Retired principal and administrator George McKenna was elected to the Los Angeles Unified school board in a runoff Tuesday, creating a majority coalition of board members backed by the teachers’ union.
“I’ve had a track record of success everywhere I’ve gone, and I’ve held every position in public education,” said McKenna, who is perhaps best known for his time as principal of Washington Prep High School, a story parlayed into a TV movie staring Denzel Washington in 1986.
McKenna garnered 14,940 votes or 53 percent of the vote. His challenger Alex Johnson, an education policy advisor to county supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, had won 47 percent of the votes.
McKenna benefited from greater name recognition amongst voters.
"I chose McKenna, because I've seen him in the community," said Vanessa Mims, whose granddaughter attends Crescent Heights Elementary School in West L.A. "I've seen him working, and I know what he is about."
The election results mark a defeat for well-heeled education advocates championing charter school expansion and tying teacher evaluations to test scores.
Self-described education reformers partnered with a powerful black political coalition to help Johnson raise $442,000 in campaign contributions and attract $849,000 in independent expenditures, according to the latest filing. Johnson brought in almost five times the outside cash as McKenna.
The primary election in June drew seven candidates vying to represent district one, a seat left vacant after Marguerite LaMotte died mid-term in December.
"I am honored to succeed my long-time friend and colleague Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte. She was a champion for children and can never be replaced," McKenna said in a statement sent out late Tuesday.
McKenna drew twice as many voters as Johnson in June, though not enough to win outright, leading to the runoff.
Despite the investment, only about 8 percent of voters turned out to the polls in a district spanning the sections of West and South Los Angeles.
Richard Freeman, a seasoned poll worker, said his station at the Robertson Recreation Center went an hour without a vote cast Tuesday evening.
“It's not nearly as slow as I thought it would be," he said, "because I thought it would be completely dead."
Poll workers napped, watched videos and checked social media while they waited.
The City of Los Angeles estimated it will cost more than $1.8 million for the cost of both elections. L.A. Unified will foot the bill.
This story has been updated.