoint, you need to kick it up a bit if you're not relating to my pain as a taxpayer and parent. The bathroom issue was a metaphor. It said there's a real problem with the priorities in this district."
Young tried to overcome the metaphor with talk of improved test scores and the massive school-construction program. She also put forth an 11th-hour plan for breaking up the behemoth school system. It may be the right thing to do, but it looked too much like a last-minute election ploy.
Clumsy metaphor. Lost election.
CAPRICE YOUNG WAS in good, unhappy company. In a remarkable outcome, incumbent Genethia Hudley Hayes lost narrowly to retired principal Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte. Score two victories for candidates endorsed by United Teachers Los Angeles and two losses for the Coalition for Kids, the political-action committee controlled by former Mayor Richard Riordan and billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad. Both Young and Hayes were allies of schools Superintendent Roy Romer, whose own position became more difficult overnight. Coalition-backed incumbent Mike Lansing won, but he had no well-funded opposition.
In another surprise, incumbent David Tokofsky apparently won outright in the 5th school-board district, which includes Eagle Rock and Los Feliz as well as the cities of South Gate, Bell and Cudahy. He faced three Latino candidates in a district with a 59 percent Latino voter registration; a runoff had seemed the best he could hope for, but, pending updated vote counts, he won with a slim majority of 300 votes.
Ben Quiñones and Christine Pelisek contributed to this article.
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