Advocates debate how to replace late school board member LaMotte

Local politicians, community activists and others packed a special L.A. Board of Education meeting Tuesday evening to debate how to replace Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte, who died in December.

The board's choices, according to district staff, are to schedule a special election or to appoint a replacement until the next regular election in 2015. Before making a decision, the board's six remaining members first listened to public speakers, included elected officials.

"I simply rise to make the point that democracy matters and it matters all day long,” said L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. "Voters matter. They are important in this process.”

Ridley-Thomas read a list of public officials also calling for a special election, including L.A. City Council President Herb Wesson and newly elected state Assemblyman Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, son of the supervisor.

But an equally long list of officials as well as a parade of black civic activists called for appointment, so that the district would be represented without a delay of at least half a year. Most of the speakers called for the appointment of retired senior district administrator George McKenna.

When it comes to voting rights, “we know a little something about that," said local NAACP leader Leon Jenkins. A regular election would happen in due course, he said. In the meantime, "the end is representation.”

Jenkins also supported McKenna.

McKenna, 72, also spoke to the board.

"My name has been used more than usually and I’m trying to get accustomed to it,” McKenna said. "I am here because I have been summoned by the community."

If the board opted for an election, he said, he would run for office. 

"One way or another I intend to be your colleague," McKenna said. "I am now going back home.”

The board agreed to allow as many as 100 speakers to speak for two minutes, not including current and former elected officials, who had no time limit. 

On Monday, former school board member Genethia Hudley-Hayes, 68, announced that she, too, would be willing to serve as an appointee or run for office.

LaMotte’s successor could play a key role on a school board that is sharply divided on key issues, including the direction of the school system under Supt. John Deasy.

Political activist Jimmie Woods Gray also has expressed interest in the seat. Another possible candidate is Alex Johnson, an aide to 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.


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