With just a month to go until the LAUSD Board District 5 special election, candidate Heather Repenning leads in fundraising. Her campaign has taken in $197,248 according to the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission website. Allison Bajracharya is close behind with $151,372 and Graciela Ortiz is in third among ten candidates, with $114,315.
Jackie Goldberg is in fourth place, with $77,951. However, a PAC funded by the teachers union has spent $171,000 backing her. Service Employees International Union Local 99, the union of 30,000 teacher assistants, bus drivers and other school support staff, has spent nearly $429,000 to get Repenning elected.
Other candidates in the race are Ana Cubas, who has brought in $49,169, Cynthia Gonzalez with $24,615, David Valdez at $19,283, Salvador “Chamba” Sanchez at $6,999, Nestor Enrique Valencia at $2,644, and Rocio Rivas who, as of the most recent reporting deadline (January 19), had not reported any funds raised.
These figures pale in comparison to the 2017 LAUSD board elections, when nearly $10 million was spent in the Board District 4 race and $5 million in the Board District 6 race. Independent expenditures by UTLA and the California Charter Schools Association accounted for most of that. CCSA is not endorsing a candidate in the BD5 primary and has not spent any money backing or opposing any candidates.
Of course, the BD5 board seat only opened up in September, when Board Member Ref Rodriguez resigned. Ordinarily, the fundraising window for these campaigns is much longer. The teachers strike by UTLA was also all-consuming during what would normally have been the peak of election season. And then there’s the reduced term. Because this is a special election, with a regular election still slated for 2020, whomever is elected on March 5, or in a May 14 runoff, will serve for only a year. The candidate who wins could have a strong advantage as the incumbent in 2020, “assuming they do good things for kids,” Bajracharya said.
Goldberg, however, who last served on the school board from 1983-1991, has vowed to only serve a year before stepping down if she wins.
There are quite a few familiar names on the lists of contributors for the top candidates. Among those who have given to Repenning: Amy Wakeland (wife of Mayor Eric Garcetti), Gil Garcetti (the mayor’s father) and former LAUSD Board President Steve Zimmer. On team Bajracharya are former Senator Barbara Boxer, former LAUSD Board President Marlene Canter and former Paramount Pictures CEO Sherry Lansing.
“I’m extremely honored and grateful for the wide-ranging support that our campaign has received from parents, teachers, activists and community leaders,” Repenning said in a statement. “These strong numbers serve as evidence of the growing enthusiasm and momentum behind my campaign.”
Bajracharya was pleased with her second-place standing. “It shows the top two who are going to make it through the primary,” she said. “The dollars are pretty important to getting to voters.”
Historically, said Bajracharya, turnout in this election has been around 8 percent. “We want to see increased turnout, especially younger voters and parents, and increased representation in the Southeast.”
“I feel really humbled and really proud of the support we’ve received,” she added. “I think it shows a ton of grassroots momentum… And I think it speaks to the strength of my campaign. It’s incredible to be able to connect with so many people and really inspiring to see so many people care about all kids in this district.”
While the candidates have been busy lining up key endorsements, Goldberg was recently embroiled in a controversy surrounding the Stonewall Democratic Club. A mailer sent on her behalf erroneously included the club’s endorsement when she actually did not receive enough votes to earn it. This prompted the club to put out a statement correcting the mailer.
"A flyer mailed to voters in L.A. School Board District 5 erroneously states that the Stonewall Democratic Club has endorsed Jackie Goldberg in the March 5, 2019 Special Election. That is not true,” wrote Stonewall President Lester Aponte. “We want to set the record straight on behalf of the other candidates in this race who also sought the endorsement of the club who may have been negatively affected by this error.”
—By Leslee Komaiko