Former Mayor Riordan puts in $1 million to defeat school board president Zimmer

Former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, shown in 2015, just gave $1 million to a campaign opposing school board president Steve Zimmer.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan gave $1 million Wednesday to an independent campaign to defeat school board president Steve Zimmer.

The donation swamps other contributions so far in what have become the most expensive school board races in the country.

Earlier this month, United Teachers Los Angeles, the local teachers union, put $150,000 into an independent campaign on behalf of Zimmer. In the March city elections, the two-term incumbent faces three challengers: attorney and former teacher Nick Melvoin; Gregory Martayan, who runs a communications and public relations firm; and Allison Holdorff, a parent who served on the board of Palisades Charter High School.


Among the candidates, Melvoin had raised the most money through Dec. 31, the date of the most recent reporting period. The total for his campaign was $270,031. Zimmer had raised $85,393; Holdorff, $74,791; and Gregory Martayan, $62,225.

Riordan has endorsed Melvoin and also contributed directly to his campaign. But the limit for direct contributions is $1,100 while there are no donation limits for campaigns not under the control of a candidate.

In his previous campaign, four years ago, Zimmer and his supporters framed billionaires’ large donations to defeat him as an arguing point in favor of his reelection. The teachers union, with some assistance from other unions, spent enough on his behalf to get that message out.

The committee to defeat Zimmer is called “LA Students for Change, Opposing Steve Zimmer for School Board 2017.” The group is newly formed, and there’s some ambiguity over its purpose in state records, where it is listed as: “Zimmer for School Board 2017; LA Students for Change, Opposing Steve.” It has not yet filed spending or contribution reports with the state.

Riordan has frequently been at odds politically with the teachers union, dating back to his time as mayor, although he did enjoy a close friendship with the late Helen Bernstein, the former UTLA president who was serving as his education adviser when she died in 1997.

Riordan and philanthropist Eli Broad, who consistently oppose union-backed candidates, frequently donate big money to defeat them.


During the last school board elections two years ago, the major conduit for money to fight union-backed candidates was a political action committee controlled by California Charter Schools Assn. Advocates, which has close ties to the state charter schools association.

Zimmer’s District 4 covers much of the Westside and stretches north into the San Fernando Valley.

Two other seats on the seven-member Board of Education also are up for grabs.

In District 2, which includes central L.A. and surrounding neighborhoods, incumbent Monica Garcia will not face a well-funded opponent. The teachers union has opposed Garcia but appears unwilling to take her on.

District 6, in the east San Fernando Valley, is an open seat. The union backing is going to community organizer Imelda Padilla. The traditional union opponents, including Riordan, seem to be coalescing around charter school teacher Kelly Gonez. The other candidates in the race are parent and loan officer Araz Parseghian, former state legislator Patty Lopez, neighborhood activist Gwendolyn Posey and animal-rights educator Jose Sandoval.





6:15 pm: Updated with additional detail about the opposition to Zimmer and union-backed candidates.