Pass baton to Zimmerman

October 14, 2010|By William Lobdell

Given these anti-incumbent times, the perfect political campaign sign has popped up on nearly every busy intersection in Newport Beach and Costa Mesa: "30 Years Is Enough — Vote Zimmerman."

Loretta Zimmerman, 58, a Balboa Island resident, is hoping the catchy slogan will help her grab the seat on the Newport-Mesa Unified School District Board of Education that Judy Franco has occupied for three decades.

It won't be easy for the challenger. Franco's name I.D. among voters geeky enough to follow the school board race is high, and she's well connected within the local Republican Party. The incumbent's endorsement list is stellar, and Zimmerman's campaign spending will be in the modest neighborhood of $20,000 — meaning she'll have to rely on a single mailer, tons of signs and old-fashioned shoe leather to reach voters.


And there's one more thing: Franco — who will be 74 next month — isn't a villainous politician who is easy to attack. She's a likable board member who believes that the school district — during this point in the Great Recession — needs the expertise she's gained over the last 30 years to guide it through these economic times.

No one questions her commitment. She strikes me as the kind of board member who, for relaxation, reads district staff reports before she goes to bed. I recently had lunch with Franco, and she was sharp, enthusiastic and knowledgeable as ever.

But for voters, there's queasiness about having a school board member serve for a record 30 years — and then asking for four more. Franco is smart enough to sense this. I could find no mention of her tenure's length in her campaign materials or on her bio page on the school district website.

And for the past few elections, she's promised the electorate that she wouldn't run again. But each time, as her term was running out, she changed her mind.

Her rationale? The school district needed her experience.

A boss of mine once told me after losing a key editor, "Lobdell, the graveyards are filled with irreplaceable men. No one is that special. We'll be fine."

And so will Newport-Mesa with Zimmerman as a new board member. Her five children have graduated from Newport-Mesa schools, and she's been a leader on a slew of school councils, boards, clubs and committees on the elementary and high school level.

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