LAUSD debate no-shows are a disservice to voters

A planned three-man debate among L.A. Unified board candidates disintegrated at last minute

It's not a big deal for a local political candidate to skip a debate or two during a campaign. But the last-minute disintegration of a planned three-man debate last Wednesday was another matter.

Bennett Kayser, campaigning to retain his seat on the Los Angeles Unified school board, pulled out of that United Way-sponsored debate just a day before it was to occur, as well as another scheduled for Feb. 10. Scheduling conflicts, he explained.

Now, it's true that Kayser had not actually committed to the Wednesday debate. United Way says he had given a tentative yes to that one, and a definite yes to the later one. Both sides agree that United Way emailed him many times without response before discovering that he wouldn't be attending.

It's impossible not to note the fact that Kayser is easily the board member most closely allied with United Teachers Los Angeles. And the United Way of Greater Los Angeles has strongly aligned itself with the school reform movement.

But if Kayser didn't participate because of political concerns, he should have sent regrets from the start. And no matter what the reason, his dithering and late pullout made him look at best disorganized and uncommunicative; at worst, he appeared dismissive, disconnected and unwilling to take the heat of a tough debate.

Even worse was the decision of another candidate, Andrew Thomas, to withdraw from Wednesday's debate just hours before it began, saying he was doing so because of Kayser's pullout. In essence, he was saying that it wasn't important for him to debate the third candidate, Ref Rodriguez — a sign of disrespect for both Rodriguez and the process of debate.

Ultimately, though, both Kayser and Thomas did the greatest disservice to the 200 or so people in the audience who cleared their own schedules to hear a debate, not a discussion with a single contender.

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