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In District 5 board race, the Kayser hits just keep on coming

Michael Janofsky | February 17, 2015



Anti-Kayser adHey, remember that 1995 film, “The Usual Suspects?” Come on, it ranks No. 2,745 on the all-time domestic ticket sales list, according to Box Office Mojo.

Anyway, the California Charter Schools Association Advocates, a political arm of the California Charter Schools Association, decided it was memorable enough to reprise a climactic scene as the landscape for a recent 30-second anti-Bennett Kayser television ad during the final weeks leading to the March 3 elections. (See the ad below.)

In the film, a character drops a coffee mug, and it shatters. In the ad, a hand drops a coffee mug, and the mug shatters, only here, the soon-to-be-shattered mug is apparently a metaphor for what Kayser has done as the LA Unified District 5 board member.

Oh, yeah, there’s a reference in the film to someone named Keyser Soze, who is supposed to be the devil, and Keyser sounds a lot like Kayser.

Get it?

The problem is, not a whole lot of people do, let alone remember the film or the coffee mug scene, perhaps leaving some viewers to surmise that the ad is not so much pointing to Kayser’s policies as his Parkinson’s disease.

Diane Ravitch, the education historian and anti-reformist, for one, is clearly among those who never saw the film. In a blog this week she drew a straight line between the shattering mug and Kayser’s Parkinson’s, calling the ad “a shameful hit-piece.”

Indeed, the Kayser campaign, too, took offense and issued a statement, saying, “While not overtly pointing to the Board member’s Parkinson’s disease, the advertisement sure comes close with the imagery. CCSAA has shown itself again to be beyond the bounds of decent, civil discussions about policy and vision for LAUSD.”

To which CSSAA responded, “We’d like to assure Mr. Kayser and his allies that the ad has absolutely nothing to do with his Parkinson’s disease. It is a play on the film ‘The Usual Suspects,’ in which a coffee cup is dropped by a detective, shatters and is the final clue that reveals the identity of the foil, whose name sounds like Kayser.”

Whatever the falling mug suggests, it’s another example of the hard-knuckle politics underway in the District 5 race as the state charter association is doing what it can to remove from the LA Unified board its most anti-charter school member — a member, by the way, who has made no secret of his Parkinson’s.

The CSSAA is operating on behalf of Ref Rodriguez, one of two people challenging Kayser although it’s also supporting George McKenna in District 1, Tamar Galatzan in District 3 and Richard Vladovic in District 7.

In earlier efforts, the CSSAA distributed a flyer calling into question Kayser’s work on behalf of Latino students, which was perceived by some of his supporters as racist; and the political action committee for the teachers union, UTLA, paid for an anti-Rodriguez mailer, using his full first name, Refugio, which the charter school people said was racist.

The charter school people are also pointing fingers at UTLA for using a phone-bank script that says Kayser “led the fight” against LA Unified’s iPad program, when there were instances he voted for it.

And so it goes in District 5, where the combatants have spent more than $600,000, combined — the most in any school board race this year – to sway voters.

Perhaps most amazing of all is that the third candidate in the race, Andrew Thomas, has remained above the fray, campaigning with support from neither side of the Kayser-Rodriguez fracas. Well, there’s this 1949 movie called “The Third Man” . . .

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