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Zimmer, García Lead in Los Angeles Board Race

Classroom teacher Steve Zimmer appeared to be headed for a return to the Los Angeles board of education in what became a clash between the longstanding sway of teachers' unions and the agenda of wealthy education activists from around the country.

One-term incumbent Zimmer, a teacher for 17 years and a Teach For America alumnus, held a narrow lead this morning over challenger Kate Anderson, a lawyer and public school parent whose campaign drew unprecedented levels of outside cash from deep-pocketed advocates intent on overhauling how teachers are hired, evaluated, and fired, and expanding the reach of charter schools. The District 4 seat Zimmer represents covers a swath of West Los Angeles.

In unofficial results, Zimmer had garnered 52 percent of the vote, with Anderson winning 48 percent, according to Los Angeles city election officials. All precincts had reported as of 5 a.m. Eastern time.

Current school board president Mónica García, whose campaign was heavily backed by the Coalition for School Reform, was leading with more than 56 percent of the vote, enough to avoid a runoff in her District 2 race. The race for District 6, however, appeared to be headed for a runoff.

Close to $4 million poured into the Coalition for School Reform, a political action committee aligned with Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, which spent the cash on behalf of Anderson and two other candidates staunchly in favor of Superintendent John E. Deasy and his agenda. New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg gave $1 million to support the coalition's slate of candidates, while a company owned by media mogul Rupert Murdoch contributed $250,000 at the last minute to do so as well.

Zimmer had the backing of the United Teachers Los Angeles and other local labor groups. UTLA spent nearly $1 million both to support Zimmer's campaign and to try to take out García, the board president. The American Federation of Teachers kicked in $150,000 to bolster those efforts.

García, seeking a third term, faced four challengers, but appeared to have captured enough votes to avoid a May runoff and to keep representing the District 2 seat that covers East Los Angeles and downtown. She has been the superintendent's strongest supporter, and an outspoken proponent of charter schools. She also raised a sizeable war chest of her own, nearly $430,000.

Antonio Sanchez, also favored by the coalition and endorsed by UTLA (though the union gave him no money), was headed for a first-place finish with 43 percent of votes for the open seat to represent District 6, which includes a slice of the San Fernando Valley, but fell short of a majority. He will face off against Monica Ratliff, a member of UTLA, in the May runoff.

In her campaign, Ms. Anderson was an unequivocal supporter of Superintendent Deasy, whose agenda for overhauling practices around teacher hiring, evaluation, and firing became the central issue in the campaign.

This election—particularly the race between Zimmer and Anderson—was one of the biggest tests yet for how much education activists such as Mayor Bloomberg, and former District of Columbia Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, can influence the outcome of local school board elections. StudentsFirst, the organization founded by Rhee, also gave $250,000 to the coalition-backed slate of candidates.

Spending on the campaigns for three seats on the Los Angeles board climbed to nearly $5 million by the day before the election.

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