People Power Elects McKenna, Big Money for Johnson comes up short
No amount of money and political mudslinging could deter the voters in the special election for the Los Angeles Unified School Board District 1 Seat as iconic educator George McKenna overcame a sluggish start to pull away, defeating his novice opponent Alex Johnson.
“I think it turned out to be what we predicted,” McKenna told the Sentinel.
“I think it’s the community choice and I think I am the community’s choice. I think voter turnout was low, but I think that this community shows it gives them a return on their investment for many years.”
The more ballots were cast and tabulated, McKenna’s lead swelled to a convincing 53.11 percent compared to 46.88 percent for Johnson. McKenna had garnered 14,940 votes to Johnson’s 13,153, thus returning McKenna to the school children he loves.
After all of the 324 precincts had reported (28,366, ballots cast), it confirmed the excitement for McKenna’s battle tested grassroots ground game.
Charter Schools and unions poured in well over a million dollars into Johnson’s campaign, but it was not enough to prevent McKenna from replacing his late friend Marguerite LaMotte.
“They trust me more than they trusted some other opportunist who wanted to try to become a board member just because there was some open seat. It’s a political contest for them, but for me it was a continuous of a commitment that I made a long time ago to be of service to this community,” said McKenna.
McKenna’s supporters such as Sentinel Publisher Danny Bakewell Sr., Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Congresswoman Karen Bass, former Los Angeles City Councilman Nate Holden, former councilman Dave Cunningham, Los Angeles Economic and Workforce Development Department General Manager Jan Perry, former LAUSD Board member Rita Walters and sitting LAUSD Board Members Bennett Kayser and Steve Zimmer were on hand at his Crenshaw Blvd. campaign office along with Pasadena Councilwoman Jackie Robinson and WLCAC CEO Tim Watkins.
“The snowball got rolling. Maxine Waters got in and she was my biggest political supporter and a bunch of other people got in and I appreciate all it. They say they have never seen that much money spent and they never seen that much negative stuff going on,” McKenna stated.
It was an emotionally spent six months for the storied educational career of McKenna, but in the end he survived to capture the Special Primary Election to replace his late friend Marguerite LaMotte on the Los Angeles Unified School Board District 1 Seat.
“I won despite all of the negative stuff that was put out there,” he said. I’m glad that it didn’t work, not because its gives me a victory, because if that works it gives other people the impression that it will work again and other people will attack each other. The African American community in particular will infer that it’s ok for Black people to attack each other in public as if that is the norm.”
McKenna stated that it was not what Malcolm X meant by “Any Means Necessary.”
“I am glad that we won to debunk that concept.”
He said that, that could destroy long-term friendships.
As expected a low voter turnout from the primary spilled over into the summer and the hotly contested campaign divided powerful Black political adversaries.
“This is my first campaign. I never had a political life,” McKenna said.
“I am a novice. I have had more emotion from people who told me they have never seen anything like it. This groundswell that came up. First all Marguerite LaMotte died! It isn’t like she termed out and said y’all run for it. She died! And she was my close friend, she was my colleague and that broke my heart.”
McKenna won the primary against seven candidates including his Tuesday’s opponent Alex Johnson and the majority of them forged their support in favor of McKenna.
However, it was Johnson who was backed by powerful Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas that outspent McKenna’s campaign by a margin of 2-1.
Some of those resources were funneled into a nasty campaign mailing that smeared fact with fiction in an effort to tarnish McKenna’s reputation as a problem solver for under performing schools.
In contrast McKenna’s campaign was driven by small dollar donors, volunteers, parents and teachers from District 1 who believed that he was essential to the survival of public schools in the district.
Among McKenna’s primary volunteers was the late Brenda Marsh-Mitchell, a stellar community advocate who has been instrumental in countless elections throughout a career than spanned some four decades.
Ms. Brenda as she was affectionately called, spent her last remaining days and hours stomping for votes for McKenna.
Her daughters, Tracy, Pamela and Tamela all finished the work that Brenda started. Their mother’s final wish came true. George McKenna won, indeed he did.