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Huizar Appears Likely to Lead School Board

The panel's current vice president, he has been backed by teachers and the Coalition for Kids.

June 27, 2003|Cara Mia DiMassa | Times Staff Writer

Jose Huizar, who successfully pushed a plan to revive the troubled Belmont Learning Center construction project, appeared to gain a lock on the presidency of the Los Angeles school board after opposition to his bid failed to materialize Thursday.

Marlene Canter had been considering a run for the presidency of the seven-member board, according to her allies. But on Thursday, Canter said she will support Huizar, according to an aide.

Huizar, 34, the only Latino on the board and its current vice president, has had support from the two rival factions in school board politics. A land-use attorney, he was elected to the school board in 2001 with backing from United Teachers-Los Angeles and Coalition for Kids, the organization mainly funded by former Mayor Richard Riordan and businessman Eli Broad.

In the last few weeks, according to board insiders, United Teachers-Los Angeles has pushed for him to become president, leaning on the other board members to support him.

The board selects its own president every two years and is scheduled to do so Tuesday, after two new members, Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte and Jon Lauritzen, are sworn in. In the March primary, they defeated incumbents Genethia Hudley-Hayes and Caprice Young, the current board president, and helped create a new majority friendly to the union.

In an interview Thursday, Huizar said that he made the decision to run for the board presidency after realizing "I could be the bridge between labor and the Coalition for Kids."

He said he hoped to "unify the board and go forward and just focus on raising student achievement. That's what did it."

Still, he admitted that United Teachers-Los Angeles' support was important. "They are going to be influential on the board. I think whoever would be the next president would need their support. It was a good sign for me to have United Teachers-Los Angeles suggest that they would be willing to support my candidacy," he said.

John Perez, president of United Teachers-Los Angeles, declined to be interviewed but issued a statement saying that his organization "continues to consult with current and incoming school board members on which candidate for board president can best build consensus among their colleagues, inspire confidence among teachers and parents, and lead a broad community effort to save public education."

Huizar represents the school board's 2nd District, which includes Boyle Heights, Echo Park, Mid-Wilshire, Pico-Union and downtown Los Angeles. He worked in the Los Angeles city attorney's real property and environmental division for much of the last two years. He recently joined a Pasadena law firm.

Huizar said that if he is elected, he will push to continue supporting Supt. Roy Romer's aggressive construction program.

Last month, Huizar gained board approval for a plan to complete the district's most troubled building project, the Belmont Learning Center, with a compromise to raze the unfinished buildings that are above a seismic fault and add others away from it. He gathered much political support around the city for the proposal, even though it would add an estimated $111 million to the $175 million already spent on Belmont.

Huizar said he also hopes to focus the board on raising students' test scores, providing parents with more participation in policymaking and helping students who are learning English.

Canter declined to be interviewed Thursday about Huizar's candidacy. But board member Julie Korenstein, a former board president who consistently has been backed by the union, said Huizar would be a good board president.

"It's important to have someone who relates well to people, who is courteous, listens, and works well with the other board members," she said.

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