Local Elections

Mailer, money fuel intense battle for Sacramento school board seat

Jay Hansen
Jay Hansen

In the final days before Tuesday’s election, the Sacramento City Teachers Association has stepped up its efforts to oust Jay Hansen in a trustee race that involves nearly $200,000 in total contributions, late support from charter school advocates and an attack mailer with him toting a shotgun as he chomps on a cigar.

The teachers union is backing Anna Molander, a former Sacramento planning commissioner and onetime head of the county Democratic Party, by contributing about half of the $75,000 she has raised, campaign filings show. The union is seeking to remake the board this election after a series of battles with district leaders over seniority protections, contract negotiations, teacher evaluations and a unilateral shift in health insurers.

The California Charter Schools Association has countered with $31,000 of independent expenditures for Hansen in October, the bulk of which have come in the campaign’s final two weeks, according to state filings.

The Area 1 battle between Molander, Hansen and real estate agent Kate Woolley has become the most expensive and hotly contested among the four Sacramento City Unified school board races on Tuesday’s ballot. The candidates are vying to represent one of the school district’s most politically active areas, covering most of downtown, Curtis Park, Land Park and South Land Park neighborhoods where many state and local politicos reside.

Voters there have been flooded with mail on a daily basis related to Molander or Hansen. The most talked about has been one sent by the teachers union this past week with the photo of a shotgun-toting, cigar-smoking Hansen gazing into the camera through eyes veiled by sunglasses, an incongruous image in a school board race to represent left-leaning city neighborhoods.

“Had enough of Jay Hansen?” the mailer asks voters in large stenciled type. It was accompanied by newspaper and Web postings stating that Hansen voted to close the seven neighborhood schools last year. One included the headline “Racism Decried in Sacramento School Closings.”

The oversized postcard posed Molander and her family on the other side, urging voters to “Elect a board you can trust” and stating that the school board must “put teachers at the table where priorities are decided.”

Hansen said the photo was taken about six years ago at a skeet-shooting fundraiser for mesothelioma cancer research.

“I used to be a hunter,” he said. “So I got a gun.”

Hansen, chief strategy officer for the California Medical Association, has raised about $50,000 since the start of the year in his own committee, including contributions from labor unions representing firefighters, construction workers and pipefitters, according to campaign finance filings. He said that total has risen to $80,000 late in the campaign, with a significant share coming as backlash donations after the SCTA mailer.

Hansen said he felt the postcard unfairly portrayed him as a “racist, Minuteman, militia person.”

SCTA President Nikki Milevsky said the Hansen photo was found on his Facebook page. The mailer, she said, was intended to show the contrast between him and Molander.

She called Hansen “the worst on the board,” arrogant and dismissive to people who questioned his vote to close schools, and deserving of the teachers’ push to remove him from office.

“Our district has turned really negative,” Milevsky said. “In the last four years, it has been a very difficult place to work and to have children learn. I think this is the opportunity for the public to say, ‘We’ve had enough. We want new school board members.’”

Molander said her campaign was “not part of that” SCTA mailer.

“I haven’t talked to them (SCTA) about it directly,” she said. “They know how I feel about negative campaigning.”

Hansen, in turn, has faced criticism for a derogatory comment he gave to the Sacramento News & Review last month about Molander, saying she is “a nice person, but she couldn’t think her way out of a box on some of this stuff.”

He said he called her later that night to apologize. “In the heat of the moment, I let the negativity get to me,” Hansen recalled. “That has no place in this campaign.”

Hansen was appointed two years ago to fill the Area 1 vacancy midway through a four-year term. He was one of four trustees in June to authorize a district-dependent charter school, a form that involves more district oversight and collective bargaining with the teachers union, according to trustee comments before the vote.

The statewide charter schools association spent the $31,000 for Hansen in independent expenditures, meaning the efforts could not be coordinated with his campaign. In its last detailed filing, the group said it spent funds on campaign literature and mailings.

Hansen said he prefers “dependent” charter schools, which give Sacramento City Unified more spending control. He said “independent” charter schools existed before he arrived to the board and that families clearly want them. But he said they need more fiscal oversight and that he would like to see more collaboration between them and the district.

As Molander and Hansen – and their allies – flooded mailboxes in the final days, Woolley held a news conference Tuesday outside Washington Elementary School in downtown Sacramento. She vowed that she would work to reopen the school, one of seven campuses the district closed in 2013 in what the district said was a cost-saving measure in the face of declining enrollment.

Woolley has raised close to $9,000 in her campaign account, including help from the California Real Estate PAC.

Asked about the last-minute timing of her Washington Elementary announcement, she said the school had been on her radar previously. But, she explained, “I didn’t realize until just a couple of months ago how passionate these people are.

“I’m that candidate that nobody talks about. It’s a week before the election, and I guess I want people to know what I would do.”

She lamented that students living near the Washington Elementary campus are being bused out of the area this year.

“They feel like they’re completely disenfranchised,” Woolley said. “They had a culture at Washington Elementary where they felt like they were home. It’s a travesty. We didn’t need to do that.”

Ten candidates are competing in four Sacramento City Unified board contests overall. The teachers union is backing public school teacher Ellen Cochrane in Area 2, District Advisory Council President Maria Haro-Sullivan in Area 6 and former SCTA President Linda Tuttle in Area 7.

None of those candidates has received the big bucks from teachers that have flowed into Molander’s campaign, who won SCTA’s endorsement in March.

Besides targeting Hansen, the teachers union is pushing to unseat Area 2 Trustee Jeff Cuneo and Area 6 Trustee Darrel Woo, both of whom SCTA supported for office four years ago.

In Area 2, Cochrane has raised about $4,000 compared to the $50,000 amassed by Cuneo’s campaign, according to election records on file at the start of last week. Cuneo’s total includes $20,000 he loaned his campaign.

In Area 6, Woo raised about $27,500 through Oct. 18, county records show, compared to $17,000 for Haro-Sullivan. Woo received some of his largest contributions from labor groups representing carpenters and plumbers. More than half of Haro-Sullivan’s funds came from the teachers union.

In Area 7, records show Tuttle received about $7,000, compared with $47,000 for Oak Park resident Jessie Ryan and $21,500 for Hmong Innovating Politics organizer Jonathan Tran. Ryan received a $5,000 contribution from former Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, as well as donations from the plumbers union and developer Angelo K. Tsakopoulos. Tran received $10,000 from Service Employees International Union Local 1021, among other contributions. Candidate Ralph Merletti, a substitute teacher, did not file a campaign report.

The California Charter Schools Association has spent $27,000 on independent expenditures for Ryan, who said she was unaware of its effort. She said she declined direct contributions from the organization because she wanted to remain independent and didn’t want to get caught in the crossfire between the teachers union and charter schools.

“It’s shocking the level of politics between those two entities,” she said. “I think we’d all be in a much better place if we could put that politics aside and focus on what’s in the best interest of our students.”

Call The Bee’s Loretta Kalb, (916) 321-1073. Follow her on Twitter @LorettaSacBee.