In L.A. school board runoff, two vie for 2nd place — with 35 votes separating them

In L.A. school board runoff, two vie for 2nd place — with 35 votes separating them
Jackie Goldberg, seen here on election night, March 5, will be one candidate in a runoff for a school board seat. The second spot is not yet determined as final ballots are being tallied. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The margin to win the second spot in a runoff against Jackie Goldberg for a Los Angeles school board seat has shrunk to 35 votes, with Heather Repenning just ahead of Graciela Ortiz. Fewer than 100 votes remain to be counted, with the official tally set to resume Friday.

The tightness of the race, a special election to fill a vacant seat, increases the possibility of a recount.


The outcome could be pivotal on a seven-member Board of Education that has been split on how to deal with privately operated charter schools as well as with district campuses that have low standardized test scores or other markers of poor performance.

One spot in the runoff belongs to Goldberg, a former teacher and school board member who also served on the L.A. City Council and in the state Legislature. She finished far ahead in the March 5 primary, with more than 48% of the vote.

Through Tuesday, Repenning had 13.13% and Ortiz 13.02%. A longtime senior aide to L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, Repenning resigned as a public works commissioner to run for office. Ortiz is a school counselor as well as an elected City Council member in Huntington Park, which is within the L.A. school district.

County election staff estimated Tuesday that a recount would cost about $5,000 per day for the candidate who requests it and could take several days. The cost could be a challenge for Ortiz. According to the most recent election filings, her campaign had spent about $54,000 more than it had taken in.

On Sunday, her campaign sent out an email appeal for donations.

“Now, more than ever,” Ortiz wrote to supporters,
“we must ensure that every single vote gets counted — that the voice of our communities is not silenced but heard.”

Repenning’s campaign was $9,000 in the black for the same reporting period.

What’s left to count?

County officials have 17 vote-by-mail ballots retrieved Friday from the post office. Another 54 vote-by-mail ballots have problems that could be resolved — and the votes tallied — after voters are contacted. And about 10 to 20 ballots were initially missorted for various reasons, said Alex Olvera, the L.A. County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk’s division manager for election information and preparation.

The county on Tuesday tabulated about 1,642 ballots that had not been previously counted.

Ortiz was in second place by a narrow margin on election night. Then, in follow-up counting last Friday, Repenning took the lead.

District 5 encompasses neighborhoods north of downtown, then cuts a narrow path east of downtown to the cities of southeast L.A. County. The seat opened up in July when Ref Rodriguez resigned after pleading guilty to campaign money-laundering charges.