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Friday, Jun 9, 2023


By HOWARD FINE Staff Reporter Last week’s municipal elections showed that after six years in office, L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan has finally become an effective force in city politics. That newfound mastery may be of limited practical use, however, because he’s now a lame duck due to leave office in two years. Riordan’s slate of four candidates for the L.A. Unified School District Board of Education either won outright or qualified for the June runoff election. “I would have been guilty of negligence if I had not stepped in,” Riordan said. “I have learned that if you stick hard with what you believe in, the public will believe you and get the message.” Meanwhile, the two Riordan-endorsed City Council candidates for open seats were the top vote-getters in their districts and thus the favorites going into the runoff. About the only downside for Riordan was the defeat of the $744 million police and fire facilities bond measure. Though it did pull 61 percent of the votes cast, it failed to muster the necessary two-thirds needed for approval. “There’s no getting around it. When you look at the overall results from the election, the man did well,” said political observer Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College. Riordan’s success was all the more remarkable because it came in an area in which he has no direct authority school reform. In fact, for years Riordan had been criticized for spending so much of his time talking about the need to reform the Los Angeles Unified School District. He often referred wistfully to the oversight authority that New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley have over the school districts in their cities power that Riordan lacks. But last week, Riordan turned years of rhetoric into tangible results, thanks in large part to the $2 million in campaign contributions and the shrewd campaign advice that he and his business allies poured into the school race. “It took him a while, but he finally figured out what he needed to do on education reform, and he did it,” Jeffe said. “Unfortunately, it’s some of the fallout of term limits that as soon as someone really learns the ropes, they are on their way out.” Critics contend that Riordan bought the school board election. And there is no disputing the fact that with help from the mayor, those candidates were able to outspend their opponents by an almost 10-to-1 margin. Still, money alone wasn’t the reason for the victory, political observers say. “If it were simply a matter of pouring money into campaigns, then we would have Ross Perot as president and Al Checchi as governor,” said Raphael Sonenshein, political science professor at Cal State Fullerton and executive director of the city’s Elected Charter Reform Commission. “You have to use the money strategically and effectively, and the Riordan forces did that.” Riordan agreed. “The money was used to raise the awareness of the voters that they can make a difference in repairing our schools,” he said. Riordan credited a large part of the success to his hiring of Bill Carrick as a consultant. “He’s the best political consultant in the country. He helped to build campaigns around the strengths of the candidates, which enabled us to go up against the unions and the special interest groups,” the mayor said. Sonenshein, who has run several political campaigns, noted that the television commercials aired by Riordan-backed candidates were exceptionally targeted and hard-hitting. Several of the commercials focused on the fiasco at the Belmont Learning Center, where the LAUSD is spending more than $200 million to build the nation’s most expensive high school on contaminated land. “They ran extremely effective commercials that skewered the current school board, and did it in such a way that they were able to capitalize on an issue people felt very concerned about,” Sonenshein said. In the school race, Riordan-backed candidates Caprice Young and Mike Lansing won easily. As of late last week, the race between Riordan-backed incumbent David Tokofsky and challenger Yolie Flores Aguilar was too close to call. With 47 percent of the vote, Riordan-backed candidate Genethia Hayes is headed for a runoff against Barbara Boudreaux. But Riordan’s success went beyond the school board to City Council races. Earlier this year, he endorsed youthful MIT graduate Alex Padilla in the Seventh District race to replace Richard Alarcon, who won election last year to the state Senate. Padilla picked up 48 percent of the vote last week and will face challenger Corinne Sanchez in a runoff. And in the 14th District race to replace the retiring Richard Alatorre, Riordan-backed candidate Nick Pacheco got 20 percent of the vote to lead all 14 candidates for the seat and will face Victor Griego in June.

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