Los Angeles teachers union President Warren Fletcher said he would no longer actively campaign for reelection, clearing the path for challenger Alex Caputo-Pearl to become the next leader of United Teachers Los Angeles.
In the first round of voting in March, Caputo-Pearl received 48% of the votes and Fletcher 21%. The runoff election takes place this month, with ballots set to be counted April 29.
In an interview Sunday, the one-term incumbent also said that he had not formally suspended his campaign and that he would serve if he won. But Fletcher emphasized that he had accepted that an incumbent who finished so far back in a primary had little hope of winning a runoff.
"The results of the first round of the UTLA election were fairly unambiguous," Fletcher wrote in a letter distributed last week at union meetings. "The voting membership has decisively signaled the desire for a change in direction. To assert otherwise would be to deny an obvious reality."
Ten candidates had vied for the office of president, seeking to lead a teacher corps that is substantially dispirited and divided, with common grievances but no clear consensus on how to move forward.
Fletcher said he was advised that he could win only with a negative campaign, which he was unwilling to do.
"Only a fool fights in a burning house," Fletcher said Sunday. "This is not the time to be having an internal fight, because of the attacks UTLA is under and that our profession is under."
Fletcher, 55, was seeking a second and final term for a three-year position that pays $101,000 annually.
Instead of asking members to vote for him, Fletcher called for unity and activism.
"Small voter participation numbers empower the enemies of Public Education," Fletcher wrote in the letter to members. "Low voter numbers allow them to continue to spread the lie that teachers and Health and Human Services professionals don't want union representation, and that we don't care if our basic due process protections are taken away."
In the first round, fewer than one in four teachers cast ballots — a higher percentage than in the previous election.
Fletcher said he would not send mailers to about 33,000 member households. Three years ago he used direct mail effectively when he was one of two challengers in a runoff. Fletcher also used direct mail in the first round this year, at a cost of about $12,500.
Fletcher added that it made no sense to withdraw from the race because a president can take office only after winning a majority of votes. So if he dropped out, the election still would proceed, pitting Caputo-Pearl against third-place finisher Gregg Solkovits.
Caputo-Pearl, 43, a high school social studies teacher, organized a slate of candidates, called Union Power, that swept the union's other citywide offices.
"The Union Power team recognizes that there is still an election, and that our members have a critical democratic right to vote," Caputo-Pearl said in a statement. "We, like UTLA President Warren Fletcher, are encouraging every member to vote."
He has not strongly criticized Fletcher's positions on issues but has said the union needs to be more assertive in defending members and also in joining them with community groups to be more influential.
"The more we can be united behind this approach, the more successful we will be," Caputo-Pearl said. "All of us have a role to play in the struggles ahead to ensure our students get the education they deserve and the members of UTLA that spend their lives serving those students get the respect they deserve."