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Zimmer still angry about Rodriguez campaign but vows to work together

Vanessa Romo | May 22, 2015

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Steve Zimmer

Steve Zimmer

Drinking too much at a work dinner or hitting on a co-worker’s spouse can make things truly uncomfortable at the office. But what about publicly damning a future colleague before his first day on the job?

That’s the situation LA Unified school board Vice President Steve Zimmer faces, now that Ref Rodriguez has defeated his good friend, Bennett Kayser, for the District 5 board seat.

“If there ever was a relationship there with Rodriguez, it has been seriously damaged,” Zimmer said a day before Tuesday’s election, piqued by the tenor of Rodriguez’s campaign.

Zimmer accused Rodriguez and his backers of crossing “new frontiers of depravity” and “using a type of lies and distortion, that lowered the entire moral climate of political discourse” throughout the campaign, even if much of the nastiness was orchestrated by groups working on Rodriguez’s behalf, not the candidate himself. Anyway, Zimmer said, the candidate ultimately bears the responsibility for the tone and scope of the campaign.

His position now?

“I meant what I said, and I stand by it,” he told LA School Report today.

Despite issuing a statement congratulating Rodriguez following his victory, Zimmer said, “My feelings of personal hurt and disappointment and injury will not go away. I’m not going to pretend that these feelings don’t exist.”

“But,” he added, “the urgency of the moment demands that we figure out a way to be professional and ultimately there is a responsibility to have a professional relationship on whatever level that we can.”

“I expect that there will be areas of agreement and areas of profound disagreement,” he said. “But I hope he will approach the work with the same level of seriousness and focus of mission that I do.”

Rodriguez did not respond to requests for comment.

Throughout the campaign Zimmer criticized Rodriguez and the California Charter Schools Association’s political arm for a slew of negative attack ads directed at Kayser, who was seeking a second term.

CCSA spent several million dollars in mailers and radio and television advertisements boosting Rodriguez’s qualifications and assaulting Kayser’s character. One mailer called Kayser a “slumlord millionaire” who “forces tenants to live in filth.” Another, featuring a group of brown-skinned children, declared “Bennett Kayser tried to stop Latino children from attending schools in white neighborhoods.” And a television commercial equated the former health teacher with a 90s movie villain, also named Kayser.

“Our campaign’s goal was to elect a candidate,” CCSA Advocates, the groups’s PAC, said, in response to Zimmer’s recriminations. “As part of our campaign, we highlighted incumbent Kayser’s voting record, which has been marked by ideological extremism and a failure to understand and serve his constituents, particularly low-income families who want more and better public education options for their children.”

In declining to participate in more public debates, most of which were hosted by charter school groups, the charter group said Kayser failed to engage the community in a meaningful way.

“Mr. Kayser was, quite possibly, his own worst enemy in this campaign,” it said.

Whatever their differences, Zimmer and Rodriguez will never have to guess how the other feels. Their seats at the board meetings are side-by-side.

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