The campaigns for three seats on the Los Angeles Board of Education are continuing a spending spree that began two years ago when Mayor Richard Riordan raised the stakes by backing a slate of candidates.
In his continuing effort to remake the board, Riordan has backed challengers to incumbents Valerie Fields and Julie Korenstein. The mayor also has endorsed an attorney who is seeking to replace Victoria Castro, who is not seeking a third term.
Fields, like Korenstein, is relying primarily on support from the Los Angeles teachers union in her bid to represent the Westside/west San Fernando Valley district for a second term.
She faces a second tough opponent in Marlene Canter, a Westside educational consultant who is outspending all other candidates with her own money. Riordan is backing Westside developer Matthew Rodman.
In Korenstein's district, covering the mid-Valley and Sunland-Tujunga, Riordan supports Van Nuys businessman Tom Riley, 35.
Land-use attorney Jose Huizar, 32, appears headed for a lopsided victory in the Eastside district now represented by Castro. Besides Riordan, Huizar has the endorsements of United Teachers-Los Angeles and virtually every major union and political leader. His only opponent, Ralph Cole, has not raised any money or received any significant endorsements.
Riordan has raised more than $1.2 million for the board races through his campaign committee, Coalition for the Kids. Huizar's weak opposition leaves the bulk of that available to Riley and Rodman. Going into the last week of the campaign, Coalition for the Kids had spent about $600,000 on each of them.
The incumbents have both raised more than $475,000 each, especially from teachers' unions and other labor groups.
Fields, a former teacher and education advisor in the administration of the late Mayor Tom Bradley, was elected to the school board in 1997 with a broad base of union and political support. She quickly aligned herself with the Riordan-backed candidates who won seats in the last election, and characterizes herself as a reformer who has battled waste and mismanagement.
Riordan initially endorsed the 74-year-old Fields, but pulled his support in January when she spurned his advice to vote against an 11.5% teacher pay raise.
Rodman, 32, runs a family-owned company that builds shopping centers. He has campaigned on the need to build schools quickly to end overcrowding and forced busing. Last year Riordan appointed Rodman to the citizen planning commission for the Westside.
Canter, 52, is a former special education teacher who trained teachers for 25 years before selling her company in 1998. She has set the pace for record spending by lending herself $555,000. In a blitz of TV ads and mailers, she is presenting herself as an "independent reformer" and casting Fields as part of a dysfunctional system.
With three well-financed candidates vying for the seat, the winner may be decided in a June 5 runoff election.
Korenstein, 57, has served the most time on the board. She was elected in 1987 to fill an unexpired term and has been reelected three times. She is campaigning on experience and her past support of phonics and environmental safety.
Riley runs a business making bingo equipment and developing software for bingo spinoff games. He bills himself as the candidate with business acumen and the will to make tough decisions necessary to restore fiscal responsibility and build neighborhood schools.
Riordan's fund-raising prowess set a record for the historically low-budget school board races in 1999, when he raised nearly $2.5 million for board members Genethia Hayes, Mike Lansing, Caprice Young and David Tokofsky and introduced television advertising.
The Hayes campaign against incumbent Barbara Boudreaux was the costliest in history. Together, they spent nearly $1.4 million on a contest that included a runoff election. In the race for Fields' seat, the candidates have already surpassed that mark.