The special election to replace the late Marguerite LaMotte on the Los Angeles Unified School Board got a much-welcome dose of star wattage as reality TV's Omarosa Manigault entered the fray. You may remember Manigault from such reality TV series as The Apprentice and Celebrity Apprentice, where she competed against such luminaries as Piers Morgan, Stephen Baldwin and Gene Simmons.
She was indisputably one of the franchise's biggest villains. In the words of one LAUSD School Board insider who watched the first season of The Apprentice, “She was just an over-the-top reality TV character.”
That might be the understatement of the year. But Omarosa – like any good villain, she typically goes by her first name – isn't just a one trick pony. For one thing, she was engaged to the late actor Michael Clarke Duncan (and yes, controversy ensued after his death). For another, “Preacher, Teacher, Ambassador, Mentor and Friend are just a few of the divine assignments that Minister Omarosa Onee Manigault has embraced in her life,” according to her delightful website.
She's also author of The Bitch Switch: How to Turn it On and Off, a much-needed skill on the factious LAUSD Board, whose long Tuesday meetings can devolve into bickering and name-calling faster than schools Superintendent John Deasy can give away free iPads.
“I'm a tough, no nonsense, take-no-prisoners woman,” Omarosa told the website LA School Report, which notes the ordained Baptist pastor graduated from Howard University, and, more recently, was an L.A. Unified substitute teacher. During the Clinton Administration, she worked in the office of then-Vice President Al Gore as a scheduling correspondent.
Before the untimely death of LaMotte (whom Omarosa called a friend) late last year in San Diego, the seven-member Board of Education, all elected politicians, were bitterly divided: Of the seven, two are “school reformers,” who favor the spread of charter schools, increased teacher accountability, and giving Superintendent John Deasy a wide berth; two are teachers union allies, who fought Deasy tooth and nail; and three are independent wild cards.
LaMotte was one of the two union allies closely tied to the United Teachers Los Angeles. But she sometimes sided with the pro-Deasy faction, notably in her dramatic 2013 vote to approve the breakup of failing Crenshaw High School – where less than 5 percent of the students could perform math at a high school level – into three distinct magnet schools. And while her death was widely mourned, it does present something of an opportunity to the reformers, whose momentum, built up during the Villaraigosa years, was halted by the shock election of school teacher Monica Ratliff last summer.
No less than 10 candidates have filed to replace LaMotte in the June 3 special election (the deadline to file is tonight, February 18, at 5 pm):
Former LAUSD Board President Genethia Hayes; Alex Johnson, an aide to County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas; longtime principal and local district Superintendent George McKenna III; and a bevy of lesser-known candidates including Rachel Johnson, Hattie McFazier, Marco Mendoza, David Moch, Sherlett Hendy Newbill and Alison Noel.
According to our inside source (the same one who admits to watching the first season of The Apprentice), longtime educator George McKenna might be the frontrunner based on name ID (they even made a movie about the guy!) and resume. Omarosa's entry brings far more eyeballs and a lot more media attention to the contest.
The school reform community in Los Angeles, which has the means to spend millions of dollars on an election in which few voters are expected to actually vote, is expected to back either Genethia Hayes and Alex Johnson, although the reformers wouldn't mind McKenna, who would likely be a centrist. Both Hayes and Johnson have prominent politicians pushing for them. McKenna has a base of community support, but it's unclear whether he can raise enough money to mount a strong campaign.
The real question then is who will the teachers union, UTLA, endorse? The union could back Omarosa, herself an LA Unified substitute teacher. Or they could endorse multiple candidates, as they did in the last school board election.
Then again, UTLA's support is far from vital. Their non-endorsement didn't stop Monica Ratliff from upsetting then-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's anointed school reform candidate, Antonio Sanchez.