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Mayor diverges from UTLA in school board endorsement

January 12, 2007|Howard Blume | Times Staff Writer

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the teachers union became reluctant foes Thursday when the mayor endorsed prosecutor Tamar Galatzan for the school board seat held by one of the staunchest allies of United Teachers Los Angeles.

The race, which is expected to be hotly contested and expensive, will test the reach of the mayor in the west San Fernando Valley and the staying power of the teachers union as the most potent political force in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The endorsement was Villaraigosa's second in two days for the March election -- he declared support for heavily favored Yolie Flores Aguilar on Wednesday for the open Eastside seat. The Valley race was a tougher call because of long-standing ties between the mayor and UTLA, where Villaraigosa once worked as an organizer. UTLA also was a key ally on Assembly Bill 1381, which was supposed to give Villaraigosa substantial authority over the school district. The law is on hold as a court challenge proceeds.

Jon M. Lauritzen, 68, was part of a school board majority that voted to oppose the bill and file suit, which made him a hard sell to Villaraigosa. Intermediaries portrayed Lauritzen as a friend to teachers who would work well with the mayor regardless of the litigation's outcome.

"I would hope the mayor would be pleased with my record," Lauritzen said recently. "I'll work with the mayor any way I can."

Perhaps out of deference to such entreaties, Villaraigosa declined to criticize Lauritzen when asked to describe his shortcomings.

"I've come today to endorse Tamar Galatzan," he said in response. But he didn't mince words about the contest's importance.

"The San Fernando Valley is ground zero for the education reform movement in Los Angeles," he said. "This seat is critical to ensuring a change agent is elected."

As for the teachers union, Villaraigosa said, "I don't think we are on opposite sides. I still work closely with UTLA."

It was nothing personal, apparently, on UTLA's end, either. "He knows we are going to support Jon Lauritzen," union President A.J. Duffy said. "Jon has been a good friend to public education and to teachers. And we're going to put money in his campaign and foot soldiers."

Educator Louis Pugliesi, 56, also is on the ballot.

At the news conference, Villaraigosa said Galatzan, if elected, would be the board's only parent of school-age children.

"When you're a parent, you want every dollar going to your child's education, not a wasteful bureaucracy," he said. "It's time to elect a parent who has a personal stake in improving our schools."

Retiring board member David Tokofsky, whom Villaraigosa would have opposed, also has school-age children.

The event was held across the street from Birmingham High School, Galatzan's alma mater. Galatzan, 37, a prosecutor in the city attorney's office, said her interest in running was sparked after she read a Times series last year on the schools' dropout problem.

"It was like someone splashed cold water in my face and said, 'Wake up and pay attention,' " she said.

The morning's sole display was the blow-up of an article about this week's suspected gang-related wounding of two teenagers near Grant High School.

As a prosecutor, Galatzan said, "I never met a gang member who wasn't first truant and then a dropout."

Also on hand was former Mayor Richard Riordan, who had tried, with mixed success, to elect his own school-board majority during his time as the city's leader.

One setback was the loss of incumbent Caprice Young four years ago to Lauritzen.

After the news conference, Riordan characterized Lauritzen as a puppet of the teachers union.

In that earlier campaign, Young had been cast, by the union, as Riordan's puppet. That tactic would not work so well today, he said.

Villaraigosa and the union leaders "are both Democrats and allies in many fights over the years. It's going to be hard for the union to paint the mayor as a crazy, right-wing conservative," Riordan said.

The union has not yet made an endorsement in the other three board races.

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