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Nick Melvoin at election night party.
Nick Melvoin at election night party. (Brian Vander Brug/Los Angeles Times)

Candidates backed by charter school supporters have won their first-ever majority on the Los Angeles Board of Education in elections held Tuesday.

In District 4, which stretches from the Westside to the west San Fernando Valley, challenger Nick Melvoin defeated school board President Steve Zimmer, who was supported by public service employee unions. 

Melvoin received 30,696 votes, 57.4%. Zimmer received 22,766 votes, 42.6%

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Kelly Gonez at election night gathering in San Fernando.
Kelly Gonez at election night gathering in San Fernando. (Patrick T. Fallon / For The Times)

Kelly Gonez was reluctant to claim victory prematurely Tuesday night in her bid to join the Los Angeles Board of Education, but from early on she held a small but solid lead over Imelda Padilla.

They were running to fill the seat in District 6, in the east San Fernando Valley, which opened up when incumbent Monica Ratliff chose not to seek reelection.

Gonez held her election night gathering at Magaly's Tamales and Mexican Grill in San Fernando, and the room erupted in applause when she arrived just after 9 p.m. She shook hands with supporters and hugged them as she moved across the room.

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Steve Zimmer votes.
Steve Zimmer votes. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

Claudia Vizcarra has worked for Steve Zimmer for seven years, first as a policy director and now as chief of staff.

She didn't know when he walked into his election party around 9:30 p.m. that he was about to concede the election.

"It's hard," she said after Zimmer gave an impassioned speech to supporters calling his defeat a "devastating loss."

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Steve Zimmer embraces Anika Fernandez following an impassioned concession speech.
Steve Zimmer embraces Anika Fernandez following an impassioned concession speech. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

L.A. school board president Steve Zimmer stood in front of about 50 supporters at a Mar Vista restaurant just before 9:50 p.m. Tuesday and thanked his family, labor leaders who backed him and his district staff members for their hard work.

The two-term incumbent was conceding that he'd lost his reelection bid to challenger Nick Melvoin after more than $5.69 million had been spent against him. 

"I don't want any of you to think that this is because of you," Zimmer told his supporters. He thanked his wife especially, saying that love got him through this campaign.

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At around 10:30 p.m., Nick Melvoin stood in front of a screen projecting election results and gave his first speech of the evening.

As he spoke, he was surrounded by cameras, and well-wishers yelled his name. Local TV reporters had come and gone, saying they planned to come back for a live shot later.

Melvoin's opponent for an L.A. school board seat in District 4, Steve Zimmer, had pretty much conceded that he'd lost the race -- though he hadn't called Melvoin to say so.

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When Nick Melvoin arrived at his victory party, he was swarmed by friends, family members, campaign workers. An independent documentary crew chronicling public education in California followed his every conversation.

Melvoin said he's been spending time since the primary knocking on doors, "knowing that we have to overcome some of these Trump accusations." What he meant was the efforts to connect him with Trump and his Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

"This is not a Trump-leaning district, thank God," Melvoin said. He said he was "cautiously optimistic" about the early returns that gave him a 6,000-vote lead.

Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles Unified School District teetered on the edge of a major political shift Tuesday night, as polls closed and the curtain dropped on what has been the most expensive school board election in the nation’s history.

From the moment the candidates filed to seek seats on the Los Angeles Board of Education, the election has been a proxy war between wealthy charter school advocates and public employee unions. Charter backers saw the opportunity to win their first-ever majority on the seven-member Los Angeles Board of Education.

By 9 p.m., only mail-in ballots had been counted, but the candidates backed by charter supporters appeared to have taken an early lead. Just before 9:40 p.m., incumbent Steve Zimmer, the school board president, conceded the race in District 4 to charter-backed candidate Nick Melvoin.

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Nick Melvoin, left, and Steve Zimmer
Nick Melvoin, left, and Steve Zimmer (Stuart Palley / For The Times)

Early returns favored candidates backed by charter school supporters in two pivotal contests for the Los Angeles Board of Education. 

The first round of results contain only vote-by-mail ballots, but increasing numbers of voters are using this process and large early leads can be difficult to overcome. 

That calculus is good news for challenger Nick Melvoin in District 4, which stretches from the Westside to the west San Fernando Valley. The vote-by-mail tally for him was 18,464 votes, 60.2%. School board President Steve Zimmer  had 12,227 votes, 39.8%.

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At 8:31 p.m., the crowd at an artist’s space in Venice let out a loud whoop. 

Early results — from mail-in ballots — for Nick Melvoin’s school board campaign were shown on three big screens: In District 4, Melvoin had 18,464 votes to incumbent Steve Zimmer’s 12,227.

Melvoin, 31, has had his election effort bankrolled by Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings and other advocates for charter schools.