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L.A. teachers union withdraws two school board endorsements, backs a new candidate

February 10, 2011 |  8:58 am

The Los Angeles teachers union Wednesday night withdrew two endorsements and chose a new candidate to back for the March 8 school board elections.

The new choice of United Teachers Los Angeles is recently retired teacher Bennett Kayser, 64, who is running in the 5th District, which spans Los Feliz, Silver Lake, Eagle Rock and the southeastern portions of the Los Angeles Unified School District, including the cities of Huntington Park, Bell and South Gate. Incumbent Yolie Flores is not running for reelection.

Kayser previously ran for the 5th District seat four years ago, losing to Flores. In that contest, Kayser had drawn substantial backing from delegates in the union's House of Representatives, which has the authority to make endorsements for UTLA. But Kayser did not get enough votes to claim the endorsement, in part because that seat has long been regarded as one established to elect a Latino. In the end, the union made no endorsement in that contest. A union endorsement comes with substantial funding and volunteer labor, and Kayser had limited resources elsewhere.

The preference for a Latino also played into the initial endorsement of John Fernandez in the current election, although the well-liked Kayser again attracted significant interest.

Four seats on the seven-member Board of Education are on the ballot but District 5 is the only open seat. It’s become a proxy battle between the union and L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, whose allies occupy a majority of seats on the board. Villaraigosa is backing Luis Sanchez, the top aide to school board President Monica Garcia, and has helped amass a financial war chest to get him elected.

The union’s endorsement capped a lively meeting of the union’s House of Representatives.

People in attendance said the union's campaign consultant, John Shallman, said union leaders wanted to withdraw the earlier endorsements in part because Fernandez, a retired teacher and union activist, had not disclosed his failure to file taxes for several years in the last decade, a bankruptcy and a couple of arrests.

In an interview last week, Fernandez confirmed the personal issues. But he added that the union information form did not specifically ask about financial troubles or arrests that didn’t lead to convictions. He said he will stay in the race.

The House also formally withdrew its endorsement of Jesus Escandon, an organizer for the California Teachers Assn., in District 7. Under pressure from UTLA, Escandon already has announced his withdrawal, but his name will remain on the ballot. District 7 includes portions of South Los Angeles and the Harbor area. Also in that contest are one-term incumbent Richard Vladovic, who is backed by the mayor, and Roye Love, a retired program administrator for the county who also is an active school volunteer.

The union form includes a question about previous convictions and Escandon failed to mention two from the 1990s, one for drunk driving and one for public drunkenness. In an interview, Escandon’s wife, Martha, said her husband had fulfilled all his legal obligations for those transgressions, so he didn’t think they qualified as issues to which the union wanted to be alerted.


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 -- Howard Blume