UTLA Focus: Defend Zimmer, Defeat Garcia

As KPCC reported on Friday, United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) has endorsed Eric Garcetti for Mayor but has no plans to spend any money to campaign for him.

“We’re focusing our money on the School Board races,” UTLA secondary Vice President Gregg Solkovits explained to LA School Report.

But UTLA won’t be focusing equally on all three races.

Solkovits said that in the next month leading up to the March 5 primary election, UTLA will focus on the Eastside’s District 2, currently held by School Board President Monica Garcia, and the Westside’s District 4, currently held by School Board member Steve Zimmer. For now, at least, the union won’t campaign heavily the East Valley’s District 6, where it has endorsed all three candidates that are still in the running.

“Districts 2 and 4 will be the most important to us,” said Solkovits. “We’ll be equally engaged in both.”

The decision to endorse but not fund Garcetti shows that UTLA cares much more about gaining influence on the School Board that gaining influence in the Mayor’s Office (which has no direct control over the school system).

The decision — as well as the strategy of focusing on just two of the three open School Board races — may also be an indication that its Political Action Committee is relatively underfunded.

Endorsing multiple candidates in District 2 is either a savvy campaign maneuver on the part of UTLA or a function of a divided teachers union, according to political veterans and LAUSD insiders LA School Report talked to for this story.

Preparing to be Outspent

According to the latest campaign finance reports, UTLA has just over $670,000 in the bank.  There’s almost a month left in the race, but that total is less than half of what UTLA PACE spent on School Board races in 2011, which was just under $2 million, according to the City Ethics Commission.

It’s also well short of the Coalition for School Reform’s $1.2 million war chest.

“We know we’re going to be outspent five-gazillion-to-one,” said Solkovits. “but we’ll focus on a ground campaign.”

Multiple Endorsements in District 2

Taking down Garcia is a top priority for the teachers union. For proof, just take a look at the newly unveiled website for UTLA’s political action committee, which features a photo of Garcia along with the words, “Isn’t it time for a change?”

The short-term goal is to knock Garcia down enough to force the election into a runoff, at which time UTLA will then pick whichever candidate makes it into the runoff.  UTLA has already formally endorsed three candidates: Annamarie Montanez, Abelardo Diaz and Robert Skeels.

Will the multiple-endorsements gambit work? One LAUSD insider expressed skepticism:

“Five months ago, when there were eight candidates, that might have worked,” he said. Since then, three candidates didn’t turn in enough signatures to qualify for the ballot — Michelle “Hope” Walker, Scott Folsom, and Eleanor Garcia, whose last name, of course, is the same as the incumbent’s, which could have helped her siphon off some votes.

But a political consultant we talked to said UTLA’s endorsement-splitting strategy was a sound one:

“Why pick a horse when you can just bring Monica down?” he said. “Their goal is to keep Monica under 50% — not hard to do in the primary. Half a million dollars could do it.” He added that the plan has the added benefit of not giving the Coalition for School Reform a main candidate to attack.

Whatever its merits, this multi-endorsement approach might have been born out of necessity. UTLA is a body of teachers, and they’re not always unified internally or at the leadership level.
Some observers say that the rank-and-file members support Skeels, who’s been getting a ton of small contributions from teachers for $20 to $100 (see list of contributions here). The leadership, meanwhile, may support Montanez.

UTLA’s Solkovits said the union will run an Independent Expenditure (IE) campaign “against Garcia and in support of all three endorsed candidates.”

Focusing on District 4 

The strategy in District 4 is simple: support Steve Zimmer, the UTLA-backed candidate, and, perhaps, take down Kate Anderson.

Zimmer hasn’t always been the union’s favorite School Board member, but they’ve clearly decided they prefer him to Anderson (see: Westside Forum: Charters, Evaluation, Deasy).

Zimmer is also being backed by the SEIU, while Anderson is supported by the Coalition, setting the stage for a big-money campaign.

More Money in the Wings?

While currently under-filled, UTLA’s coffers could also be instantly filled by a handout from the American Federation of Teachers, the California Teachers Association, the California Federation of Teachers or the National Education Association.

It’s something UTLA has already started moving on.

“We’ve put in request for our affiliates to assist us,” confirmed Solkovits.

Previous posts: Reform Coalition Reports $1.2 Million RaisedUTLA Defends Disclosure and ReportingCampaign Coffers: What’s UTLA Going to Do With Its Money?Teachers Endorse Garcetti for Mayor

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