SECOND-PLACE school-board candidate Christopher Arellano, whose campaign was rocked by revelations about his past and who was on the verge of losing the endorsement of the powerful teachers’ union, officially pulled the plug this week on his stalled campaign, telling supporters and union leaders that he will step aside in the race to replace former board member Jose Huizar.
The decision immediately threw into question the June 6 runoff election, which covers a district stretching from Koreatown to El Sereno. City Clerk Frank Martinez said he is seeking a legal opinion to determine whether the third-place candidate, Enrique Gasca, should be bumped into second place or whether it is too late for Arellano to be yanked from the ballot.
United Teachers Los Angeles president A.J. Duffy said he received a call from Arellano Tuesday afternoon telling him of his decision, hours before the county’s Democratic Party was expected to rescind its own endorsement in a meeting at UTLA headquarters. With Mónica García — a Huizar aide with strong support from Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa — receiving 47.3 percent of the vote, Duffy said the remaining candidates should think about staying out too.
“Quite frankly, I would think that whoever moves up [to second place], I don’t think it would be wise for anybody to go into this race at this point,” Duffy said. “With 47 percent of the vote and the backing of a popular mayor and a popular councilman, you’re really fighting an uphill battle.”
The March 7 election was dominated by the debate over Villaraigosa’s call for mayoral control of Los Angeles Unified School District, a move that would end the practice of school-board members being elected by the voters. UTLA spent roughly $250,000 on Arellano, a foe of mayoral takeover, only to be stunned to learn that its candidate had two misdemeanor convictions for theft and had misled the union about his graduate degrees.
Elementary-school teacher Paul Huebner, a major supporter of Arellano, said Arellano had concluded the runoff campaign would focus on his own complicated past — not issues like dropout rates and student achievement. “So he felt at this point it would be better to bow out than continue with that struggle,” Huebner said.
Arellano spokeswoman Heather Repenning also said her candidate stepped aside to give Gasca, another opponent of mayoral takeover, a chance to run. Yet by 4 p.m. Wednesday, two days before the Los Angeles City Council is scheduled to receive the March 7 election results and name the two runoff candidates, Martinez still hadn’t received a call from Arellano.
The city’s legal team is trying to determine whether to rely on the city charter, which states that the third-place candidate will be put in the runoff “in the event of the death, resignation or other disqualification” of the other candidate.
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But Gasca, a businessman from Boyle Heights, said he is strongly weighing a campaign for the runoff.
“Now that I’m in the running again, if that’s really the truth, then I need to evaluate where I’m at and what type of support is out there,” said Gasca, who received 13 percent of the vote. “The fact that UTLA is not supporting his campaign is a big blow to him and affords me an opportunity.”
Duffy voiced doubts, however, that the UTLA would invest in Gasca, who loaned his campaign $38,000 during the primary.
“Although I cannot speak for the UTLA House of Representatives and won’t venture to speak for them, I’d be surprised if the membership wanted to put any more money into this campign,” Duffy said.