Negative campaigning is a legitimate if overused tactic. If a candidate for elected office has flaws, his opponent has every right to say so. But in the current runoff race for the Los Angeles Unified school board, the attacks on veteran educator George McKenna by his opponent Alex Johnson and some of his backers haven't simply been negative — they have crossed the line into the misleading if not downright inaccurate.
FOR THE RECORD:
School board race: An Aug. 5 editorial said that a flier supporting Alex Johnson implied that his opponent, George McKenna, had "ignored" molestation at Miramonte Elementary School. In fact, the flier suggested McKenna failed to protect children there. —
Tarnishing McKenna's reputation might look like the easier path, especially because Johnson has had trouble articulating why voters should consider him the better candidate. As an aide to L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Johnson has had a hand in overseeing a worthwhile summer school program for inner-city students. And the political connections of his boss have helped bring spending on his behalf to more than triple the amount spent to promote McKenna. But it's hard for a relative neophyte in the education world to outshine McKenna, who has a respected history as an educator working on behalf of poor and minority children in the community he seeks to represent.
No one, including McKenna, is saying that he never made a mistake. But the excerpted quotations on recent mailers supporting Johnson, were taken out of context from articles that showed McKenna in a more positive light. One mailer implied, for example, that McKenna inflated graduation rates at Compton schools, and that he ignored molestation by teachers at Miramonte Elementary School. But the people who supervised him in those roles have said that these and other accusations misstate the truth: There were inflated graduation rates in Compton — and McKenna came on board to correct them.The problem at Miramonte was that the complaints were never reported to McKenna,as they should have been. As a result, he had no opportunity to act on them.
Johnson's response when Times reporters questioned him about these discrepancies was to paraphrase a refrain in the mailers by saying that "a Hollywood story is not the same thing as the truth," in reference to a 1980s movie about McKenna's stint as principal of a South L.A. high school. But McKenna did undertake a series of reforms at Washington Preparatory High School that were revolutionary for their time, and the results were impressive.
Johnson is a smart and engaging political newcomer. But he's off to a regrettable start.