In a bitter finale to an increasingly aggressive campaign, the two candidates for the West San Fernando Valley seat on the Los Angeles Board of Education have escalated the personal attacks on each other as Tuesday's election approaches.
The attacks and counterattacks mark the waning days of a runoff contest in which character assaults have consistently overshadowed the issues, primarily because the candidates hold similar positions on such vital classroom concerns as busing and school closings.
The 11th-hour strategies of Barbara Romey, 40, and Julie Korenstein, 43, are reminiscent of the final moments of April's primary race, when a mailer sent by Romey criticizing other candidates provoked her opponents to denounce her for breaking a promise for a clean campaign.
When the dust settled, the field was narrowed to two: Romey, a Northridge political fund-raiser and leader in the battle to keep low-enrollment schools open, and Korenstein, an educator from Chatsworth.
Dissimilar Political Views
The contrast between the two candidates is stark. Korenstein, top vote-getter in the primary with 25% of the vote, is a liberal Democrat who has been active in the nuclear freeze movement. Romey, who garnered 23% in the primary, is a conservative Republican who has been active in fighting school district policies on mandatory desegregation, year-round schools and school closures.
Although the runoff campaign started peacefully, with Romey and Korenstein making separate appearances before friendly crowds, that pace was shattered as Election Day drew closer. Last week, the pair began taking swipes at each other in a series of sharply worded mailers and during a television interview taped for broadcast today.
Recent events and campaign attacks include:
A letter from Romey's camp mailed to 38,000 West Valley Jewish households, in which three of her supporters expressed "surprise" that Korenstein was active in the 1984 Jesse Jackson presidential campaign. "We cannot let someone with ties with Jesse Jackson, Louis Farrakhan, Yasser Arafat and Moammar Kadafi be our school board member," the letter stated, loosely linking Korenstein with anti-Semitic statements made by Jackson and the others.
Korenstein responded last week: "I think that is such an absurdity to make such statements. I disagreed with Jackson's support of Farrakhan, but that doesn't mean I support Farrakhan. That's guilt by association."
A Korenstein brochure stating that Romey is not an accountant and that she never graduated from college.
In response, Romey said she never claimed to have been a college graduate, although she did attend California State University, Northridge. Additionally, although she has worked for accounting firms and has passed parts of the state exam to qualify as an accountant, Romey said she never claimed to be a certified public accountant.
On an oversize post card sent to 80,000 West Valley Republican households, Romey described Korenstein as an "ultra-liberal" Democrat whose main backers are "the downtown union bosses."
Korenstein has been endorsed by United Teachers of Los Angeles, the largest union in the school district. Although she has received more than $30,000 in campaign contributions from the organization, Korenstein criticized the teachers' threats to strike and, according to union leaders and board members, worked behind the scenes to prevent a walkout.
In another mailing, Korenstein reminded voters of a controversy over one of Romey's primary mailers that her opponents characterized as misleading and a violation of a pledge not to name them in campaign literature.
"Barbara Romey lied to you. You can't believe a word she says," stated the recent Korenstein mailer sent to Democratic and Republican households. "She will say anything to get elected in June."
Romey contends that she never promised not to use the names of her opponents in her campaign literature, as the other school board contenders had charged during the primary.
Last week, when the candidates met to tape the KCBS-TV program "At Issue," they continued to trade sharp criticisms. The program is scheduled for broadcast today at 9:30 a.m.
"It's very unfortunate that she has to make these kind of statements," Korenstein said when asked about the letter that referred to anti-Semitic statements. "She should really stick to education issues."
Romey was just as angry about some of Korenstein's campaign tactics.
"She called me a liar," Romey said. "I could sue her for that. I've been going out in the community for the last six years. I've been working with the parents. We've been fighting for our kids. Where has she been? She was being a delegate for Jesse Jackson."
Personalities have taken a prominent place in the campaign because Romey and Korenstein agree on most of the issues.