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De la Torre Pushes for "Change" Candidate to Fill His Vacant Seat

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By Jorge Casuso

November 16, 2020 -- Councilmember elect Oscar de la Torre is lobbying to fill his vacant School Board seat with a candidate he hopes will champion an activist agenda.

De la Torre, who finished a comfortable fourth in last week's Council race, is pushing for the Board to appoint Jason Feldman, a local civil rights attorney who was on the same Santa Monicans for Change slate.

Feldman finished a distant fourth in the race for three open Board seats. As of the latest vote count on Friday, he had 13,89 votes, 7,155 fewer than third-place finisher Jen Smith, who was also a first-time candidate.

De la Torre -- who was first elected to the board in 2002 -- believes voters should have a say when the six board members vote choose his successor.

And he worries the board will pick a candidate who will further, instead of fight, the status quo.

"It would be unfair to replace me with a rubber stamp," de la Torre said. "I held the seat for 18 years and provided opposition to the Board majority.

"I want to have someone that's going to be a critical thinker, not just someone that is going to go along to get along," de la Torre said.

"It makes me question if real progress in addressing the achievement gap is in jeopardy with that new appointment."

But de la Torre's push for Feldman's appointment could run into a roadblock.

In a widely disseminated string of emails to a local activist, School Board Chair Jon Kean indicated the decision will likely not come down to the latest election results.

"As for Jason," Kean wrote in an email to Sherry Martini, "he did finish in 4th, but he was 7,000 votes behind 3rd.

"That is hardly a mandate," Kean said. "He was closer to last place than 3rd place."

Kean noted that when State Sen. Ben Allen resigned in 2014, his own efforts to fill the vacancy failed when the board appointed Ralph Mechur, who finished a close fifth in that year's race for four School Board seats.

"At that time, many votes for Ralph were justified by 'but he ran in the election,'" Kean told Martini. "Clearly, I disagreed at that time and thought my body of work was more valuable and appropriate."

De la Torre points to Mechur's appointment as a result of the very cronyism he fears will prevail when a new member is chosen.

He notes that Mechur, who served on the Board for 13 years, was appointed twice -- in 2007 and 2014 -- and only won one contested race for School Board in 2010.

Mechur -- who ran in uncontested races in 2008 and 2016 -- decided not to run for re-election this year.

"The reasoning we used to appoint Mechur was the he was the top vote getter" among those who didn't win seats, de la Torre said.

Kean said that if Feldman applies, "I absolutely will consider him without any bias and recognize that he did run in the election.

"My decision will come down to voting for the individual who I believe will make the board stronger and more efficient," Kean said.

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