SEIU-backed candidate Heather Repenning has declared victory in the race for a runoff spot against Jackie Goldberg in the May 14 LAUSD BD5 special election. If Repenning wins, she will be the only parent of a current LAUSD student on the Board of Education.
After all valid ballots were counted Friday, Repenning led third-place candidate Graciela Ortiz by just 31 votes. “I look forward to a spirited campaign in the coming weeks that centers on how we can best bring a new chapter of change to LAUSD as we sprint to the May 14 runoff election,” Repenning said in a statement Friday after thanking all the voters, her supporters and the other candidates.
It's unclear whether Ortiz will concede or ask for a recount after the vote is certified March 22. “At work. Can’t talk,” Ortiz texted Speak UP when asked to comment. Anyone willing to pay for it can request a machine or manual recount within the five days after the vote is certified. There is no automatic recount, regardless of the margin.
The tight race for a second-place runoff spot certainly went down to the wire. Repenning had landed in third place on election night but later pulled ahead after more mail-in ballots arrived. Her lead narrowed, however, every time a new batch of votes was counted.
“These results show how critical every last vote is, and how important your support has been,” Reppening posted on Facebook and Twitter March 12.
Voters that submitted ballots that were missing valid signatures still have an opportunity to send in corrected ballots by Wednesday, but voters rarely respond to that opportunity so Friday’s vote tally was considered all but final. “There are no remaining ballots to be counted,” said a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder’s office.
The race between Repenning and Goldberg means that two white, union-backed political insiders from the northern part of the district will face off in a district that was specifically drawn to maximize Latino representation. Ortiz, a Councilmember from Huntington Park, as well as a high school attendance counselor and UTLA member, had strong grassroots support from many parents and voters in the primarily Latino Southeast portion of BD5.
Voter turnout has historically been much stronger in the north, and the top two finishers reflect that. Nevertheless, Ortiz made a strong showing despite a huge financial disadvantage. SEIU, which represents LAUSD bus drivers and cafeteria workers, spent nearly $1 million to get Repenning to the runoff, while Goldberg benefitted from $640,000 in outside spending from UTLA. By comparison, Ortiz raised $129,000 and had only $90,558 spent on her behalf.
Speak UP did not endorse a candidate in the race, but a team of Speak UP parents worked hard to inform Latino voters in the Southeast about the election and encouraged them to get out and vote. That likely helped boost the prospects for Ortiz. The vast majority of parents in BD5 are Latino, and schools in the Southeast underperform schools in the more affluent and gentrifying northern neighborhoods of Los Feliz, Silver Lake, Echo Park and Eagle Rock.
With Ortiz likely out of the running, the two biggest labor unions representing LAUSD employees will now face off for control of a pivotal board seat that has been vacant since Ref Rodriguez resigned last summer.
It’s unclear whether Latino parents in the Southeast will now shift their support to Repenning, who is a parent of an LAUSD student. Many parents in the Southeast say that it’s imperative that their Board member speak Spanish. Repenning, who worked as a teacher in Honduras and taught ESL classes at Los Angeles City College, is fluent in Spanish, while Goldberg is not.
Either way, Repenning has an uphill battle to defeat Goldberg, who received 48 percent of the vote. Repenning does have strong support from Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, with whom she worked for more than a decade, serving as his field deputy for Echo Park, Silver Lake, Elysian Valley and Glassell Park and as his district director when he served on the City Council. She also served as Director of External Affairs for Garcetti. She worked for LAUSD to help build new schools and address overcrowding. And most recently, she served as vice president of the Board of Public Works.
Goldberg is a career politician who served on the Board of Education in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, as well as in the State Assembly and City Council.