It’s time to batten the hatches, cover our ears, shut off the radio, toss out half the mail. In other words, it’s campaign-ad season, a time to protect yourself from a barrage of lies, damn lies and, worse, misleading half-truths.
But I needed the traffic report the other day, and in an unguarded moment switched on the radio. And before I could find out why it would be faster to walk to work than drive (have you noticed they almost never tell you anyway?), there was a strange ad spot by the supremely well-funded Coalition for School Reform -- the group that received $1 million from New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg alone to back candidates who, to put it simplistically, oppose the teachers union in the three races for the Los Angeles Unified School Board.
This particular ad was on behalf of Kate Anderson, who is running to unseat the somewhat more union allied Steven Zimmer, and it excoriated Zimmer for teacher layoffs and other cuts and for the construction of the ridiculously opulent Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools, known for the talking benches that help make it the most expensive public school campus ever built. One shot is fair -- that school really did cost a ridiculous amount, with many unnecessary flourishes -- the other not. The school district had no choice but to make cuts.
But the weirdest part is that the coalition is a big supporter of Monica Garcia, a staunch reform ally, and also an incumbent who supported the same cuts and the same expensive school. In other words, with a couple of minor changes of wording, United Teachers Los Angeles could run the same ad against Garcia. It's easy to attack incumbents for being the people sitting in the chairs during cuts, but Garcia and Zimmer didn't create terrible state funding, nor could the bond money used to build Kennedy or any other school have been legally rerouted to retain teachers.
The ad went on to say that Anderson had been endorsed by the Los Angeles Times because she would make sure that money went into local classrooms. Um, half yes, half completely inaccurate. The Times' editorial board did endorse Anderson, because it found some of Zimmer’s past efforts too troubling: not the cuts or the cost of the Kennedy campus but an attempt to put a moratorium on all new charter applications and tie the district’s hands on how it could use test scores in teacher evaluations. The issue of putting money into local classrooms never came up; Anderson never mentioned it herself in the endorsement interview, and the board has no idea what she would do along those lines.
Next time, I’ll just walk to work.