An election is not yet even scheduled but already there are two heavyweight contenders ready to vie for the Los Angeles Board of Education seat formerly held by Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte, who died in December.
The two are former school board member Genethia Hayes and retired senior L.A. Unified administrator George McKenna. In Monday interviews, each confirmed an intent to run for the District 1 seat, to which LaMotte was elected three times.
The L.A. school board is scheduled on Tuesday to decide whether to hold a special election or appoint a replacement. The board postponed making a decision at its December meeting, honoring the wishes of LaMotte friends and family members to wait until after her funeral.
Whatever the board decides, there still will be another regularly scheduled primary election for that seat in 14 months. Both Hayes and McKenna said they are concerned that LaMotte’s seat would be empty for a prolonged period even with a special election. And both McKenna and Hayes said they would accept an appointment to that office.
LaMotte’s successor could play a key role on a Board of Education that is sharply divided on key issues, including the direction of the school system under Supt. John Deasy.
Hayes, 68, served one term on the school board, ending in 2003 when she lost her reelection bid to LaMotte. More recently, Hayes served eight years as a fire commissioner, including seven as commission president. She also served as a special trustee assisting Compton College in its efforts to regain accreditation. She first came into public prominence as the Los Angeles head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. In her first school board race, she enjoyed strong support from both the teachers union and local philanthropists, but the union switched to LaMotte four years later.
McKenna, 73, retired in 2012 after three years as a regional superintendent of an area that spanned much of South Los Angeles. He had served in a similar capacity for two years starting in 2000. McKenna also worked six years heading the Inglewood Unified School District. His greatest fame, perhaps, comes from a movie, starring Denzel Washington, that depicted his turnaround efforts at Washington Preparatory High School, from 1983 to 1988. LaMotte later became principal at the same school.
McKenna initially said merely that he would accept an appointment to finish the term; some supporters had suggested he would pledge not to run in the future. But in recent community gatherings, McKenna said he has decided to run if an election is scheduled.
A coalition of community groups, including political allies of LaMotte, has been pushing to get McKenna appointed, saying no one could match his experience and qualifications. Hayes adds another experienced challenger to the field.
Political activist Jimmie Woods Gray also has expressed interest in the seat. Another possible candidate is Alex Johnson, an aide to L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. Johnson is “still in the exploratory stage,” said Fred MacFarlane, a political advisor to Ridley-Thomas. The supervisor has yet to announce his preferences.