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The good, the bad, and the ugly of the LAUSD school board campaign

Mike Szymanski | May 12, 2017

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The top one is a campaign ad, the bottom one is from the TV show. Both quote Don Draper.

It’s almost over, and there won’t be another LA Unified School board race until the next presidential election in November 2020. This year’s campaigns have become heated — absurd at times — and so we decided to take a look at some of the highs and lows.

Some of this the campaigners may not want you to see, or may be a bit embarrassed about, and some of it points out the obvious and the ironic. Some may be secrets, some may make you chuckle.

Most of the negative ads against candidates weren’t done by the opponents, but by outside groups, and all four of them have publicly condemned the negative ads.

Steve Zimmer seemed to have taken the brunt of them, and more was spent against him than any other candidate. Phone surveys made Zimmer sound like he was responsible for child molestations at the district, some ads made him sound like he was responsible for the iPad scandal (when he was instrumental in ousting those responsible), and some ads made him out to be against arts education when in fact it is a key platform in his campaign.

The ad that Zimmer has said irritates him the most is the photo of him sitting in a military tank. High in the corner in light lettering it says the photo is a composite, but the ad says Zimmer promoted military weapons at the school police department. He addressed the “lies” in the voluminous mailers at the last debate and took particular offense at that one because he was instrumental in ending the program that brought excess military equipment to the school district — and by the way, it was a mini-tank, not the large military one in the picture.

In the iPad flyer, inside it quotes the fictional advertising character Don Draper from the TV show “Mad Men” saying, “If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.” The cigarette hanging from the seated man’s right hand has been replaced with an iPad.

The campaign ad that went viral. A pro-Nick Melvoin television ad paid for by independent endorses asks people, “Are you suffering from Steve Zimmer-itis?” This odd illness supposedly leads to “a loss of innovation, reduced access to music, art, and vocational programs and less accountability” and urges: “Keep out of reach of children.”


Running with scissors. Like a shark that will die if it stops moving, Melvoin is shown constantly moving in one campaign video where he talks very fast. Not only does he pull out a life-size cut-out of Barack Obama while walking down the hall, but his best trick is pulling out scissors and cutting red tape in a school hallway without breaking stride.

And the difference is?

All candidates have tried very hard to distinguish themselves from each other, but sometimes there’s confusion.

District 4: Nick Melvoin and Steve Zimmer

Both male, Caucasian, Jewish, unmarried, without children, Democrats, teachers.

Both say they aren’t against charters.

Both say they are against Trump policies.

Both say they want to put “kids first.”

Mónica Ratliff goes door-to-door to support Kelly Gonez.

District 6: Kelly Gonez and Imelda Padilla

Both young, female, Latina, Democrat, no children. Gonez is 28 and Padilla 29.

Both say they aren’t against charters.

Both say they are against Trump policies.

Both say they are fighters.

The campaign statement Imelda Padilla doesn’t want you to see. When board member Mónica Ratliff was deciding who to endorse for her seat and asked in her own questionnaire what three things the candidates would do immediately, Padilla wrote: “I would meet with you, Ms. Ratcliff” and misspelled the name of the person she hopes to succeed. Oops!

Ratliff endorsed Gonez and campaigned knocking on doors with her to explain her support.

Imelda Padilla sent out this photo when she announced she was running. She’s now 28, but looks perhaps too young to run for school board. But Kelly Gonez is a year younger.

Padilla has had spelling and grammatical errors in her press releases, Twitter posts, and campaign information, as well.

In one of her recent Tweets, Padilla wrote: “I know its importance because I am the only candidate that is an LAUSD product.”

We haven’t seen Gonez, a teacher, red-penning her mistakes.

All in the family. On the up side, Padilla’s invitations and endorsements seem like big family parties and lots of fun. Her campaign rallies always offer tons of good food and spirit. After pointing out an LA School Report story that mentioned how her mother was used to endorse her campaign, Padilla Tweeted out that her father “is in heaven smiling” and no doubt endorses her too. On Friday, just days before the May 16 election, her younger brother Alberto sent out a letter of support.

That’s Nick Melvoin!

Starting off young. Among the Tweets supporting Melvoin, it was fun to come across a campaign photo of the candidate as a young guy, already running for office. His campaign slogan is “You’ll Get a Kick out of Nick.” He failed to use that in his most recent election campaign.

Tugging at heart strings. A UTLA flyer shows four suited “billionaires” playing tug of war with four school children and asking readers to thank Steve Zimmer.

Who’s the puppet? Two campaign ads on both sides used puppets as a theme. A UTLA flyer has Melvoin on strings like a puppet and a California Charter Schools Association flyer has a Pinocchio puppet saying Zimmer has false claims.


Superstar senator endorsements:

Bernie Sanders for Zimmer and Padilla.

Barbara Boxer for Melvoin and Gonez.

Scariest endorsement. John Lithgow is a big fan of the arts, which is why he endorses Zimmer, but one of his most noteworthy recent appearances was as the “Trinity Killer” in the series “Dexter,” which landed him on the Rolling Stone list of “40 Greatest TV Villains of All Time.” Lithgow is also known for playing a transsexual football player in “The World According to Garp,” an oppressive minister (“Footloose”), an alien (“3rd Rock from the Sun”) and Winston Churchill (“The Crown.”)

Standing up sitting down. Zimmer’s campaign flyer “Standing up for Childen” has him sitting down with them in front of a microscope.

Most rotten campaign flyer. A Parents Teachers Alliance ad (a CCSA affiliate) supporting Melvoin shows mildewed bread, a rotting bell pepper, and a very bruised pear. Don’t open this while having your breakfast.

Too cute endorsement. Melvoin has three irrepressibly cute girls touting his candidacy, but none of them can vote.

Early celebration. Zimmer had an early celebration this month when on May 2 he turned 47, and that may seem like an unfair advantage, but it got him some extra notice in social media. Superintendent Michelle King and board member George McKenna presented him with a cake at a committee meeting. He got a lot of Twitter congrats and Facebook likes out of it.

Ad to the confusion. Sometimes the advertising campaigns create confusion for its intended audience. This was a Facebook response to a CCSA ad online:

“I just received this today. This is all confusing. California #charterschool association in #sacramento is paying for this anti #imeldapadilla mailing … but her opponent is heavily supported by business entity and #republicans So are they trying to get more votes for Imelda from right as well? #latimes and #dailynews are endorsing #kellygonez along with #richardriordan because of their advertisers. I have to say … keep #publiceducation and #publicfunding PUBLIC. #district6#lausd #election #resist

Overall, it seems like the candidates got out of it relatively unscathed. And soon, all the good, the bad, and the ugly in the campaigning will end.

And all we’ll have for entertainment is those marathon school board meetings.

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

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