Tuesday, February 01, 2011


The withdrawal of support for Jesus Escandon and John Fernandez boosts the efforts of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to maintain an allied majority on the L.A. Unified Board of Education.

By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times | http://lat.ms/gRVGgv

A withdrawal of support

A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, opposes the candidacy of Jesus Escandon and John Fernandez for the L.A. Board of Education. (Lawrence K. Ho, Los Angeles Times / November 21, 2005)

February 1, 2011 - Leaders of the Los Angeles teachers union withdrew their backing of two school board candidates Monday, leaving their political strategy in disarray while boosting the efforts of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to maintain an allied majority on the Board of Education.

Under the union pressure, one candidate abandoned the race while the other vowed to continue.

Jesus Escandon signed a letter dated Saturday saying that he was dropping out effective immediately. John Fernandez has refused to step aside in the only contest without an incumbent, resulting in a union rebuke.

"We will vigorously oppose his candidacy as a matter of principle," A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, said in a Monday statement to union representatives at campuses throughout the nation's second-largest school system.

The union said that both candidates failed to reveal relevant background information in interviews.

Escandon, 43, was convicted of drunk driving and public drunkenness in the 1990s, records show. Fernandez, 61, had a bankruptcy as well as state and federal tax liens, records indicate.

Fernandez said he fulfilled his tax obligations by filing his 2006 return Friday and his 2004 return Monday. In 2001, Fernandez was arrested and jailed for three days after two female companions were suspected of shoplifting, Fernandez said. No prosecution was ever pursued, he added.

The union, said spokeswoman Marla Eby, "would rather lose the campaign than have a candidate who didn't rise to our level of honesty and integrity. This is obviously something we didn't want to happen, especially with two candidates."

UTLA has one remaining endorsed candidate: two-term incumbent Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte in District 1. In every race, the union had chosen a candidate to oppose those favored by Villaraigosa. School board members allied with the mayor to varying degrees occupy four of the seven seats.

The mayor is backing incumbent Richard Vladovic in District 7 against Escandon and Roye Love. He's supporting incumbent Tamar Galatzan in District 3 against Louis Pugliese. Yolie Flores decided not to run again in District 5, where the mayor is supporting Luis Sanchez, chief of staff to board President Monica Garcia, the mayor's closest board ally. The other candidates are Fernandez and Bennett Kayser.

The union has had other setbacks with the March 8 election. It first lost Heather Kolodny in District 3, who changed her mind about running.

A former teacher, Escandon, 43, is a veteran staff member with the California Teachers Assn. and the father of three district students. In 1994 he was convicted of public drunkenness, an arrest that also resulted in a conviction for failure to appear in court. In 1997 he was convicted of driving under the influence and driving without a license.

"Like most people, I've made mistakes in my life," he said in a signed letter to the UTLA board. "I wanted to personally apologize to you and the teachers of L.A. for not sharing this with you earlier."

Escandon's wife, Martha, said Monday that UTLA wrote the letter and pressured her husband all weekend to sign it. At one point, after having agreed, he changed his mind at the urging of his family and called Duffy to tell him, she said. An angry Duffy allegedly warned him to talk to his employer and then hung up.

Fearful for his job, Escandon finally yielded and also agreed not to speak to reporters. His wife added that Escandon is a solid citizen who once worked three jobs so she could earn her undergraduate and master's degrees.

Others urging Escandon to drop out were campaign consultant John Shallman, who is working for UTLA, and former union president John Pérez. Duffy and Pérez could not be reached, but Shallman insisted that there was no coercion.

Fernandez said he may appeal to keep the endorsement to the union's House of Representatives. UTLA's backing typically comes with substantial campaign funding and volunteer support.

As of Friday, Fernandez had reported that he'd raised no money. A campaign on behalf of the mayor's favored candidates has raised more than $1 million.

Fernandez, a retired teacher and longtime Eastside community activist, called the pressure from Duffy "a vicious, racist, cowardly act."

Times staff writer Jason Song and researcher Scott Wilson contributed to this report.


Earlier coverage:

Howard Blume and Jason Song | LA Times/LA Now | http://lat.ms/e5emKu

January 31, 2011 |  United Teachers Los Angeles has abandoned its support of two candidates in the March school board election, throwing the union's political strategy into disarray.

Jesus Escandon has withdrawn from the race and John Fernandez has lost the endorsement of UTLA because of "serious concerns about Mr. Fernandez's truthfulness in the interview process and his qualifications and integrity to be a member of the school board," union President A.J. Duffy wrote in a Monday statement that was apparently faxed to union chapter chairs at schools in the L.A. Unified School District.

Escandon had filed to run in District 7, which covers the harbor area and portions of South Los Angeles, against one-term incumbent Richard Vladovic. Fernandez is running for an open seat in District 5, which covers a diverse area including Los Feliz, Silver Lake, Eagle Rock, East Los Angeles and the southeast L.A. County cities of Huntington Park, South Gate and Bell.

The issue with both candidates was lack of disclosure in the union interview process. A source familiar with the internal deliberations said the matter with Escandon related to one or more arrests and that the problems with Fernandez related to an arrest and his personal finances. A union spokesperson declined to confirm the specifics when contacted Monday morning.

Politically, the turn of events is an advantage for Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who is supporting other candidates -- Vladovic in District 7 and Luis Sanchez in District 5 -- in his effort to maintain an allied board majority.

The union has not ruled out endorsing additional candidates, although it would probably have to call an emergency meeting of its House of Representatives to do so. In District 7, the other remaining candidate is Roye Love, who has frequently run for office in the past. In District 5, the last standing alternative is recently retired teacher Bennett Kayser. Last week, Kayser won the endorsement of the union that represents district administrators. Administrators are endorsing Vladovic in the other contest.

Both Escandon and Fernandez were received with great favor by House delegates late last year when the body made its endorsements. Escandon is a well-liked staffer with the California Teachers Assn. and a district parent. Fernandez is a longtime community activist and was a union chapter chairman at Roosevelt High School prior to his recent retirement.

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