Westchester: Write-in candidate blasts organizers of LAUSD school board forum
By Gary Walker
A parent volunteer who is seeking to inject a new voice into the 2013 District 4 Los Angeles Unified School District campaign called out the United Way for its decision not to invite her to participate in a candidates forum at the Boys & Girls Club of Venice Jan. 24.
Jeneen Robinson, who missed qualifying for the March ballot by approximately 140 votes, is a registered candidate with the city’s Ethics Commission and parent advocate whose son attended Loyola Village Elementary School in Westchester. She has served on several LAUSD committees.
Her campaign was taken aback when the United Way, which sponsored the Jan. 24 forum, chose not to have her join LAUSD Board Member Steven Zimmer and challenger Kate Anderson in answering questions from the audience on their respective campaign platforms.
“I was shocked to find out that I wasn’t included,” Robinson said. “I felt that it was a complete disservice to the public (not to invite her to be on the panel).
“The United Way is a community-based organization and they should allow anyone who is recognized by the city to participate.”
Kevin Durst, Robinson’s campaign strategist, asked Zimmer and Anderson to withdraw from the event because his client was not invited.
“Zimmer actually showed some empathy and asked that Jeneen be included,” he said.
Anderson, however, said she could not do anything about the United Way’s decision not to invite Robinson, according to Durst.
“I think that was pretty craven on her part,” he said.
A spokesman for the United Way said they created a formula in order to determine which candidates would be invited to take part in the two-hour forum.
“United Way and the dozen or so other organizations convening these school board forums established a threshold to determine which candidates would be invited,” the spokesman explained. “Only those candidates whose names are going to appear on the actual ballot were invited.
“After careful review, United Way decided not to extend an invitation to Jeneen, based on her not receiving enough signatures to have her name included on the ballot.”
The Los Angeles League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan political body that does not endorse candidates, holds forums during election years. They have a certain set of standards that they require all registered contenders to abide by in order to appear before one of their events.
“We do believe, for the most part, that all ballot-qualified candidates should be invited to participate in our forums,” executive director Raquel Beltran told The Argonaut. “Each organization can decide what their criteria should be.”
As an example, Beltran’s group held a mayoral campaign forum recently but only invited contenders who had raised $200,000 by the end of December.
Robinson lags far behind Zimmer and Anderson in raising funds for her campaign. She reported no contributions as of Jan. 13.
Del Rey Neighborhood Council President Eric DeSobe thinks deciding who should participate in a candidate forum, especially with regard to write-in contenders, should be decided on a case by case basis.
“I’d be less inclined to include a write-in candidate that collected signatures to get on the ballot in the wrong school board district, for example, but if someone is a write-in candidate due to a groundswell of support I think including him or her makes a lot of sense,” said DeSobe, a former elementary school educator.
The Del Rey council president was referring to a contender in the 2009 District 4 election who collected signatures outside the boundaries of District 4, which is what happened with Robinson as well.
As a novice to politics, her campaign hired a firm to collect the necessary signatures needed to qualify as a candidate. Late last year, the city clerk disallowed several thousand of Robinson’s collected names and signatures of registered voters because they do not live within the boundaries of District 4, which includes Hollywood, a few Eastside communities and much of the Westside, including Del Rey, Venice, Westchester and Mar Vista.
Robinson said despite that fact that her name will not appear on the ballot, she feels that she is a legitimate candidate. “If the city acknowledges you as a candidate, why shouldn’t other mediums give you the opportunity to speak?” the candidate asked.
The Jan. 24 forum’s principal organizer denied the accusation that Robinson was not invited to speak because of any reason other than what was previously stated.
“United Way treats equally all of the candidates who meet the threshold. In the case of District 4, those candidates are Steve Zimmer and Kate Anderson,” the organization’s spokesman said. “They both received equal time during the forum, both received information before the forum in the same manner, and both received the same treatment during the moderated discussion.”
Anderson and Robinson were once part of an organization, “Our Schools, Our Voice,” which was headed by Michael Stryer, who ran unsuccessfully against Zimmer in 2009.
The group took the position that student data, or the results of standardized tests, should be one-quarter of a teacher’s performance reviews.
Durst claimed that Anderson, a member of the Mar Vista Community Council, endorsed Robinson in September, but later decided to challenge Zimmer herself.
Anderson’s campaign did not return calls for comment at Argonaut press time.
Robinson claimed Anderson, who sought the 53rd District Assembly seat in 2008, was running a “rebound campaign” and showed little interest in local schools until recently.
“I don’t think anyone should use our children to advance their political career,” she asserted.
The school board election will be held March 5.