Los Angeles school board member John Greenwood this week took issue with challenger Warren Furutani's past involvement with militant campus and community causes and questioned his qualifications to help manage the nation's second largest school district.
Furutani, who is trying to unseat 7th District representative Greenwood in Tuesday's election, acknowledged that he was in the thick of civil rights and anti-war movements in the late 1960s and early '70s. But he said that his views, like those of most other young people of his generation, have matured with the passage of time.
Furutani, in an interview this week, confirmed published reports that he was once charged with inciting a riot at San Mateo Community College and then later acquitted. He said he was once active in the "Yellow Brotherhood," which he identified as a volunteer group trying to curb drugs and gangs in the Los Angeles Asian community.
He produced a copy of a 1971 newspaper article in which he praised the likes of Eldridge Cleaver, Ho Chi Minh, Che Guevara and "and a number of Indian chiefs" as heroes of a new age of youthful rebellion against the established order.
Traditional heroes like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln were "no longer relevant" and "had to make way for the hip-talking, dynamic young political leaders and long-haired prophets," the 23-year-old Furutani wrote in a column published in an Asian community weekly, the Pacific Times.
"That was our world then and I was a part of it," said the 39-year-old Furutani. "But in getting older and becoming what I am today, I haven't lost what I believe was essentially good and right in our youthful ideals," he said.
Qualified by Experience
Furutani said his 15 years of adult experience as a youth counselor and advocate of programs to help today's youngsters deal with their educational and personal problems qualifies him to serve on the school board.
In contrast with the confrontational style of the '60s, he said, he believes in a conciliatory approach in which he tries to "relieve adversarial tensions so that people of many different viewpoints can work together successfully."
Greenwood, 43, admits to joining in a few civil rights parades in his college years at UC Riverside and at the University of Michigan, where he earned a master's degree in political science. "But my approach was always to work within the system, not try to disrupt it," he said.
So, Greenwood said, he did not necessarily hold Furutani's youthful activism against him, but he claimed that Furutani showed poor judgment by "trying to cover his background by fabricating a new set of qualifications that makes him out to be more than he really is."
He said Furitani's claim to the title of "UCLA administrator/educator" on the ballot and in campaign literature did not fit his job description at the university. "He is, in fact, a student affairs officer, grade 2," Greenwood said.
Greenwood said Furutani also lists himself as a "former head counselor, continuation high school, L.A. Unified School District" and "that's a flagrant lie."
In the interview, Furutani insisted that his work at UCLA merits the title of administrator. He said he coordinates the activities of 15 student groups through UCLA's Asian American Studies Program, helping minority youths further their college careers and resolve personal and family problems. He said he sits on committees and boards that make policy decisions.
Furutani conceded that he has never been employed by the Los Angeles school district, but said the title of "head counselor" in his campaign literature was meant to apply to his position with a community-based group that worked with students and teachers at Central Continuation High School in downtown Los Angeles.
In reviewing their positions on educational issues, Greenwood, a San Pedro Peninsula Hospital administrator who is seeking his third term on the board, emphasized his experience and expertise in the "sometimes harsh realities of trying to provide quality education" for more than 590,000 youngsters. Furutani focused on "fresh perspectives, new ideas" and the need for more community and parental involvement in seeking solutions to difficult problems.
Here are the candidates' views on specific issues:
- Year-round schools.
Greenwood said he has supported converting 90 campuses to year-round programs as the "best of our available options now" in the effort to relieve overcrowding. He said the only other choices, until more schools can be built, are increased class sizes, which he opposes, and double sessions, "which proved to be a disaster when they were tried in the 1960s."
Furutani said the district should be more sensitive to community resistance and try to make year-round schools "more attractive academically" so that parents would want to enroll their kids in them.
- Busing to relieve crowding.
Greenwood said that when a campus fills up, the district must bus youngsters to schools outside their community.