Few voters, no verdict

first_imgAn election in which just 7 percent of voters cast ballots left Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s effort to reform Los Angeles Unified hanging in the balance, setting the stage for a brutal and costly runoff in May. School board member Jon Lauritzen, a former educator backed by the powerful teachers union, and challenger Tamar Galatzan, who had the mayor’s political and financial backing, will face off May 15 in a head-to-head contest for the District 3 seat. Unofficial elected results released today show Galatzan capturing 44 percent of the vote and Lauritzen 40 percent to represent the San Fernando Valley. Unaffiliated candidate Louis Pugliese came in third with 16 percent. Richard Vladovic, who won the mayor’s endorsement for District 7, won 46 percent of the vote in District 7, and will face a runoff with Neal Kleiner, who received 32 percent. Jesus Escandon finished out of the running with 22 percent of the vote. The seats are critical to Villaraigosa’s efforts to get his allies in four of the district’s seven seats, especially after incumbent Marguerite LaMotte – a vocal opponent of the mayor – handily won re-election to District 1, capturing 66 percent of the vote. “Smart, effective reform is what we’re looking for,” Villaraigosa said as he arrived Tuesday night at Vitello’s restaurant in Studio City, where Galatzan’s supporters had gathered to await election results that trickled in. “I’m not looking for the board to agree with me on every issue but I am looking for a board that has a sense of urgency – the same sense of urgency and passion you see me bring to this issue.” Earlier Tuesday, the mayor reached out to both Lauritzen and LaMotte, reiterating his willingness to work with them in the future. Experts say that indicates that the mayor is laying the groundwork for a possible defeat in the May runoffs. “He needs one of the two big ones to have a majority of support, and he still wants that, but in a sense he’s hedging his bets and that’s smart politics going into a very tough and competitive election whose outcome is unknown at this point,” said Jaime Regalado, director of the Edmund G. “Pat” Brown Institute of Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles. In the District 1 race, LaMotte defeated charter-school advocate Johnathan Williams to represent South Los Angeles. Williams got no financial support from Villaraigosa, but was considered a mayoral ally. Yolie Flores Aguilar, another Villaraigosa ally, won 59 percent of the vote in District 5. She defeated Bennett Kayser to fill the seat being vacated by veteran board member David Tokofsky. Lauritzen received about $475,000 from the UTLA, which advocates working within the existing system to rectify the school district’s problems, which include a lagging student test scores and a high dropout rate. At the same time, the mayor’s Partnership for Better Schools contributed about $1.13 million to Galatzan – including more than $210,000 reported Monday. Pugliese ran his campaign with about $7,000, records show. The UTLA also donated $450,000 to LaMotte, while Williams raised more than $837,000 from philanthropists, charter supporters and public-education reformers. The money and attention placed on the school board races far outweighed that spent on the City Council races, in which incumbent Jose Huizar raised the most money at about $315,000. And the high stakes drove a school board election in which more than $4 million was raised by the 11 candidates for a part-time job that pays about $24,500. Villaraigosa has said the school district has been resistant to accept his involvement in schools, driving him to work with the UTLA on a law that gave him a significant role in running the district. Assembly Bill 1381 was passed by the Legislature and signed into law by the governor last September. The school board mounted a successful legal challenge, and a Superior Court judge declared the law unconstitutional and barred it from taking effect Jan. 1. The case is currently under appeal. Although the mayor and teachers union collaborated on AB 1381 and agree that reform is needed, they backed different candidates, possibly because of concessions Villaraigosa made to the original bill in order to get it passed. Both the mayor and the union have proposed cutting district bureaucracy and diverting the money to classrooms; creating smaller schools and classrooms; and giving educators greater control over their campus budget and curriculum. Villaraigosa, who has raised more than $1.2 million for three candidates on Tuesday’s ballot, said Monday that the election is not part of a dispute with the UTLA. “They have their candidates and I have mine, but this is not about a battle with the teachers organization,” Villaraigosa said. “I have said 100 times before that I am here because of public schools. naush.boghossian @dailynews.com (818) 713-3722 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more