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LACCD RACE TOO CLOSE TO CALL AS BURNS HAS RAZOR-THIN LEAD.

Byline: SUSAN ABRAM

Staff Writer

The contest for the Los Angeles Community College District board of trustees seat remained too close to call Wednesday, with fewer than 100 votes separating the two candidates and 10,600 ballots left to count, election officials said.

The tally so far gives political newcomer Roy Burns a razor-thin margin over incumbent Georgia Mercer -- 88 votes out of over 115,000 cast.

While acknowledging he was in no position to declare victory, Burns said he was confident about the results.

"I'm not ready to declare victory, but I'm extremely confident that this side will win," said Burns, a retired sheriff's deputy who also teachers.

Mercer did not return phone calls.

The City Clerk's Office has three weeks to certify the election.

Within that time, votes cast by mail, provisional ballots, and ballots that may have been damaged and could not be scanned, will be counted. After a winner is officially announced, a candidate or any registered voter has five days to request a recount, according to the city's election codes.

Some political analysts said Burns' strong support could have been due to a mood among voters to change the status quo.

Mercer, who lives in Beverly Hills, is a former teacher at the Los Angeles School District's Danube Elementary School in Granada Hills. She also has been a public-relations director for Planned Parenthood's Los Angeles branch.

Burns teaches criminal justice at College of the Canyons in Valencia. He enlisted in the Marines after graduating from Cleveland High School in Reseda and served in the Vietnam War.

"I do believe, that when it comes down to it, people want change," said Rick Taylor, a political consultant for Dakota Communications. "And it has nothing to do with the seat but with a trust in law enforcement, and that triggered it."

Taylor said the 6 percent of registered voters who turned out were likely conservative. Burns ran on a Republican ticket, though the board of trustees is a nonpartisan entity.

"It makes you wonder because these are the kinds of boards that no one really knows what the heck (the trustees) are doing," Taylor said.

But these boards also prove to be launching pads for long-standing careers in politics. Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich and California state Attorney General Jerry Brown both began their careers by serving on the Los Angeles Community College District board, Taylor said.

Mercer, a political veteran who has served on the board of trustees since 1998, was forced into a runoff with Burns, who was the top vote-getter among three challengers in the March primary.

In that election, Mercer received 46 percent and Burns got 32 percent of the vote. Mercer and Burns had each said they were disappointed they didn't capture more than 50 percent of the vote, which would have averted a runoff.

Burns said he believes he garnered a large chunk of the votes because of the messages he presented, including holding the board accountable for how voter-approved bond money was spent.

He said his background as a teacher and career in law enforcement may have resonated with voters.

"First of all, I'm a teacher, and I'm trying to stay in a profession in which the board of trustees oversees," Burns said. "Next, I believe law enforcement is a respectable career, and I think that resonated with the voters."

And whether he can formally declare victory or not, Burns said this election has likely shaken the board's sense of comfort.

"I think this election opened their eyes, that this is not just going to be a quiet race every two years, and that there are going to be qualified candidates challenging the board of trustees," Burns said. "That challenge creates better leadership."

susan.abram(at)dailynews.com

(818) 713-3664

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(1) LAUSD Board of Education

(2) Los Angeles Community College District

(3) State Assembly
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 17, 2007
Words:650
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