Though LAUSD District 5 candidate Luis Sanchez was eager to declare victory in front of his supporters last night, strong showings by opponents Bennet Kayser and John Fernandez have force the race to a runoff vote to be held next month.
Sanchez, a former city commissioner and the current chief of staff for LAUSD Board President Monica Garcia, earned 45 percent of the votes cast by Los Angeles city voters, edging out former Irving Middle School teacher and Echo Park resident Bennett Kayser, who earned 39 percent.
[Ed.: Returns reported late Wednesday from the independent cities of Bell, Commerce, Huntington Park, Monterey Park and South Gate showed Sanchez the victor by a 59 percent to 21 percent margin over Kayser in just those five cities. This pushed the total percentage in the race for Sanchez to just below 49 percent, and Kayser's total down to just under 36 percent. One estimate is that as many as 4,500 ballots remain to be counted, so the runoff is still not confirmed. ]
A stronger than expected showing by long time teacher and administrator John Fernandez, who won almost 16 percent of the vote, seems to be responsible for pushing the closely contested race to a runoff, in which he will not be able to participate. [Ed.: Fernandez gleaned almost 20 percent of the vote in the five independent cities.]
Fernandez had initially won the endorsement the United Teachers of Los Angeles, which the union later recinded citing concerns about his honesty and integrity related to undisclosed tax liens and a bankruptcy on his record.
Prior to learning that the race would be sent to a runoff, Sanchez celebrated with his supporters, which included Board President Garcia, Tuesday evening. He assured supporters he would advocate for better schools.
“When we decided to launch the campaign to elect Luis Sanchez,” he told the crowd, “it was about continuing the movement for educational justice. I am a part of a larger movement for better schools, a movement to make sure every child has a fighting change for opportunity.”
Sanchez thanked supporters and reminded them that the struggle to improve schools is far from over.
LAUSD, the second largest district in the country, is facing a dire financial situation. Last month, the board agreed to send 7,000 layoff notices to teachers and support staff to decrease the $408 million deficit to $183 million.
“It is easy to lead when things are good. But we need good leadership when times are tough,” he told the crowd. “When I get to that board on July 1 and when people say ‘No’ to me, when the special interest groups say ‘No’ to me, they are not saying ‘No’ to me they are saying ‘No’ to everyone in this room.”
He asked supporters to continue to build a stronger coalition for better schools.
The “special interest groups” Sanchez was referring to in his speech include the United Teachers Los Angeles, which poured about $330,000 to oppose Sanchez’s campaign.
But Sanchez’s experience as a political advisor helped him outspend his opponents by raising $164, 845. He was also able to receive support from groups like "Citizens for Better Schools" sponsored by Service Employees International Union Local 99 which spent an additional $648,314 to support his campaign by sending campaign literature among other things, according to recent campaign contribution reports from the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission.
By contrast, Kayser raised $18,798, including a $7,100 personal loan, and the United Teachers Los Angeles’ political action committee spent $237,576 to support his campaign. Hernandez loaned himself $10,000 to run his campaign. UTLA spent $35,291 to support Hernandez’s campaign until the union withdrew his endorsement after union members learned of undisclosed tax liens and bankruptcy on his record.
Kayser spent his Tuesday night with fellow teachers, campaign advisors and his family at Barragan's restaurant in Echo Park.
"UTLA has done a lot," he said. "And I expect them to do more.
Kayser said he will be seeking to diversify his funding sources. He also said he plans to reach out to voters who might not be as likely to come to the polls as they were in Tuesday's low-turnout race.
Kayser, who was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease in May 2009, would be the first LAUSD board member with a disability as defined under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Whoever wins the District 5 could potentially tip the balance of power on the school board, as the winner will be replacing Yolie Flores Aguillar, a staunch supportor of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
Aguillar is leaving the board to take on a leadership position with the Bill and Melinda Gates Education Foundation.
Other Villaraigosa allies, Richard Vladovic, who represents distict 7, and Marguerite Poindexter Lamotte, district 1, won reelection on Tuesday night, as did one of Villaraigosa's strongest opponents, district 3 representative Tamar Galtazan.
A win for Sanchez would likely mean the addition of another Villaraigosa friendly voice to the board. Kayser, who ran with the endorsement of the UTLA after the Fernandez fumble, would likely stand with teachers.