As she arrived to the stage Monday night, Tamar Galatzan grabbed two bottles of water for the debate participants and handed one to her challenger, Scott Schmerelson, who smiled and thanked her.
The gesture set the stage for the evening, as both candidates for the LA Unified District 3 seat avoided any criticism of each other during a forum hosted by the Sherman Oaks Neighborhood Council.
Despite their opposing positions on many issues, the tone of the forum was so genial that it was easy to forget that the two are backed by powerful, deep-pocketed forces diametrically opposed to each other and poised to spend lots of money to take the other candidate out.
Galatzan, the incumbent endorsed by the California Charter School Association, finished atop a six-way race in the March 3 primary and now faces Schmerelson, the No. 2 finisher, in a May 19 runoff. Schmerelson was recently endorsed by the LA teachers union, UTLA.
Neither candidate directly criticized or even mentioned the other except for the few times they voiced agreement on an issue. Schmerelson did not have the UTLA endorsement during the primary race, but it was clear the new endorsement was not going to mean he will adopt the union’s more hard-edged approach to campaigning.
With below the belt tactics off the table, each worked hard to craft a positive self-image as a passionate advocate for LA Unified with a career and life experiences that added to their qualifications — Schmerelson, the veteran educator and administrator with the district; Galatzan, the hard-working parent already twice elected. Neither candidate challenged the other’s self portrait.