Canter Leads in Contest for School Board


Businesswoman Marlene Canter was leading incumbent Valerie Fields by a small but steady margin in the runoff for a seat on the Los Angeles Board of Education, according to preliminary returns Tuesday.

The challenger edged ahead in the aggressive race to represent a region stretching from the Westside to the west San Fernando Valley.

“I’m encouraged,” said Canter, from an Italian restaurant where her election team was posted. “I have felt the momentum building. People are looking for change.”


But Fields, who awaited returns in a Sherman Oaks hotel ballroom, said she remained confident.

“My feeling is really good,” Fields said. “I had so many volunteers walking precincts and phoning voters.”

The runoff in District 4 was characterized by record fund-raising of nearly $4 million and a tone that grew increasingly hostile as election day approached.

Canter raised more than $2.7 million, lending herself the bulk of the funds.

Fields raised $1.2 million, with the teachers union kicking in more than half.

The money in the school board campaign exceeded the fund-raising in all four school races put together in 1999. It also dwarfed the spending in the Westside City Council contest between former state Sen. Tom Hayden and ex-federal prosector Jack Weiss. Those two collectively raised $1.1 million.

The unprecedented war chests in the school board race paid for a barrage of television commercials and an onslaught of antagonistic mailers that arrived almost daily in the final week of the runoff.

Fields accused Canter of distorting her record. Canter blamed Fields for the school district’s poor test scores and troubling dropout and graduation rates, and for allegedly missing more than one-third of school board meetings.


One Fields mailer showed a student wearing a dunce cap, seated in front of a chalkboard with a message that said repeatedly: “I will not lie about Valerie Fields.”

Several community leaders pointedly criticized the negative tone of Canter’s campaign as well as Mayor Richard Riordan for adding fuel to the fire. He endorsed Canter in the runoff, and a committee set up by him to help elect school board members paid for 5,000 neon lawn signs that said simply, “L.A. School Board Member Valerie Fields has FAILED.”

For her part, Canter accused the Fields campaign of waging a smear campaign by dredging up Canter’s poor voting record. The Fields camp pointed out in mailers that Canter had voted in just three of the last 15 elections dating back to the early 1990s--an assertion Canter did not deny.

Canter also accused the Fields team of tearing down her lawn signs, many of them on private property. Canter’s campaign enlisted volunteers with cameras and cell phones to keep watch over the signs and to contact police if they spotted violators. No one was arrested, however, Canter’s campaign manager said.

From the beginning of the race, Canter sought to portray herself as the independent reformer not beholden to any special interest--even the mayor who endorsed her. She deluged voters with mail outlining her broad ideas for reforming the district but gave few hard details about her plans.

Fields lost Riordan’s endorsement early in the campaign after the two disagreed about a raise for district teachers. Fields touted her break with the mayor as proof of her independence.