The union representing teachers and clerical workers of the Los Angeles Community Colleges has endorsed two candidates in the April election for district trustee, going a long way toward filling the political vacuum created recently when two longtime incumbents decided not to run for reelection.
Rose Ochi, an aide to Mayor Tom Bradley, and Althea Baker, a union activist and chairwoman of the counseling department at Los Angeles Mission College, won the support of the American Federation of Teachers College Guild Local 1521, union officials have announced.
Twelve candidates, including Ochi, filed papers of intent to run April 11 for the seat being vacated by trustee Arthur Bronson. Four, including Baker, filed for retiring incumbent Wallace Albertson’s seat. With the crucial endorsements, one candidate dropped out and others may follow by Saturday, when supporting petitions must be filed.
Union support is important in the races, which rarely draw wide public interest but have great effect on the enormous, nine-campus system and its 105,000 full- and part-time students. The union, for example, helped defeat two incumbents in 1987, and some district officials said that expected opposition from the guild played a part in the retirement of Bronson and Albertson. The two trustees, however, deny that, citing personal and career reasons for their decisions.
They compete for specific seats, but candidates for the seven-member board run districtwide; three seats are up for election this year.
The AFT guild pointedly decided not to make an endorsement for the third seat this year, but that matters little because incumbent Lindsay Conner is unopposed. Conner, Bronson and Albertson angered the union by supporting proposed cutbacks and layoffs during a financial crisis two years ago. That crisis led to the forced removal of Leslie Koltai as district chancellor.
Arthur Forcier, the union’s public information and political consultant, said that Ochi and Baker were chosen because they seemed best prepared to help reduce waste and expand educational offerings. The decisions were made after a lengthy series of interviews with the candidates, Forcier said, stressing that he was speaking on behalf of Guild President Gwen Hill.
Ochi, who is executive assistant to Bradley and director of the criminal justice planning office in City Hall, served on a committee last year that helped choose Donald Phelps as the new chancellor. “She seems to understand the system,” Forcier said. “She can get off and running quicker than other people can.” He confirmed the opinion of other candidates and officials that Ochi’s ties to the Bradley Administration were also an important factor in the endorsement.
Baker, also an attorney, has a strong understanding of the district through her past role as a union contract negotiator, according to Forcier. Just as important, he said, was her counseling work at Mission College. “That puts you in touch with a lot of varied aspects of the colleges that other people don’t see,” he said. “She understands that there are a lot of people who need our services and are falling through the cracks.”
District officials and others familiar with the campaign said that Ochi’s main competitors for Bronson’s seat are Carlos Barron, director of the Mexican-American Education Commission at the Los Angeles Unified School District; Mary Louise Longoria, an education analyst and staff worker for the county Commission on Human Relations who ran unsuccessfully for the Los Angeles Unified School District board in 1985, and Patrick Owens, an automotive teacher and high school recruiter at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College. Mona Field, a professor and union leader at Glendale Community College, has dropped out because of the union endorsement.
In the contest for Albertson’s seat, insiders say it will probably be a fight between Baker and Patricia Hollingsworth, a teacher at Trade-Tech who ran unsuccessfully for the board two years ago. Hollingsworth, a union member, said she was angered by the AFT endorsement of Baker, calling it a move to dictate to the membership.
Incumbent trustees Bronson and Albertson denied speculation that they are not running because they feared opposition from the union. Bronson, a retired businessman who has served on the board 18 years, said he wants to devote more time to his family and travel. Albertson, a 12-year veteran of the board, said she wants to focus her energies on producing movies.