UPDATE: With 100 percent of precincts reporting, George McKenna and Alex Johnson are the top two winners who will face each other in August. See below.
Super-principal George McKenna and school reform advocate Alex Johnson have jumped out in front of a big pack in the L.A. Unified Board of Education special election to replace District 1 representative Marguerite LaMotte. McKenna has 38.79 percent, Johnson 25.19 percent, and relative unknown Sherlett H. Newbill has 9.44 percent.
But these figures count only the early, vote-by-mail ballots, so take them with a grain of salt. Having said that, former LAUSD Board of Education member Genethia Hudley-Hayes and reality TV star Omarosa Manigault are far back, with about 7 percent each.
Assuming no candidate finishes with more than 50 percent in tonight's June 3 primary, the top two face each other in August – that's right, August, when no other race is happening, and everyone in L.A. will be on vacation. Turnout will likely be only a few thousand souls deciding who joins the powerful if obscure LAUSD board.
For more background, see: L.A. School Board Race May Actually Be Riveting
McKenna became famous for turning around George Washington Preparatory. His work as principal of the South L.A. school inspired a made-for-TV film, The George McKenna Story, starring none other than Denzel Washington.
The 33-year-old Alex Johnson used to work for L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.
The race is notable for the fact that the big money has largely stayed out of it.
The teachers union, UTLA, split its endorsement across three candidates: Dorsey High School teacher Sherlett Hendy-Newbill, Gardena City Council member and teacher Rachel Johnson and retired teacher/counselor Hattie McFrazier.
Unlike in previous years, the union hasn't spent one dime on the race. And neither has the equally powerful SEIU local 99, which represents non-teacher employees of the school district.
The “school reform” community, which has attracted well-to-do businessmen and charter school operators, has largely stayed out of the race, saying it was equally happy with former school board member Genethia Hudley-Hayes or Alex Johnson.
In the last week of the campaign, however, the California Charter School Association's Political Action Committee threw in with Johnson, spending a good $80,000 or so on him. That seems to be reflected in the early returns.
McKenna is considered to be a wild-card politically. He has been notably cagey about his feelings toward Superintendent John Deasy, whose sometimes-drastic reform measures have been lauded by reformers but are loathed by the teachers union.
Updated at 11:43 p.m.:
The numbers are George McKenna with 5,147 votes or 39.29 percent, Alex Johnson with 3,241 or 24.74 percent, Sherlett H. Newbill 1,227 or 9.37 percent and Rachel Johnson 1,020 or 7.79 percent. Trailing them are Hudley-Hayes at 6.97 percent, Omarosa Manigault at 6.79 percent and Hattie B. McFrazier at 5.05 percent.
Updated at 3:27 a.m.:
The talented ex-principal will meet the young reformer-hopeful now that McKenna has won with 15,442 votes, or 44.28, and Johnson has gained the second spot on the runoff ballot with 8,605 votes, or 24.67 percent. Nobody else in the crowded field for this underpaid but influential policymaking job came close.
Jill Stewart and Ani Ucar also contributed to this article.