The Decline and Fall of Iris Zuniga
Alexander Russo | January 25, 2013
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The steep decline of District 6 candidate Iris Zuniga’s campaign — and her sudden withdrawal earlier this week — were vivid examples of the sudden twists and turns that part of any political campaign.
Things can and do change quickly during campaign season, and no doubt there are many more twists and turns before we get to March 5th.
That being said, it’s worth taking a moment to look back. How did Zuniga go from being a front-runner to stepping out of the race entirely, and who or what prompted her announced withdrawal?
The answers still aren’t entirely clear. Our tip line (firstname.lastname@example.org remains open.) Zuniga did her best to tamp down some of the rumors surrounding what happened during a phone interview with LA School Report.
On paper, Zuniga might have seemed to have it all. She was among the first candidates to announce her intention to run. She was endorsed by outgoing School Board member Nury Martinez. She worked in the field for a charter school network. She had already amassed $20,000 in contributions, according to this LA Daily News story.
The teachers union’s decision not to endorse her wasn’t much of a surprise, and wasn’t something she was counting on.
Zuniga’s failure to win the endorsement of SEIU Local 99 — for reasons that have never been reported — wasn’t a surprise either, given that rival Antonio Sanchez once worked for the County Federation. However, it was key to her decision to withdraw from the race yesterday, according to this LA Times story.
More than anything else, the Coalition for School Reform sealed Zuniga’s fate when it announced it also would support Sanchez. This could be interpreted as either a defeat for charter school proponents, given Zuniga’s work for a charter operator, or a sign that she was such a flawed candidate that she was unable to win support from within the charter community.
Still, Zuniga had filed the paperwork and gathered signatures. She could have hung on until the March 5 election, and indeed many were expecting to that to happen. Her name would appear on the ballot either way.
Zuniga’s withdrawal announcement –likely an effort to tie up loose ends — was softened by a statement issued from Mayor Villaraigosa’s office. The two were reportedly in Washington DC last weekend for the Inauguration, leading some to think the Mayor might have asked her to step aside there.
That’s not the case, according to Zuniga, though the two did meet here in Los Angeles.
In a phone interview with LA School Report, she explained that her decision had to do with timing, and that she’d rather focus on her work with the Youth Policy Institute, which just received a $30 million grant from the Obama administration (see press release).
“The work being done at the ground level is work that will continue,” Zuniga said. “I can focus on that, on the school site level, which is what this is about.”
The Mayor never asked her to drop out, and his statement on her behalf was simply a sign of a longstanding professional relationship.
“There is a working relationship with the mayor and several staff. I’ve been doing this for several years.”
Additional reporting by Hillel Aron.