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Agoura Civics Instructor Wins Seat : Teacher’s Lesson Plan a Winner

Times Staff Writer

The next time civics teacher Jack W. Koenig launches into one of his lectures on the importance of elections to a democracy, students in his Woodland Hills high school classroom will probably be taking close notes.

Koenig became an instant expert on the democratic process Tuesday. He won election to the Agoura Hills City Council in a race that unseated an incumbent serving as the city’s mayor and forged an environmentalist-oriented City Hall majority.

A few hours after learning of his victory, Koenig was surrounded Wednesday by admiring El Camino High School students anxious to hear his true-life political adventure. Koenig didn’t disappoint his audience.

“If you can learn anything else in this class, it’s that our government is a participatory government,” the 51-year-old teacher said. “If you don’t participate, it doesn’t work. We learned last night that we had a lot more participation than we’d thought we’d have.”

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Koenig finished second in an eight-way race for three Agoura Hills council seats after campaigning on a slow-growth platform. He collected 22% of the vote, contrasted with Mayor John Hood’s 8%.

The teacher said his own political career began by accident last year when he became curious about an Agoura Hills businessman who was improperly registered to vote, using his store address instead of his home address. Checks of Los Angeles County voter lists turned up 60 similar irregularities, Koenig said.

Later, he became angered when Hood led the majority in several split City Council votes that authorized controversial building projects in his city. When several of his friends were reluctant to run against the mayor, Koenig filed as a candidate.

“You don’t have to have a lot of money. It doesn’t cost anything to file,” he told students Wednesday.

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He cut costs by campaigning door-to-door after school and hand-writing postcards sent to voters, Koenig said. He researched campaign issues by phone at lunchtime from the El Camino faculty lounge. At the school, Koenig is faculty chairman and teachers’ union representative.

Koenig also got a little help from about 30 of his students. Those who volunteered to stand on street corners and hold up campaign signs on Election Day are to be rewarded with letters--on city stationery--to the colleges of their choice detailing their civic-mindedness.

“Never run for public office if you don’t have a reason,” he said. “My reason was my town was being wrecked. Oak trees were coming down and cheap buildings were going up.”

Campaign Ads Stuck to Development

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He said he learned the importance of distinguishing himself from other Agoura Hills candidates by keeping his campaign ads aimed at the development issue--and not at such things as his family or lists of biographical “qualifications.”

He also sought to separate his candidacy from that of Hood, something Koenig said fourth-place finisher Hayden Finley did not do. “His signs were put up next to Hood’s and the same people who endorsed him were endorsing Hood. Mr. Finley’s mistake was to get too close to Mr. Hood,” Koenig said.

As a teacher, he said he would give his civics project a high mark: “We did pretty well. It would have to be an ‘A.’ ”


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