All politics is local, Former Speaker of the House Tip O'Neil once said. In this case, it literally is.
Just a bit of an update on Tuesday's local school board election that I've been writing about, where Nick Melvoin, son of my friends Martha and the occasionally-mentioned here Jeff, was challenging the sitting-president of the L.A. School Board. It turns out that there will be a run-off. The president, Steve Zimmer, ended up in first place with 47% of the vote, but needed 50% to avoid a second election. Nick finished next with 31%, so they face each other in May.
I went to an election party event Tuesday night, which was low-key and enjoyable, with even an L.A. Times reporter there taking notes and interviewing people -- though VERY slow (to the point of comatose) to get results. Minutes after the polls closed, 5% of the total had already reported in, but that turned out to be absentee ballots, and those numbers stayed unchanged for the next two hours. At one point, I went over to Nick, slapped him on the back and told him how great I thought he was doing, with his numbers holding so steady. Fortunately, he and his tense campaign staff were able to laugh...
My favorite part of the evening was watching his mother Martha (a former news photographer) anointing herself the official campaign photographer and taking pictures all night. When after several hours of this I eventually said she should finally sit down and relax -- I then had a brainstorm and asked, "Or are you taking these pictures all night because you're so nervous and it occupies your mind?" She looked at me like, "Are you nuts?" and said, "Of course I'm doing this because I'm so nervous!"
I finally left at 10:30 PM because only 6% was then-reporting. An action-packed night, indeed. By the time I went to bed around midnight, they were only up to about 30%. So, I'm glad I took off.
Though there will be a run-off, Zimmer got a higher percentage than I'd have liked to see, since all he needs is to pick up is 3% from the two other candidates, so it will be an uphill battle – though it strikes me that there are two hopes for Nick:
One is that I’m sure there are people who voted for Zimmer purely because he was identified on the ballot as sitting on the school board – rather than voting for him because of having any ideological tie. (I doubt most people have a significant idea about school board candidates.) And so in this upcoming campaign perhaps Nick can pull away some of those that voted "title only", making a better case by now being on even 1-to-1 footing, rather than just one name out of four. Definitely possible, but definitely tough.
The other hope is one that I think is more substantive. Since voter turnout for the run-off election will likely be truly meager, a “get out the vote effort” (which I sense from what I saw of canvassing during the general election that the Melvoin campaign may have a more motivated group of young supporters doing that,) could be critical. If I was to make a pure guess, it’s that people who vote for someone based on no particular knowledge but purely because he’s listed on the ballot as “school board member” (which I’m guessing is probably what happens in a school board election) are more likely to go to the polls in a bigger election when there’s a race for mayor and city council, and are much less likely to vote in a paltry run-off. And conversely, people who specifically vote for a little-known challenger would seem to be more likely to go out again to vote for that person in a run-off. So, that might suggest that Zimmer’s vote total could drop in a run-off more than Nick’s. As a result, that “get out the vote effort” kicks in.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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