Three down, four up

Unopposed school board and council hopefuls win while other candidates must still campaign

By Andre Coleman 12/31/2008

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With a dearth of candidates running for a total of seven positions in the March 10 elections, three races have already been decided without a single ballot being cast.

Veteran District 3 Councilman Chris Holden, Seat 7 Board of Education incumbent Ed Honowitz and Seat 1 candidate Elizabeth Pomeroy, a former Pasadena Center Operating Co. board member and Recreation and Parks Commissioner, faced no challengers and have all but won their respective contests, leaving voters to decide the remaining four races.

In those contests, the Board of Education’s Seat 3 incumbent Scott Phelps is facing 18-year Pasadena resident Terri Darr, a counselor at Jefferson Elementary School. In the race for Seat 5, former Northwest Commission member Charles Nelson is squaring off with John Muir High School youth mentor Ramon Miramontes.

Two board seats became vacant when Seat 1 incumbent Alexander “Mike” Babcock and Seat 5’s Esteban “Steve” Lizardo announced they would not seek re-election.

A lack of people willing to run for office has affected elections in other districts as well.

Citing a California law that allows governing bodies to cancel at-large elections and appoint unopposed incumbents to their positions, or appoint qualified people to those seats if no one runs 88 days prior to an election, several Southern California school districts — including those in San Luis Obispo and San Diego counties — canceled school board elections in November. Incumbents and those running unopposed were simply appointed to the various seats.

Despite the lack of competition, the names of unopposed candidates in the local elections will still appear on the ballot, according to Pasadena City Clerk Mark Jomsky.

“I think less people are running because there is some level of contentment,” said former school board candidate Mark Mastramatteo, who ran in 2007. At that time, nine people qualified for four school board seats.

Today, Mastramatteo said, “We have a superintendent who is getting high marks so far, and the community voted to give money to the district so they can improve the schools. When I ran, there was a sense that we needed to make some changes. Part of it had to do with the administration and part of it had to do with the school board’s role. This time, there is a sense of, ‘who wants to do this job?’”

That’s not the case in City Council District 7, where eight people pulled papers to claim the seat currently held by retiring Councilman Sid Tyler. However, only five of those candidates have qualified: investment group president Terry Tornek, 62; Ciran Marie Hadjian, 41, an urban planner who has sat on several city commissions and ran against Tyler eight years ago; John Walsh, 61, a father of four and retired Caltech and JPL administrator; retiring LA County Police Chief Margaret York; and retired transit operator Gary Etll, 57.

Whoever wins the council and school board seats will have their hands full. The city currently faces a more than $13 million shortfall in the $230 million general fund budget, an amount that could double in the 2009–10 fiscal year. The Pasadena Unified School District is feeling the pinch as well, facing $5 million in state budget cuts.

“I do think that there is probably a sort of a lull after the storm. Everybody was so focused on this historical election,” Holden said of the November presidential vote. “People got involved in politics who never got involved before. Having that campaign end and then a week or so later people were asked to take out papers for council and school board, there could be some burnout.”

But the job of a school board member is not an easy one. “It is a monumental task,” Holden said. “They are asking you to fight the giant with a slingshot. It’s not that it can’t be done; but people are asked to make public education work with little resources, when the state can’t manage its own budget. That makes it a daunting task.”

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