Lopez Walloped in Schools Recall Vote
After a bitter campaign over language, ethnicity and district politics, the
Santa Ana trustee concedes, replaced by Rob Richardson.
Los Angeles Times
February 5, 2003
By Daniel Yi and Claire Luna, Times Staff Writers
In a contentious recall election that has drawn national attention to issues
such as bilingual education, class and ethnic divisions, Santa Ana school
trustee and immigrants' rights activist Nativo V. Lopez conceded late Tuesday
after unofficial results showed him losing soundly.
With all 18 precincts counted, recall forces took more than two-thirds of the
vote. Turnout among the Santa Ana Unified School District's 60,601 registered
voters was 21.1%, more than expected for a special election.
"This recall wasn't just about Nativo Lopez, it was to keep our people in
check," a somber Lopez told supporters gathered at the offices of the
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in Santa Ana. "We need to know
how to accept defeat; we need to know how to learn from these campaigns so we
come back and fight another day."
Tuesday's results were a victory for Santa Ana's City Hall leaders, including
council members and the mayor, who have butted heads with Lopez for years and
had thrown their support behind recall candidate Rob Richardson, a former
trustee and city councilman who was elected to replace Lopez.
"The credibility of our district had been deeply damaged," Richardson said from
a home in the Floral Park neighborhood where his supporters had gathered. "We
need to completely overhaul the district."
At Richardson's side was Santa Ana Mayor Miguel A. Pulido, who said, "There is
tremendous unrealized potential in this city. Unfortunately, our schools have
been lagging behind. I am hopeful this election will turn them around."
Lopez, who has been battling an organized recall effort since March, was accused
of illegally promoting
bilingual education and blamed for the slow pace of expansion and construction
of schools in the severely crowded 61,000-student district. Much of the support
for the recall came from residents of upscale north Santa Ana neighborhoods
opposed to putting an elementary school in their midst, saying the real need for
schools was elsewhere in the city.
Lopez had countered that those north-city residents didn't want poor Latino
children attending school in
A second question on Tuesday's ballot was who among four candidates would
replace Lopez should he be recalled. Lopez is in the middle of his second
Richardson, 41, an administrator for the county and a Santa Ana planning
commissioner, took nearly two-thirds of the votes. The other candidates were
recall organizer and district parent Vivian Martinez, an office administrator;
Lopez supporter Cindy Pettus, a community college instructor; and former Rancho
Santiago Community College trustee John M. Raya, a businessman.
Lopez, head of the popular Hermandad Mexicana Nacional of Santa Ana, was
rallying his troops until the last moment. Tuesday afternoon. He gave an
impassioned speech to dozens of supporters at a labor union office before they
were loaded into vans and taken to working-class neighborhoods. There, they
urged voters to go to the polls and stop the recall.
At the union headquarters late in the evening, Lopez, flanked by his tearful
wife and one daughter, said, "If the electorate in our district did not respond
to our message, it was not because we didn't work hard enough. The balance of
force was completely lopsided."
Recall supporters raised almost three times what Lopez had, bringing total
contributions to nearly $400,000, more than 20 times the usual amount for a
school board race.
The contest threatened to boil over in the final days of the campaign when the
Al Mijares, delivered a scathing rebuke of Lopez and his ally on the board, John
Just two days before Tuesday's showdown, Mijares accused those trustees of
"horrific ethical violations" in what he called their micromanagement of a
$300-million-plus schools construction project, and of meddling in hiring
Lopez and Palacio, in turn, accused the superintendent, who was hired in 1994,
of lacking leadership and vision. Mijares could not be reached for comment late
The campaign to remove Lopez from the school board began last spring, when a
group of parents and other residents accused him of hurting the academic
performance of the district's mostly poor and Latino students by promoting
It was yet another controversy for Lopez, who has been a lightning rod ever
since the East Los Angeles
native set up shop in Santa Ana in 1982.
In the 1990s, his group, Hermandad, and its sister organization of the same name
in Los Angeles, were
accused of siphoning millions of dollars in federal education grants meant for
English and citizenship
classes for immigrants. Federal and state officials said the groups and Lopez
were unable to document
their claims of providing thousands of hours of instruction. Lopez has denied
any wrongdoing. A lawsuit
by the state Department of Education against Lopez and Hermandad is scheduled
for trial in March.
Lopez was elected to the school board in 1996 vowing to fight for immigrants and
working-class families who constitute the majority of the district's
Many credit Lopez for making Santa Ana schools more representative of the
community by hiring Latino administrators and teachers.
His opponents won backing from Ron Unz, co-author of Proposition 227, the 1998
voter-approved measure that sought to limit the teaching language for most
students to English.
Unz, who has made a career of introducing similar measures in other states,
infused the recall campaign
with more than $100,000 of his own money. He said toppling Lopez, a
Latino-rights activist in a city
that is three-quarters Latino, would send a message that to be anti-bilingual
education is not being anti-Latino.
About 15% of the 41,000 students in the district who are still learning English
are in bilingual instruction,
meaning they receive most of their lessons in their native language while slowly
acquiring English. The
statewide average is 10%. In the district, 92% of the students are Latino.
Lopez has countered that he is only defending the right of parents to choose
Spanish instruction for their
Others joined the recall campaign. In the relatively affluent north-city
neighborhood, residents opposed
to a planned elementary school in their area accused Lopez of race mongering.
Lopez had said the residents, many of them white, objected to "poor, brown"
children on their streets.
Critics also blamed Lopez and his allies on the board for the pace of school
construction in the chronically overcrowded district despite voters' passing a
$145-million bond initiative, Measure C, in 1999.
Lopez and Palacio have defended their roles, saying the district was challenged
by the surging cost of land and that Mijares and his staff were to blame for
delays in construction.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Santa Ana Unified
Recall of Nativo V. Lopez
*--* 100% Precincts Reporting Votes % Yes 8,908 70.6 No 3,706 29.4
(Lopez is recalled)
*--* 100% Precincts Reporting Votes % Rob Richardson 6,795 65.3 Vivian Martinez
Candy Pettus 1,153 11.1 John Raya 541 5.2
Elected candidates and approved measures -- or those leading with 99% of
precincts reporting -- are
in bold type. Results are not official and could be affected by absentee
- Los Angeles Times