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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Austin Mess: Bigger, Stinkier, Curiouser

Round one: Ben Austin, charter school leader, parent advocate and presumed favorite son of Mayor Villaraigosa fails to get sufficient signatures to qualify for the ballot to run for the school board seat being vacated by Marlene Canter. Austin claims that his political consultant, Sue Burnside, screwed the pooch including pulling over 300 signatures from the neighboring district of board member Marguerite Pointdexter LaMotte, hence not eligible to sign Austin's petition.

Round two: Sue Burnside issues a statement that she had nothing to do with Austin's ballot FUBAR; that she was out of town, unawares and that some mysterious figure misrepresented himself as her employee and bamboozled Austin. The Sister City identified this "mysterious figure" as allegedly Montebello Councilmember Robert Urteaga who at one time was listed as a member of Burnside's staff on her website.

"I was told that Burnside and Associates would take me as a client and gather signatures for our campaign. Robert Urteaga gathered our signatures on behalf of the firm."
Ben Austin

Round three: Via his website, Austin issues a statement calling Burnside's statement nothing but bunk saying "I called Burnside and Associates. I was told that Burnside and Associates would take me as a client and gather signatures for our campaign. Robert Urteaga gathered our signatures on behalf of the firm, told us that they had collected and validated the requisite amount of signatures -- until I later discovered that they had gathered signatures in the wrong district, and used the wrong list to validate the signatures."

In the meantime: Mayor Sam readers blast Burnside and smell something stinky, whether it was, at best, incompetence on Burnside and Urteaga's part or at worst, dirty tricks allegedly on the part of the two given their reported ties to the teachers' union, United Teachers Los Angeles and former Councilman Nick Pacheco, both not fans of the Mayor.

Sidenote: Back before the Mayor Sam bloggers outed themselves, Ben Austin was one of the many our readers thought was behind this blog. I deny any such charges.

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Anonymous Anonymous said:

Who doesn't love a good political espionage story?????? This smells very bad -- too many "mistakes," by too many people tied to too many special interests with conflicts of interests. And as much as anyone can be who's running for office and prepetually has their hand out, Austin was the anti-special interest candidate. Who knows if Austin was the victim of sheer stupidity or dirty tricks? I hope it was dirty tricks, just because it's a great, jucy, fun, story for the holiday season. A gift that keeps on giving! I love politics!!!

December 17, 2008 7:15 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

Ben Austin was pretty unapologetically running against the LAUSD bureaucracy and the teachers union. Why he would hire a consultant who works for both is beyond me. But it should suprise nobody that Burnside made a "mistake" with Austin's signatures. Dirty tricks. ONly question is whether we are able to really peal back the onion.

December 17, 2008 7:33 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

Nobody who runs for office is a revolutionary, by definition. Whether he got screwed by dirty tricks or not, don't buy the hype.

December 17, 2008 7:36 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

what a great story. either a once-in-a-lifetime fuck up that is very hard to explain. or it's political intrigue of the first order. thank you mayor sam for bringing this to my attention.

December 17, 2008 7:42 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

I haven't spoken to Ben Austin since he decided to run for office, but I've known him for a long time. He's a good, smart person, who I know is motivated by the right reasons. I was excited when I heard he was running, and extremely sad when I heard what happened. I'm not an insider like the rest of the folks on this blog, so don't have inside information. Maybe I'm biased, but I completely agree that this smells very bad. More important, I know that the voters were denied the right to vote for someone who at the very least was trying to do something different and real. This is exactly why people are cynical and don't put themselves out there to run for office.

December 17, 2008 7:47 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

isn't sue burnside a reputable operator? why would she do this?

December 17, 2008 7:56 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

I know ben austin pretty well, so I am biased. But this is my honest opinion of him (all the beauty of annonymous blogging!). He is an eccentric guy who I don't claim to completely understand: he's a dad who works in politics but still regularly goes to punk rock shows and goes to a wierd desert hippie festival every year. That said, I know for a fact that he is also a sincere guy, motivated for the right reasons, with a unique set of skills and balls to take on the bullshit and change things. It's tragic what happened.

December 17, 2008 8:05 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

Ben Austin and all fake leaders in LA government are posers.

December 17, 2008 8:06 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

Isn't there something that can be done to fix this? To be honest, I don't support Austin. Steve Zimmer is a good progressive guy who will be a good school board member. I was in Teach for America with him and I know this to be true. But I agree that this seems wrong, and the real losers are the voters who won't have a choice. I would rather have Austin lose to Steve fair and square in an election about real ideas, than have it go down like this. Is there any way to get him back on the ballot?

December 17, 2008 8:17 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

austin got what he deserved. he ran as an outsideer, but hired an insider who did an inside job on him.

December 17, 2008 8:25 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

NOW this is the kind of Mayor Sam story we all used to know and love! Keep it up!

December 17, 2008 9:25 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

I am friends with Steve Zimmer and have talked with him since this all went down. He is a good, clean guy, and will make a GREAT school board member. He obviously had nothing to do with what happened, he feels terrible about what happened and doesn't want to win this way. I know he would support any effort to put Austin back on the ballot. But if that happens, everyone should still vote for Steve. Teacher, reformer, Obama supporter, Teach for America Vet. and GREAT guy.

December 17, 2008 9:26 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

thank you mayor sam!!

December 17, 2008 9:36 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

of course only mayor sam can break the REAL story. thank you! how fun!!!

December 17, 2008 9:44 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

Let's see, who is at fault?

Urteaga, for being a vindictive incompetent twit.

Burnside, for not caring enough to oversee her employee's work.

Ben Austin's consultant, whoever that was, who did not double check Burnside's work.

But ultimately Ben Austin who failed to pick up his petitions until 11/18 - 10 days after they were available. And who did not turn them in until the last day 12/3.

The City very rapidly checks the signatures of candidates who turn in their petitions early. If they are not adequate, they are given supplemental petitions and a chance to make up the deficit. The cardinal rule of ballot qualification in LA is that you always turn in your petitions 3 or 4 days before the deadline. Ben and his consultant should have insisted on that.

December 17, 2008 10:24 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

someone should also look into Austin's $118K "consulting gig" for the City Attorney being converted into a civil service job, so that the next city attorney cannot remove him.

December 17, 2008 10:25 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

So, seriously, I could have gone out on a couple of weekends and gotten the sigs myself. He shouldn't have contracted it out. Duh.

December 17, 2008 10:46 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

There is still hope.
Pugliese- district 6.
No UTLA connections.


December 17, 2008 11:07 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

Without knowing anythig more than I'v read, this is very bad. Sure, Austin should have turned in his signatures early. Sure, Burnside and Urteaga are either complete boobs, or corrupt operators making a buck at Austin and the voters' expense. Bottom line is that nobody wins with this. There has got to be a way to fix it and give the voters a real choice. Austin was rare only because he stood for something.

December 17, 2008 11:14 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

Mayor Sam -- get to the bottom of this for us! it is too entertaining and funny. Please! This is like the old days!

December 17, 2008 11:19 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

Austin was the first real change agent to ever run for this board with a viable chance of winning. yes, he is too close to our corrupt mayor, and too close to the arrogant billionaire boys club. but, hey, nobody is perfect. Nobody can dispute what he and Steve Barr did at Locke High School. They are real revolutionaries. This was not a coincidence, and should be corrected if at all possible.

December 17, 2008 11:24 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

7:47, Stop your spinning, Ben.

December 17, 2008 11:28 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

Austin is a good guy, but no saint. anyone who runs has to sell their soul on some level.

December 17, 2008 12:07 PM  

Blogger Edward Headington said:

I ran into Sue last night at Cicada and she was sincere and emphatic that her firm was not hired and she herself was out of town. I don't know Ben or Robert but I don't think she is part of a conspiracy to deny him a candidacy. She runs a business and would soon be out of work if other clients felt she was unreliable or in collusion with opponents.

December 17, 2008 12:40 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

EdHead -

Brilliant analysis. Did you share a cheeseball with Sue?

Yes, you are correct. I am certain folks will think twice.

December 17, 2008 1:07 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

I too know sue. I agree that no matter how many ties she has to Austin's enemies, it just isn't a smart business decision to throw him under the bus. this was just sheer incompetence on her part. This urteaga guy (whom i do not know) -- i'm not so sure about. he is a convicted felon with shady ties. Not sure what he would have to lose in this situation.

December 17, 2008 1:46 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

Muckraking in the best sense of the word. Bravo, Mayor Sam! Seems like old times...

December 17, 2008 2:12 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

I'm glad the presidential election is over and we're spared Headington's reposts of Time Magazine and Slate articles.

December 17, 2008 2:55 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

Austin has no one to blame but himself. A bad way to get started as a politician is to blame others for your own mistakes.

1. When you hire someone, get a written agreement. I believe that Burnside does this as a matter of practice.

2. Don't hire someone to hire someone to collect the 1,000 signatures. A couple of people could do it in a few days.

3. Don't wait until the last minute to get the petitions signed.

The reason for the signature requirement is a very simple requirement that is there to filter out those who can't even complete the simplest of tasks.

It's like asking a suspected drunk driver to count backwards from 10.

December 17, 2008 4:29 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

where does this story go next?

December 17, 2008 4:34 PM  

Blogger Michael Higby said:

Wow! 30 comments!

December 17, 2008 5:13 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

I'm sorry, but as much as Ben is well respected, this is all a microcosm of what contemporary "leadership" is all about- delegate and trust- and then if the outcome is not what you expected- blame.

It's in perfect harmony with the Brewer affair. And now, in case we missed it, they're running it by us one more time with Cortines.

December 17, 2008 5:25 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

Can't wait to see if AV endorses Zimmer now. Talk about a waffle.

December 17, 2008 5:27 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

My friend Bill Ring collected his own signatures and didn't qualify either. If he'd had the money, he would have hired a firm, because they tend to ensure that you qualify. Austin did what everyone else does -- he was either unlucky, or the victim of dirty tricks. Bill Ring would have been the REAL parent advocate.

December 17, 2008 6:15 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

Anyone who thinks they can change things from that school board hasn't looked at the history of that school board. Austin and other reformers may be well intentioned but are pretty fucking naieve.

December 17, 2008 6:18 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

It looks like there's new stuff on the austin website.

December 17, 2008 6:24 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

Burnside didn't have to conspire to do anything, she is just incompetent period. Urteaga is a moron. Ben is to blame for hiring them both.

December 17, 2008 7:37 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

Let's get a few things straight.

(1) Robert Urteaga is dumb. I mean really stupid. And he's a convicted felon.

But he couldn't "plot" to keep Austin out of the race. He couldn't plot a straight line with a ruler.

(2) Nick Pacheco had nothing to do with this. Pacheco has to do everything he can to keep himself afloat. He got a DUI on last New Year's, and now is forced to kiss the butts of the same establishment that successfully ended his career.

So the idea that Pacheco, through Urteaga, tried to take revenge on an Antonio-backed school-board candidate is just absurd. Pacheco could not take revenge if he was handed a pistol in a mafia movie.

(3) Need proof? Look no further than Pacheco's last campaign for city council. Urteaga screwed it up bigtime. Pacheco had a 30-point lead in the polls. Urteaga could not bring it home. This Austin thing was just the latest in a series of screwups by Urteaga.

(4) Ben Austin is an idiot who does not deserve public office.

Did he sign a contract with Burnside? If not, he's a moron.

Did he know who was working for him? Urteaga, as a felon, could not lawfully collect signatures anyway.

Did Austin spot check the signatures before turning them in? Nope. Well all good politicans do.

Did he make sure he turned them in before the deadline? Uh-uh.

If Ben Austin could not run a signature-gathering campaign effectively, can he run our schools?

Emphatically no.

(4) Sue Burnside. She's far from the idealist lesbian activist she characterizes herself as. She plays dirty. She's a real wimp for trying to claim she was not involved her, if she indeed was. She does engage in tons of dirty tricks, and she is not that great of an organizer. But she didn't screw this one up on purpose.

She was only hired by so many because she was the only gig in town, for so long. Hopefully, this little episode will make others think twice (or thrice) before hiring Sue BurnedAustin'sBackside.

The bottom line is: Idiots get what they deserve.

Urteaga is lacking in IQ.

Burnside has too little character.

Austin has too much entitlement.

Thank you for playing, the three of you. Now please go away.

December 17, 2008 8:18 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

Mayor Sam,

It is no coincidence that you have so many comments on this story. You have resuscitated your blog by putting a cutting-edge story of citywide political interest, and not burying it with some stupid music video or a post by some retard. Get back to basics: inside stories on political subjects. Anonymous postings so the insiders post. One or two posts a day, left up so people can comment. And your blog will rise again.

December 17, 2008 8:19 PM  

Blogger Zuma Dogg said:

What's all of this about hiring people to get 500-1000 signatures?

I just went out and got the damn things. Maybe Ben and others who hire these companies just think they are too good to do it themselves. But I am on the ballot, and HE isn't. (LOL!)

I LOVED the experience.

And the MAIN reason I got 1000 signatures myself, is because I could not sleep at night leaving it up to other people.

December 17, 2008 8:26 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

Break up LAUSD!

December 17, 2008 9:26 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

That's right Mayor Sam is back with lots of insider dorks commenting led by Michael Trujillo in all bold type!

(I do like the videos though.)

December 17, 2008 10:40 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

Whether Austin is an idiot for hiring Burnside is a fair point to debate. I'm pretty sure nobody is going to make that mistake for a long, long time. And whether there was foul play involved is a fun debate to kick around -- and is the main reason this post has gotten so much attention. But whether you like him or not, whether you think he was a bad signature gatherer or not, Austin had something to say. That's rare in the bullshit world of local politics.

December 17, 2008 10:58 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

Thanks mayor sam for going old school. dirty tricks, special interests, political intrigue. very good stuff. Sue and Robert, if you did this on purpose, more power to you! We need to bring old-school nixonian dirty tricks back into politics again. Too much fun!!!

December 17, 2008 11:13 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

the stupidity of city council politics always makes me laugh. student council president types all trying to be more than they are. and while you can say the same thing about the lausd school board, except more so -- the stupidity isn't as funny because there are kids involved. i am pissed at burnside as well as austin for messing up the signatures, because austin and green dot have the potential to actually change things.

December 17, 2008 11:39 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

Seems like failed mayoral candidate Hertzberg and his wife took a shine to Urteaga:

Calderon has also endorsed Urteaga, who has benefited from contributions from former Assembly speaker and failed Los Angeles mayoral candidate Robert Hertzberg, as well as former Los Angeles Councilman Nick Pacheco.

"I have a close, personal relationship with his family and worked on his mayoral campaign," Urteaga said of Hertzberg, who along with his wife donated about $1,500 to Urteaga's campaign. "He has no interest in the politics of Montebello; his only interest is in Robert Urteaga."

Wonder if Hertzberg is still hugging Urteaga now.

December 17, 2008 11:44 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

L.A. Voters For Change -- March 2009 Election Slate (City of Los Angeles)

* Mayor: David Saltsburg (Aka: Zuma Dogg)
* City Attorney: Noel Weiss, Carmen Trutanich
* City Controller: Nick Patsouras
* Council District 1: Jesse Rosas
* Council District 3: Dennis P. Zine
* Council District 5: David T. Vahedi
* Council District 7: Incumbent running un-opposed.
* Council District 9: Incumbent running un-opposed.
* Council District 11: To Be Announced
* Council District 13: To Be Announced
* Council District 15: To Be Announced
* LAUSD District 6: Louis Puglise
* Ballot Prop: NO on B (DWP)

NOTE: In the City Attorney election, both candidates mentioned have support with LA Voters For Change. Look into NOEL Weiss and Carmen Trutanich and vote ONLY for one of the two. (NOT Jack Weiss.)

December 18, 2008 12:37 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

Montebello councilman accused of fraud, breach of contract
By Amanda Baumfeld, Staff WriterPosted: 03/28/2009 07:05:25 AM PDT

MONTEBELLO - A lawsuit filed against Burnside & Associates accuses Councilman Robert Urteaga of fraud and breach of contract for his work on a political campaign, officials said.


March 28, 2009 10:23 PM  

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