Advocates divided on how to replace LaMotte on L.A. school board

Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte speaks after being sworn into office on the Los Angeles Board of Education.
(Mariah Tauger / Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Time)

Advocates on Tuesday pushed different approaches for replacing Los Angeles Board of Education member Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte, who died earlier this month.

A group led by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) asserted that the board should wait until after LaMotte’s burial before deciding whether to appoint a replacement or call a special election. Doing so would honor African American customs as well as respect the grieving process of the family and community, Waters and others said. Postponing a decision into January would, effectively, delay a possible election until after March.

Waters spoke outside school district headquarters west of downtown, with more than a dozen community leaders at her side.

After that gathering dispersed, a smaller group of clergy came together in the same spot, calling for a special election as soon as possible. They said it would honor the legacy of LaMotte to hold an election.


LaMotte was the only African American on the seven-member Board of Education for the Los Angeles Unified School District. Her seat has been held by black officials since the school system first divided into election districts in 1979.

Three of six board members — Richard Vladovic, Monica Garcia and Tamar Galatzan — have talked of favoring a special election. Bennett Kayser and Monica Ratliff said they were leaning toward an appointment. Steve Zimmer has said he’s undecided.

Opting for an election on a fast timetable — in March, for example — could make it difficult for candidates to assemble campaigns. Postponing the election could result in LaMotte’s seat being vacant for much more of the remaining 18 months of her term.

Whatever the case, holding an election would leave LaMotte’s seat unfilled for about three months to a year, depending on the scenario.


In contrast, an appointment would give LaMotte’s district a voice right away on key issues. Critics of that approach, however, say it would result in other board members choosing an ally rather than letting voters make their own choice.

Whatever option is chosen, the office will go before voters in a regular election in 2015.

“At the end of the day, our stand is: Let the people decide through a special election,” said the Rev. K. W. Tulloss, who was part of the second group. “We want the election to take place as soon as possible.” Other backers of an election include L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and L.A. City Council President Herb Wesson.

Waters declined to specify Tuesday how LaMotte’s seat should be filled, but an alliance of which she’s a part has called for an appointment. More than 200 members of this coalition, representing more than 30 groups, met Sunday at the First AME Church. At that meeting, there was strong support for naming retired senior district administrator George McKenna to fill LaMotte’s term.


LaMotte was closely allied with the teachers union and frequently critical of L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy. Broadly speaking, the meeting at First AME drew many of LaMotte’s supporters, who hope a successor will maintain her politics. They said a fast election process would aid LaMotte’s opponents, who could raise money for a campaign more quickly by drawing on wealthy backers of Deasy.

LaMotte’s District 1 stretches across a diverse swath of south and southwest L.A. Black voters are not a majority, but they are the largest voting bloc. The holder of that seat has been regarded, especially in the black community, as the particular guardian of black students, many of whom have struggled in the nation’s second-largest school system.


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