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Hollywood and heavyweights endorse in LAUSD school board race

Mike Szymanski | May 4, 2017

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Allen Leech of “Downton Abbey” with Nick Melvoin and actress Jessica Herman. (Twitter photo from @Joy_Resmovits)


One of them was endorsed by an actor known (most recently) for playing creepy murderers. Another got the support of a guy who played the chauffeur in “Downton Abbey.”

One sent out a heartfelt letter written by her mom, and another was endorsed by a woman who owns her own newspaper.

And two of them won the endorsement of a United States senator, which hasn’t happened — as far as some historical institutional memory can remember — since 1989.

They are the four candidates running for LA Unified school board, and their endorsements continue to stream in as the countdown heads to the May 16 election in less than two weeks.

Over the weekend, presidential contender Bernie Sanders endorsed Steve Zimmer in District 4 and Imelda Padilla in District 6, saying in a statement: “Billionaires should not make a profit off of public school children. That’s why I’m supporting Steve Zimmer and Imelda Padilla for the Los Angeles School Board. They will fight against the Trump/DeVos agenda to destabilize and undermine public schools.”

Last week, retired Senator Barbara Boxer threw her support to both Nick Melvoin in District 4 and Kelly Gonez in District 6, saying, “I believe from the bottom of my heart that we need to bring fresh energy and fresh ideas on behalf of our children, and that is what they will do. From fighting Trump’s painful education cuts to teaching and protecting our children, I feel that Nick and Kelly will be outstanding.”

LA Unified observers said they can’t recall a federal Senate endorsement in a local school board race since perhaps when Senator John Tunney endorsed Mark Slavkin to unseat an incumbent LA Unified school board member.

Political consultant Michael Trujillo, who is working on Melvoin’s and Gonez’s campaigns, said that in 10 years of dealing with LA Unified school board campaigns he has never seen a U.S. senator’s endorsement. Nor has he seen a former Secretary of Education endorse a candidate. Former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced his endorsements for Melvoin and Gonez over a month ago.

Slavkin, who is now the director of education for the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, said he couldn’t remember any other senator stepping in to make endorsements like he received, but he recalled, “In my case, I was running against an incumbent in 1989. We barely made the runoff and then barely won in June.  In such a close race, we will never know what made the difference. My best asset was the grassroots support of teachers who worked door to door and on the phones for me. But I think my support from elected officials gave me a certain credibility, which was important for a 27-year-old candidate.”

Steve Zimmer and Mayor Eric Garcetti.

Boxer is on the road giving speeches all week but said through Bill Burton, of the Melvoin campaign, that she spoke to the candidates and she is seriously concerned about “Trump’s attack against afterschool programs and public education.” Burton added, “She truly believes they will bring a new intensity to the issues that our schools here so desperately need.”

Meanwhile, school board President Zimmer continues racking up notable community endorsements such as recently from CHIRLA (Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles) Action Fund, Planned Parenthood, and the Armenian National Committee of America.

Zimmer is supported by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, 12 of the 15 Los Angeles City Council members, nine past school board members, and most of the large unions doing business with LA Unified.

Zimmer is also endorsed by writer Diane Ravitch, actor and director Tim Robbins, and actor John Lithgow, who most recently portrays a man accused of brutally murdering his wife on “Trial & Error” and was one of TV’s most horrific serial killers on “Dexter.” (Lithgow is also a big supporter of the arts, and that’s why he said he supports Zimmer.)

Melvoin’s Hollywood endorsements include actor Allen Leech who played Tom Branson on “Downton Abbey.” Melvoin also has endorsements from the Los Angeles Times and Daily News, as well as former Los Angeles mayors Antonio Villaraigosa and Richard Riordan.

Melvoin and Gonez also was endorsed over the weekend by singer-songwriter-actor John Legend, who recently appeared in “La La Land” and previously endorsed Mónica García, who won her race in District 2 outright in the primary election.

Gonez also earned the endorsements of many community leaders including board member Ref Rodriguez and the person she would replace, Mónica Ratliff. She also has support from the Sierra Club, the California Charter Schools Association’s Parent Teacher Alliance, and community members such as Nina Royal, who owns a monthly newspaper in Sunland, the North Valley Reporter.

Running against Gonez is Imelda Padilla, who earned endorsements from most of the existing school board members, many labor unions, and state Democratic leaders. She also has strong support from her mother.

Now, it’s probably a good bet that all the candidates’ mothers are supportive of their children running for office, but Padilla’s mother, Gliceria, sent out a personal letter as a proud mother from the district.

“Imelda has been a fighter since she was a little girl. She’s always put her heart and soul into advocating for our children and families,” wrote the proud parent, in both English and Spanish. “Some people run for office just to get elected, but that’s not my daughter.”

*Updated May 8 with endorsements from Bernie Sanders and John Legend.


Read LA School Report’s full series of coverage at LAUSD Race 2017.

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