Los Angeles school board candidate Bennett Kayser is backed by the teachers… (KayserForSchoolBoard.org )
The race between Bennett Kayser, the teachers union-backed candidate, and Luis Sanchez, the mayor's pick, for the Los Angeles Board of Education remained unclear Wednesday as Kayser claimed a thin lead and thousands of ballots still needed to be counted.
Kayser, a retired educator, had received about 300 more votes than Sanchez, the chief of staff to the school board president, who was backed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and several labor groups and other elected officials.
But more than 13,000 ballots remained to be counted throughout the city, according to the city clerk's office, and many of them are for other races, not the runoff for the school board's 5th District, which stretches from Los Feliz to Maywood.
Four of the seven members of the school board generally align with Villaraigosa, who helped back their campaigns, so a Kayser win would still not give the teachers union supporters a majority vote.
Kayser, 64, who was also endorsed in Tuesday's runoff election by the administrators union, said he was hopeful but did not claim victory. "I wish I had a crystal ball," he said.
Sanchez, 36, did not return calls, but Villaraigosa aides said they still believed he could win.
"We helped elect leaders committed to reforming a broken bureaucracy," said Sarah Sheahan, a mayoral spokeswoman. "We're hoping to add Luis Sanchez to that list."
Teachers union officials also did not want to declare a winner but said the vote sent a strong signal.
"Clearly this is a repudiation of the way the board majority has operated," United Teachers Los Angeles President A.J. Duffy said in a statement.
Union leaders have been critical of a board-approved program that allowed groups both inside and outside the district to run schools. Although many of the schools have been awarded to groups of teachers, others have been awarded to charter organizations.
Charters are publicly funded, but many either have non-unionized teachers or use a different version of the teachers contract.
"Clearly, voters want the board to do their job and work with stakeholders to fix what needs to be fixed, not give schools away," Duffy said.
The race marked the first time this election season that a candidate backed by the teachers union directly faced one endorsed by Villaraigosa. The teachers union initially supported another candidate but withdrew its backing after learning of that candidate's personal problems. The union then endorsed Kayser and spent nearly $620,000 to defeat Sanchez, who was partially supported by a campaign controlled by Villaraigosa.
The campaign became more negative as election day drew closer, with each candidate accusing the other of ethics violations. The city's Ethics Commission did not sanction either candidate.
In the campaign for the Los Angeles Community College District, Scott Svonkin maintained his lead over Lydia A. Gutierrez in a race that largely focused on reforming the troubled campus construction program.