George McKenna and Alex Johnson leading in L.A. Unified race

 George McKenna and Alex Johnson leading in L.A. Unified race
George McKenna, above, and Alex Johnson are headed for a runoff.

Vying for an open seat on the Los Angeles Board of Education, George McKenna and Alex Johnson appeared to be headed to a runoff in Tuesday's primary election. The two were the best funded in a crowded field.

Seven candidates were seeking to fill the final year in the term of Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte, who died in December. The 1st District has 74,000-plus students in 92 traditional schools and 37 charter campuses across south and southwest Los Angeles.


The outcome of the special election could affect the direction of the nation's second-largest school system. The policies of Supt. John Deasy were a frequent target of LaMotte, who, for example, criticized him for replacing instructors at persistently low-performing campuses.

Deasy's staying power was an undercurrent in this contest, although candidates generally avoided criticizing him.

McKenna, 73, a retired senior district administrator, was solidly ahead early in the evening for a place on the seven-member board.

"I haven't made a lot of enemies in my career," McKenna said Tuesday night. "I've made a lot of friendships, and my investment in all the children and families and parents is paying off."

McKenna also raised enough campaign money, $154,440, to make him competitive.

"He's of the community," said Roxie McClenton, 64, who voted at a West Washington Boulevard church. "He's been a principal in various schools and he's more in tune to what the parents and students need."

Johnson, 33, the senior education adviser to Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, had to overcome limited name recognition but successfully built on the connections of Ridley-Thomas, whose territory overlaps substantially with the board district. Through the May 28 contribution reporting deadline, Johnson had spent $353,468, more than the others combined.

In addition, Johnson benefited from two independent campaigns. A committee set up by the California Charter Schools Assn. Advocates reported spending nearly $62,000. The charter group also gave $50,000 to the California Black Political Action Committee, which spent $17,000 for Johnson.

A blitz of pro-Johnson mailers was persuasive for Gilberto Sealey who voted at a Mid-City fire station.

"I liked his theme that the safety of children comes first," Sealey said.

For his father, Vincent Sealey, 91, the driving factor was Ridley-Thomas.

"I don't know Johnson, but I know Ridley-Thomas," he said.

Genethia Hudley-Hayes, who raised $106,040, touted the endorsements of two former mayors: Republican Richard Riordan and Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa. Neither is universally popular in South Los Angeles. Hudley-Hayes was well behind the two leaders in early returns.

Two influential — and usually opposing — political players did not wage independent campaigns in this round: the Los Angeles teachers union and a group of civic leaders associated with a political action committee, the Coalition for School Reform.


The cash-strapped and divided United Teachers Los Angeles endorsed three candidates with ties to the union: Sherlett Hendy Newbill, Rachel Johnson and Hattie McFrazier.

Also on the ballot was Omarosa Manigault, a substitute teacher and assistant pastor, known for a run on a reality TV show.