Trustees Tie Riordan to Gift Offer
Occidental College President Theodore R. Mitchell told campus trustees that former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan would donate money for a top-level executive position at the college if Mitchell ran for the Los Angeles Board of Education, according to participants in that trustees’ meeting.
Riordan has denied being part of an effort by billionaire Eli Broad to recruit Mitchell to run in the March 4 primary election against board member David Tokofsky. The Times reported earlier this month that Mitchell had told trustees that Broad offered to donate $10 million to Occidental if Mitchell ran for the school board. Broad has denied that.
Riordan did not return several telephone calls to his office requesting comment on his reported offer to Occidental.
According to participants in the Oct. 30 telephone conference between Mitchell, who was in New York, and the Occidental trustees’ executive committee, Mitchell told them that Riordan would pay for a position at the college similar to a provost. The proposed administrator would take on some of Mitchell’s duties to give him time to campaign for a school board post and hold office while remaining in his Occidental position, said participants who asked not to be identified.
Occidental’s spokesman said Mitchell declined to be interviewed for this story. Mitchell previously said he decided not to run for the school board on the same day he talked with Occidental trustees, partly because of Tokofsky’s political strength.
Broad, when asked about the reported offer by Riordan, said, “I’m not aware of that.”
Broad said he was considering his own $10-million gift to the college while encouraging Mitchell to run, but insisted that such a gift was not contingent on Mitchell’s agreement.
Mitchell told The Times last month that he considered his candidacy for the spring election and the donation as a “package.” He had said earlier that they were unrelated.
During his conference call to Occidental trustees, Mitchell said that Broad and Riordan had asked him to run for the school board and that Riordan’s support for Mitchell’s candidacy would include funding a top-level administrator’s position, participants said. The cost of that position reportedly was not discussed.
Riordan, a former Occidental trustee, has sought for several years to shape education policy by financially supporting Los Angeles school board candidates. Broad has funded a national foundation to advocate school reforms and to train administrators on more business-style leadership.
In 1999, with financial help from Broad, then-Mayor Riordan backed four successful candidates -- including Tokofsky -- in the school board elections and helped create a new majority on the seven-member panel. Riordan’s efforts faltered last year when two of the three candidates he backed lost in the primary.
In an earlier interview with The Times, Riordan denied having recruited Mitchell to run against Tokofsky. “I wasn’t the one that went to him or was involved in any decision,” he said.
Broad said last week that he had not given Mitchell the idea of running for the school board, but added, “When I heard he would consider it, I urged him to do so.”
In a Nov. 2 e-mail to the Occidental faculty, Mitchell wrote that he first discussed running for the school board with Riordan and Broad when he was a UCLA administrator. (Mitchell was at UCLA from 1992 to 1998.) “I’ve said no on at least three occasions,” Mitchell wrote in the e-mail, which was provided to The Times by a faculty member.
According to participants in the Oct. 30 Occidental meeting, trustees Chairman John Power also said he had met earlier with Riordan, Broad and J. Paul Getty Trust President Barry Munitz to discuss Broad’s possible gift and Mitchell’s school board candidacy.
Power, a retired lawyer in the O’Melveny & Myers law firm, declined to comment about those reported discussions. Broad, Munitz and Riordan did not return phone calls asking for interviews.
Mitchell, Broad and Amy Wakeland had met in early October with political strategist Bill Carrick to discuss Mitchell’s possible run, Carrick said. Wakeland works for the Coalition for Kids, a group Riordan founded with Broad’s support to fund school board candidates.
Carrick, who has led campaigns for Riordan’s mayoral runs as well as for Riordan-backed school board candidates, said the meeting was at Broad’s Brentwood house, and covered “mundane” details such as the amount of time Mitchell would have to spend campaigning. But Carrick said he had not participated in any discussion of donations from Riordan or Broad to Occidental.
Mitchell has been Riordan’s advisor on education issues. Before assuming the Occidental presidency in 1999, he had been a UCLA vice chancellor and a Getty Trust executive.
A school board member since 1995, Tokofsky is a former Marshall High School social studies teacher who coached the school’s Academic Decathlon team to a national championship. His majority-Latino district stretches from northeast Los Angeles to such cities as South Gate and Cudahy, which are in the nation’s second-largest school district.
Broad and Riordan reportedly have sought challengers to Tokofsky because he does not always support their vision of reform.
“I’m surprised that they’re being so blatant,” Tokofsky said. “They supported me four years ago, though reluctantly. I have always been a lead reformer on the board -- the public knows that, and the classroom teachers know that.... It’s a shame that they’re treating this school district like a banana republic.”
In the primary, Tokofsky will now face Jose Sigala, an aide to Assemblyman Marco Firebaugh (D-Los Angeles); Nellie Rios-Parra, a Lennox schoolteacher, Democratic activist and wife of Alvin Parra, who recently dropped out of the City Council race to make room for Antonio Villaraigosa; and Maria Lou Calanche, an educator and unsuccessful Los Angeles Community College District candidate.
Rios-Parra said she has met with Broad and Riordan, from whom she had sought information about the Broad Foundation’s educational reform work around the country. Sigala said he has met with Riordan and Wakeland..
Members of the college trustees’ executive committee who participated in the Oct. 30 meeting either declined to comment on the record or were unreachable. They are: lawyer Power; lawyer Molly Munger; retired IBM executive Catherine Selleck; lawyer Jay Grodin; lawyer Marilyn Garcia; Liberty Vegetable Oil Co. CEO Irwin Field; real estate developer Eileen Brown; investor Joe Girard; former Irvine Foundation president Dennis Collins; venture capitalist David Berkus; civic volunteer Virginia Cushman; retired builder Jack Samuelson; executive recruiting firm partner Kris Morris; and retired Citicorp executive David Roberts.
Times staff writer Doug Smith contributed to this report.