Charter School Founder Considering Challenge to Eric Garcetti

Steve Barr
Steve Barr
Kris Krug / via Flickr

Steve Barr, the founder of the Green Dot charter school network, is considering running for mayor against Eric Garcetti in 2017.

In an interview, Barr said he has been disappointed with Garcetti's lack of leadership on education. Barr worked closely with Garcetti's predecessor, Antonio Villaraigosa, during his effort to take control of the L.A. Unified School District in 2005.

"We had some positive movement that came out of that, but our current mayor isn't paying attention at all to it," Barr said, saying he has heard that Garcetti does not want to get drawn into a fight between reformers and the teachers union. "It's kind of icky to him."

The mayor has no formal authority over the school district, though Villaraigosa was able to take control of 16 low-performing schools through the Partnership for L.A. Schools, a privately funded nonprofit. Garcetti has been comparatively quiet on the issue.

Barr argued that education is a central concern that relates to many of the other issues facing the city, from crime to traffic congestion.

"When you move into a city, the first thing you ask is what are the schools like," Barr said. "It's not, 'How good is the mayor at doing press conferences?'"

Barr said he had thought about running for mayor before, but decided he couldn't commit the time because he had small children. Now his children are a little older, and the idea is back on the front burner.

He would face an uphill climb. Garcetti has already raised $2.2 million for his re-election effort, and Barr would be starting from zero. It is possible that Barr could benefit from independent expenditures. Charter school groups and philanthropists who back education reform issues have been known to put hundreds of thousands of dollars behind reform-minded school board candidates.

Another candidate, Mitchell Schwartz, has already declared his intention to run against Garcetti next year. Schwartz, a veteran Democratic operative, said he will focus on quality-of-life issues that have not gotten adequate attention.

"Crime is up 20 percent. Homelessness is a crisis and probably going to get worse. Our streets, our infrastructure, our roads are in bad shape. There's too many failing schools. Development is pushing middle-income people out," Schwartz said in an interview.

Garcetti ran for office as a "back-to-basics" candidate, but Schwartz suggested he has strayed from that theme.

"When you're running around trying to get the Olympics without knowing who’s going to pay for it, that's not an example of back-to-basics," Schwartz said.

Schwartz's candidacy, first reported by the L.A. Times, would also face long odds. Barr noted that Schwartz comes from wealth and could self-fund his campaign. Schwartz, however, said he has no intention of putting his own money into the race.

"I’m under no illusion about what I’m facing," he said. "I think hopefully lightning can strike, but I understand it’s a huge hurdle. ... Miracles can happen."

Bill Carrick, Garcetti's political consultant, said the mayor would continue to focus on priorities like homelessness and reforming the Department of Water and Power.

"These people start talking about running, you never know what they’re really up to, whether they’re really going to run," he said.

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