If the singer Tom Petty’s oft-cited lyrics are true, and the waiting is indeed the hardest part, then Los Angeles Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa has a tough two months ahead.
Last week’s race for seats on the Los Angeles Unified School District board was a battle between the teachers’ union and the mayor for control of the seven-member panel, but its result was more of a whimper than a bang: Two of the four races won’t be resolved until a May 15 runoff election.
In those contests, candidates favored by the mayor were leading. In the two conclusive races, one of the mayorally backed candidates, Yolie Flores Aguilar, and one backed by the United Teachers Los Angeles, incumbent Marguerite Poindexter Lamotte, won outright.
Candidates spent more than $3 million on the March 6 race, much of it raised by the union and the mayor’s Partnership for Better Schools. At stake for the mayor is how much control he can gain over the board, especially since his legislative bid for broader authority in the district is tied up in court. (“Mayor of L.A. Appeals Ruling Against Law On School Governance,” Jan. 10, 2007.)
If Mr. Villaraigosa loses his court case, his best chance to have an impact on the city’s schools lies with his plan to run one or more clusters of low-performing schools, observers say.
“This is where having a majority on the board will make a difference,” said Jaime A. Regalado, the director of the Edmund G. “Pat” Brown Institute of Public Affairs at California State University-Los Angeles. “And the political calculus for him is he could run those clusters in parts of the city where he doesn’t do well politically.”
A.J. Duffy, the president of the teachers’ union, didn’t return calls about the election; neither did the mayor’s representatives. Several board members who received phone calls from Mr. Villaraigosa the night before the election said he had begun striking a more harmonious chord.
“He was offering what he called an olive branch, saying it was time for a clean slate,” said Marlene Canter, who as president of the board has bitterly opposed Mr. Villaraigosa’s bid for more control.
“Those were words I’ve been waiting to hear.”
A version of this article appeared in the March 14, 2007 edition of Education Week