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Walking around the streets of the east San Fernando Valley on Friday, it was hard to find any visual reminders of the just-completed campaign to elect Antonio Sanchez to the seven-member LAUSD School Board.
“We didn’t do lawn signs, “ said Sanchez, who was tending his tomato plants the other day and trying to understand how he lost to Monica Ratcliff, the 5th grade teacher District 6 voters chose to represent them.
Lawn signs might have been the only thing that Sanchez and his supporters left out in their effort to win the seat, which Ratliff won by 949 votes (out of 30,347 cast and counted) despite Sanchez’s numerous political ties and the support of an outside campaign funding group known as the Coalition for School Reform that attracted big-money donations locally and nationally.
Since the election, there’s been lots of conjecture about the surprise outcome. But that doesn’t mean that there’s any real consensus – or that anyone knows for sure how Ratliff pulled off the surprise victory.
Some factors that may not yet have been fully appreciated include the role of Ratliff’s newspaper endorsements, racial polarization in District 6, and the impact of Greuel-Garcetti dynamics on perceptions of Sanchez and on voter turnout.
Many views on the race identify factors similar to those that have already been reported in recent days:
“I think that 52 percent of the voters decided they would prefer an educator on the Board,” NYU education historian told LA School Report. “They didn’t want very rich people with no connection to the schools to buy control with their millions.”
“The teachers are the most in touch with what is going on in our district” said Sunland resident Jill Adams, an LAUSD employee (and parent of two LAUSD children) who was impressed when she met Ratliff in a neighborhood café.
“They are cutting things we need and giving us things we don’t need,” Adams told LA School Report. “We have so many injuries on a daily basis in the schoolyard, losing our nurses was the last thing we need. But they gave us computers; we already have computers.”
One campaign factor that has received perhaps too little credit is the LA Times and Daily News endorsements, both of which went to Ratliff.
In a small race when unknowns are running, the voter goes to the editorial page for guidance, according to former LA Times journalist Narda Zacchino
“The newspaper has a lot of clout,” the 30-year veteran reporter and editor told LA School Report. “The vast majority of people don’t know what’s going on. The paper’s editorial page has done the homework, interviewed the candidates for the voter.”
The newspaper endorsements also have credibility that the flyers and other materials lack, according to Zacchino, who used the endorsements — and voted for Ratliff.
But endorsements aren’t the only possible factor that may have been overlooked.
Democratic political consultant Mike Trujillo (and close personal friend of Sanchez) advised Wendy Gruel in the recent LA Mayoral race and too agrees that the failure to earn an endorsement hurt Sanchez.
Trujillo cites two additional factors that KO’d the Sanchez campaign: the “racial polarization” of District 6, and the attacks on outside funding that came from Eric Garcetti against Wendy Greuel in the Mayoral campaign.
“During this election, the voting public became exposed to super PACs at an unprecedented level,” Trujillo told LA School Report, referring to independent expenditure committees operated by the Coalition for School Reform and labor unions, among others. “Garcetti made ‘super PAC’ a four-letter word.”
In the District 6 race, Ratliff campaigned without the help of an independent expenditure committee, while Sanchez benefited with support from several.
District 6 is thought of as a Latino district, which would give Sanchez an advantage, and is thought to be controlled by political clans headed by Latino politicians.
But Latinos do not make up as much of the district as some may think, Sanchez is not closely allied with the East Valley political clans, and Ratliff’s racial identity is mixed (her mom was born in Mexico) while both of Sanchez’s parents are Latino.
Though the race is too small to attract too much study from experts or campaign consultants, there are a few other as-yet unexamined factors that may also have played a role in the Ratliff win:
A quick scan of the results shows that Ratliff walloped Sanchez in a handful of precincts – and that pro-Sanchez margins tended to be much smaller.
Precincts may have flipped from Sanchez to Ratliff between the primary and the runoff, mirroring the dynamics that CSUN professor Tom Hogen-Esch told KPCC helped Eric Garcetti win over Wendy Greuel.
“We really focused on grassroots organizing, knocking on doors in Sylmar, Pocoima (mainly) the northeast Valley,” SEIU spokesperson Blanca Gallegos told LA School Report.
However, it wasn’t enough to overcome Ratliff’s identification as a teacher and the Mayoral runoff was pushing voters her way.
“The voters for Garcetti were also going for Ratliff,” said Gallegos.