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The Big Test

SCHOOL BOARD CANDIDATE CHRISTOPHER ARELLANO tested the loyalty of the city’s powerful teachers union this week like few candidates ever have. First, he failed to apprise the union — which poured nearly $250,000 into his campaign — of a shoplifting conviction in Echo Park in 1992 and a grand theft conviction in 1995 in the San Fernando Valley. Then he found himself having to explain why he campaigned as a recipient of two master’s degrees from the University of Southern California — a fact deemed untrue by USC.

With less than a week before Tuesday’s election, the UTLA — which provided nearly $250,000 for Arellano’s school board bid — met to discuss the candidate’s complicated past. After hearing from Arellano, and despite a recommendation by UTLA president A.J. Duffy to rescind the endorsement, the union’s rank-and-file members rallied behind their candidate.

But that was before radio and newspapers reported that Arellano, who portrayed himself as the recipient of a double master’s from USC, had not received either. On Friday, with Arellano struggling to explain why his other degree, a bachelor’s at UCLA, was “on hold,” Duffy said he was disappointed by the revelations but would press ahead on Arellano’s behalf.

“I do not believe that I have the authority to override the [UTLA’s] House of Representatives and stop the campaign,” he said.

Arellano did not respond to interview requests from the L.A. Weekly — even earlier in the week, when the subject was the huge influx of contributions to the UTLA. He is one of four candidates seeking the seat vacated by Jose Huizar, who left the school board and is now on the City Council. Huizar, who is backing school board candidate Monica Garcia, voiced disappointment in the revelations, including the fact that Arellano changed his name a decade ago from Robert Christopher Bruce to his current name.

“To me, a name change is important,” he said. “Because if there has been a name change, people should have the right to know who they’re voting for and if that person did anything in the past.”

Garcia has the backing of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who has spent nearly a year promising to take over the Los Angeles Unified School District. Although Garcia has taken no position, the UTLA’s membership was determined to field a candidate who would not have the mayor’s backing.

The other two candidates are Enrique Gasca, a former legislative aide who opposes a mayoral takeover, and Ana Teresa Fernandez, who said she is open to the idea but is not ruling out other possibilities, such as breaking up the L.A. Unified completely.

—David Zahniser


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