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Ridley-Thomas Drawing Support from UTLA, Reform Groups*

Vanessa Romo | December 2, 2013

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Sebastian Ridley-Thomas

Sebastian Ridley-Thomas

A 26-year old candidate with more experience in policy than politics is heading into tomorrow’s special election for a westside state Assembly seat with something few candidates can claim: support from both sides of the education reform debate.

Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, son of County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, has proved to be both a prolific fundraiser and endorsement magnet in his race for the open seat in Assembly District 54.

United Teachers of Los Angeles voted to endorse Ridley-Thomas on Nov. 20th and was planning to circulate a letter of support to its members in District 54 today. In it the union says:

“Ridley-Thomas will advocate for jobs creation, improved traffic, health care access, increased public safety, education funding, and getting our fair share from Sacramento.” The letter is signed by UTLA President Warren Fletcher and Mary Jan Roberts, the UTLA political officer.

The social welfare arm of the California Charter School Association is also backing the young candidate.

“We are really excited about the energy Sebastian will bring to the legislature and the continued accessibility that he will provide to all stake holders in the education community,” CCSA Advocates political director, Carlos Marquez, told LA School Report. “He shares a strong commitment to making sure that our schools are producing quality programs for our students and being held accountable to very high standards.”

Brent Smiley, an officer of UTLA’s political action committee, known as PACE, told LA School Report, Ridley-Thomas is “a real stand-up guy as far as education, and he’d be a great representative in Sacramento.”

Although it is unusual for a candidate to gain support from opposing sides, it is not unheard of. In last year’s LA Unified school board election, newcomer Antonio Sanchez, who was running for the seat covering the San Fernando Valley, was supported by several labor unions as well as education reform groups. Sanchez eventually lost the race to teacher, Monica Ratliff.

“There have been many times in the past where we’ve ended up in the same side,” Smiley said. “In this case, Ridley-Thomas is the only candidate that has experience and background and knows what needs to be done at the statewide level.”

Despite his lack of experience and the compressed election time-frame — the election was called by Governor Jerry Brown on September 30 — Ridley-Thomas raised “slightly more than $600,000” in direct contributions, according to Fred MacFarlane, a campaign consultant, with another $153,000 in expenditures on his behalf by a superPAC called Alliance for California’s Tomorrow, A California Business Coalition, according to the Secretary of State website.

Last month alone, the Alliance spent $96,900 on Ridley-Thomas’ behalf for mailers and fliers. This year, the superPAC has been funded primarily by the Firefighters union but in July, the superPAC received a $28,000 contribution from the advocacy arm of Michelle Rhee’s education reform group, Parents and Teachers for Putting StudentsFirst.

His opponents’ war chests pale in comparison. Former Culver City Mayor Christopher Armenta shows $71,000 in contributions including a $50,000 loan to himself. John Jake, a real estate broker has raised just over $7,000.

* Clarifies the amount in contributions to the Ridley-Thomas campaign. This version also corrects his age. It is 26, not 25.

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