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Two incumbents take early leads in L.A. Community College district races

Miguel Santiago and Mona Field are ahead. Candidates on their slate are also leading in contests for two other seats. The four raised more than $500,000 this year. The 12 other hopefuls raised about $35,000.

March 09, 2011|By Carla Rivera, Los Angeles Times

Incumbents Mona Field and Miguel Santiago jumped out to early leads Tuesday night in the race for seats on the Los Angeles Community College District Board of Trustees, an agency that has been in the spotlight in recent weeks over its handling of a multibillion-dollar construction program.

Field was running well ahead of four opponents for Office 1, while Santiago was easily outpolling challenger Erick Aguirre for Office 7, according to early returns that included mail-in ballots. In other races, Steven Veres was leading Joyce Burrell Garcia for Office 3 and Scott Svonkin was leading six other challengers for Office 5.

A crowded field of 16 candidates, including the two incumbents, vied for four seats on the board.

It is an election that typically falls under the radar, but Tuesday's race began attracting heightened attention after The Times revealed mismanagement and waste in the $5.7-billion bond-financed construction project.

All of the trustees are elected at large for four-year terms to oversee the district's nine campuses.

The college rebuilding program has provided much-needed improvements to classrooms, libraries and other facilities. But the Times investigation found that tens of millions of dollars had been wasted because of lax oversight, questionable spending, poor workmanship and inadequate planning.

The program is funded by bond measures approved by voters in 2001, 2003 and 2008.

Many of the trustees, including Field, 57, a retired Eagle Rock college professor, and Santiago, 37, a Winnetka political consultant, accepted donations from developers and others who won contracts from the board.

Campaign finance statements showed that a slate comprising Field; Santiago; Veres, 35, an educator from San Fernando; and Svonkin, a senior advisor to Sheriff Lee Baca, raised more than $500,000 this year, some of it from the same contractors, and more than $235,000 of it from faculty union interests.

The 12 other candidates, by comparison, had raised about $35,000.

Political consultant Parke Skelton, who advised Field, Santiago, Veres and Svonkin, said the early results were a vote of public confidence for the direction the college district is taking as well for the incumbents, especially Field, who joined the board in 1999. Skelton said the fundraising advantage for his candidates probably had little effect.

Several candidates ran on a reform slate, including Jozef Essavi, 36, a Valley Glen businessman; Lydia Gutierrez, 53, a San Pedro elementary school teacher; Aguirre, 46, of North Hills; a former neighborhood council vice president; and Garcia, 67, of Los Angeles, an educator.

Gutierrez, who competed for Office 5, has called for the firing of Larry Eisenberg, the district official in charge of the construction project. Her opponents for the seat were Svonkin, 45, of San Gabriel; Octavio Pescador, 40, a UCLA academic administrator from Los Angeles; Pamela R. Bolin, 52, of Porter Ranch; Manuel Aldana Jr. of Boyle Heights; Mark Lee, 49, an Alhambra private tutor; and Nicole Michelle Chase, 43, of Sylmar, a consultant for the Boys & Girls Club of the San Fernando Valley, who previously worked for Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcon. Bolin and Aldana are neighborhood council members.

Running against Field for Office 1 were Essavi; Derrick Mims, 40, of unincorporated Athens, a district coordinator for Assemblyman Warren Furutani (D-Gardena); Oswaldo Lopez, 36, of El Sereno, director of the Youth Opportunity Movement program in Boyle Heights; and Gwen Walker, 62, of Northridge, a former chief of counseling at Mission College in Sylmar.

carla.rivera@latimes.com

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