Few minority candidates pull nominating papers to run in newly configured PUSD voting districts; five candidates line up to take Holden’s District 3 council seat
By André Coleman 11/21/2012
In the end, former longtime Pasadena Unified School District administrator and onetime Board of Education member Bill Bibbiani may have been right.
With less than two weeks left for candidates to pull nominating papers to fill four school board seats in the recently districted PUSD, a move approved by voters in June aimed at increasing democratic opportunities for minorities with children attending school in PUSD, only one minority candidate has pulled the necessary papers to run in the March 5 municipal elections.
Along with four school board seats, voters in March will also be asked to decide three City Council seats — District 3, soon to be vacated by longtime Councilman Chris Holden, who was elected to the state Assembly on Nov. 6; District 5, also represented by a longtime incumbent, Victor Gordo; and District 7, presently occupied by Councilman Terry Tornek.
Five candidates so far have pulled papers for the council seat Holden occupied for nearly 25 years, and one candidate appears prepared to begin the campaign process against Gordo. No one has turned out yet to challenge Tornek, who himself has pulled papers for a second term.
Candidates have until Dec. 7 to pull papers to run for both the council and the Board of Education.
Back in May, Bibbiani, who worked as an administrator for the district for more than 30 years before being elected to the first of two terms in 2000, was the only person to publicly oppose Measure A, a ballot initiative designed to increase minority inclusion in elections on the Board of Education and stave off potential lawsuits that might be filed under the California Voting Rights Act of 2001.
“I’m not surprised” that few others but incumbents have pulled papers, Bibbiani said.
Among those who have filed to run are incumbents Kim Kenne in the new District 1, Elizabeth Pomeroy in District 5 and Scott Phelps in District 7.
In District 3, Tyrone Hampton, a general contractor, has pulled papers to run. Under the new configuration, there is no incumbent in that district. Hampton is African American. Kenne, Phelps and Pomeroy are white. Because Kenne and fellow Board member Ramon Miramontes live in the same district, and candidates are required to live in the districts they seek to represent, Kenne would have had to face off against Miramontes, elected in 2008. However, Miramontes told the Weekly that he is not running for a second four-year term.
Kenne, who was in office two years before the district was created by a special task force and approved by voters, could have remained in her seat for two years before facing re-election, but decided to run for a full four-year term.
In Bibbiani’s opinion, the new districts have not done what they were supposed to do to attract minority candidates to run. In fact, Bibbiani considers the new districts a formula for disaster when it comes to making elected school officials more efficient and accountable.
“My fear in the long term, and this is not a criticism of the superintendent, within a few years, you will end up with the superintendent and the seven dwarves, because none of the board members will have a district-wide base of support, because they only have to please small groups of people,” Bibbiani said, pointing out that the former election system was at-large, with all candidates running district-wide for numbered board seats.
“It is not a shot at [PUSD Superintendent] Jon Gundry,” Bibbiani said of his quip. “The powers of the board will be diminished, and the powers of the superintendent will be increased.”
Ironically, with Miramontes, the board’s only Latino member, not running, the Board of Education could end up without Latino representation, despite having a Latino student population of roughly 60 percent.
Miramontes cited the birth of his twin sons last summer among his reasons for not running for a second term.
“The twins sealed the deal,” Miramontes said. “There is nothing wrong with one tour of duty. I shook things up, and I was not afraid of the system. It takes a lot out of you when you refuse to go the Pasadena Way. It is still difficult for minorities to run. I disagree with the maps, but not neighborhood districts.
“They [task force members] thought it was better to create a minority majority in the districts,” he added. “That is not how it is supposed to be. All groups should have a major voice in every district. Elected officials should sometimes have a contrarian role with city staff.”
A board-appointed districting task force spent nearly six months splitting PUSD — which includes Pasadena, Altadena and Sierra Madre — into seven separate districts of about 29,000 residents each. African Americans and Latinos make up the majority of the population in at least three districts, including District 1, where Kenne and Miramontes live.
Miramontes, Kenne and Phelps were usually allies against the board majority of Board President Renatta Cooper and Board members Ed Honowitz, Tom Selinske and Pomeroy. Miramontes’ exit from the board could shift the board’s balance of power away from what has been described as a dysfunctional dynamic in which actual progress was often stymied by at times bitter infighting among board members.
One such incident last year involved Phelps, who was censured for making comments in public which led to one candidate dropping out of the race last year for the superintendent’s seat. That action against Phelps, however, didn’t end the finger-pointing among board members, with the Miramontes-led board clique calling for a censure of Cooper for an alleged violation of the Brown Act, the state’s open meeting law.
“I think the [district] maps needs to be circulated,” Cooper said when asked to speculate on why so few people seem to be interested in running. “We are going to have to do some voter education to get some people interested in the school board who have never run before. I am hoping that now that the national election is over there will be more attention given to the local elections.”
In the race for City Council, five possible candidates have pulled the necessary papers to begin campaigning for District 3, which includes portions of Northwest Pasadena and mid-city, north of Colorado Boulevard.
Those people include: Businessman Ishmael Trone; former NAACP President John L. Kennedy; Los Angeles litigation attorney William Pallares; Susana Porras, a part-time teacher; and Dentis Fowlkes, an information technology (IT) technician.
If none of the council candidates receive 50 plus one percent of the vote in the March election, the top two vote getters will square off in a runoff election on April 16.
Trone said he is running “based on a balanced perspective I have gained through my work in Pasadena over the past 25 years in Pasadena as a businessman and civic leader. From my experiences, I have the passion vision, integrity and inclusionary thought process to further the growth of District 3.”
William Pallares — a Los Angeles litigation attorney — told the Weekly he was concerned about crime in the district, and that although he had pulled papers, he was still only considering running.
“I want to try and help out District 3 and improve the quality of life in the neighborhood,” Pallares said. “We are seeing more criminal activities, and I want to bring more attention to economic development.”
Kennedy said he originally planned to run 25 years ago against Holden but decided against it. Last year, people in the district began asking him to run for the seat.
“Due to my background in city government, public works and working for the former [assistant] city attorney, Nicholas Rodriguez, I have skill sets that would be helpful addressing some of the serious issues impacting Pasadena from a policy standpoint.”
Fowlkes could not be contacted, and Porras did not return a phone call seeking comment for this story.
Perhaps the biggest battle could occur in District 5 between Gordo, first elected in 2000, and Pasadena Marathon organizer Israel Estrada.
Estrada did not return several phone calls left at the Pasadena Marathon headquarters. He also did not return a number of emails seeking comment.
“I welcome opposition from anyone in the district who has lived here and has been working and will work to improve things,” Gordo told the Weekly.