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Signatures keep three out of local school board race

By Aaron Blevins, 2/21/2013

Signature-gathering firms blamed for candidates’ woes

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Of the five candidates in the LAUSD Board of Education 4th District race, three failed to qualify for the ballot after not obtaining 500 signatures from registered voters in the district prior to the Los Angeles City Clerk’s deadline.

Two of the would-be candidates are pointing to consulting firms that they say failed to supply enough valid signatures to qualify them for the ballot. In a twist, two of the accused parties — James Law and Analilia Joya — submitted enough signatures to make the ballot in their own respective races.

Former candidate Franny Parrish, a library aide at Dixie Canyon Community Charter, said she paid $2,100 to Law and his firm, Henry, Law & Associates, to gather her signatures, after a friend had recommended him. Law, though, never delivered, she said.

“I’ve never been more embarrassed or humiliated in my entire life,” Parrish added.

She said she had arranged to meet with Law, who she also knew as David Johnson, to meet her at the Los Angeles City Clerk’s Office on the day of the deadline to submit signatures, Dec. 5. Parrish, who obtained some signatures on her own, said he never showed up, and he hasn’t returned her money.

“It was awful,” she said. “To be taken advantage of like that, and how embarrassing to tell my friends and supporters that I was taken advantage of like that. How embarrassing. It even made me question my own judgment.”

Parrish said her woes were amplified by the news that Law was running for Los Angeles City Council District 15 and had gathered enough signatures for his race. However, she said her attorney is preparing the paperwork to file a lawsuit against Law and his firm.

Candidate Jeneen Robinson also failed to qualify for the ballot due to a lack of signatures, though she has opted to run as a write-in candidate. She said she hired two different entities to gather her signatures, and of the more than 1,000 she submitted, only 360 were declared valid.

“It was completely disappointing for me and a lot of my supporters,” Robinson said.

She said that, initially, she hired Tiffany Boyd and Luckson Lambert to do the work, but after she felt they were being elusive, she hired VerNon Vann and Associates. In the end, most of the discrepancies came from Boyd and Lambert’s signatures, some of which were obtained outside the district, Robinson said.

“You can throw a dart and won’t miss [a registered voter],” she said. “Of all these registered voters, how do you get the wrong district?”

Lambert wouldn’t disclose the name of the firm he worked for without permission from a supervisor, but he said he was “shocked” to hear that Robinson’s signatures didn’t clear. He said the firm has worked to get several measures on previous ballots, and that workers stayed in the district to get Robinson’s signatures.

“Everything we did was valid,” Lambert said. “We didn’t understand how the situation went down. …It didn’t make any sense.”

Robinson said she was approached by Law, but declined his services because they were more costly than other firms. Candidate Sam Whitehead said he too was approached by Law but declined because he was skeptical of the firm’s intentions. He said he eventually got to know Law by several names: Henry, James, Michael, Titus and Jim.

“Something just didn’t feel right in my gut,” Whitehead said.

Yet, he too did not make the ballot due to a lack of signatures. Whitehead said he gathered some of the signatures himself, while hiring a firm that delivered on its promise. He said he did hire another firm that promised 300, but delivered only 90, all of which were invalid. That firm did not charge him. Those 90 signatures, had they been valid, would have got him on the ballot.

Whitehead admitted that he could have been more diligent in gathering signatures — he submitted 650 — but he theorized that another candidate may have challenged his signatures after he submitted them. He said he had trouble getting information from the clerk’s office without an attorney.

“They’re like the heavenly gates or the gates of hell, however you want to look at it,” Whitehead said.

The District 4 race wasn’t the only contest that lost a candidate due to signatures. Scott Folsom, a candidate for District 2, said he also hired Law at a cost of $2,000, and though Law collected the required number of signatures, many were invalid and Folsom was not reimbursed.

“I was an idiot to trust these guys, but I’m tired of beating myself up,” he said, adding that he had been unaware that Law was running for office.

Folsom said he believes Law and Joya, an employee of the firm, used his and Parrish’s money to qualify for matching funds from the city. He said candidates who make the ballot qualify to get a two for one match in campaign contributions.

“It’s pretty easy to connect the dots of what the plan was,” Folsom added.

He said the thought that his campaign had been “sabotaged” had occurred to him, and some of his campaign advisors question if something larger might be at play.

“That could be, but I really think that the conspiracy was toward something else,” Folsom said.

The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office is reviewing the matter, but would not offer more information.

Whitehead and Parrish said that signature-gathering is an archaic way for people to get on the ballot in the 21st Century. They said the task is difficult and time-consuming, as many people are skeptical of the request or feel that a signature somehow counts as an endorsement.

“There’s got to be a better way,” Parrish said. “I would have rather given my money to the city.”

Whitehead said that if the city charged $3,000 and did away with the signatures, every four years the city candidates could pay the mayor’s salary. He said people contend that such as requirement would keep some people from running for office, but those candidates would wind up paying a consulting firm to gather the signatures anyway.

“And it brings people out like this Henry Law,” Whitehead added.

A person associated with Law’s campaign said via e-mail that the firm has no comment at this time. The phone number attributed to his campaign was not accepting incoming calls. E-mails to Joya were not returned, and the phone number attributed to her campaign has been disconnected.

 

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