Rising Hispanic enrollment in the Mesa Unified School District has forced increased diversity in the classroom — but not on the governing board.
Brazilian immigrant and longtime Mesa resident Carmen Guerrero, 53, hoped her candidacy would change that on Election Day, but Mesa voters opted instead to keep the board all white for at least two more years.
By then, the district will be about 35 percent Hispanic.
"In Mesa’s 100-year history, there has never been a Latino on the board," said Marty Whalen, who helped manage her campaign.
Guerrero’s narrow loss has led some in Mesa to call for an end to the board’s atlarge format and adoption of geographic representation — which would ensure the election of candidates from all parts of the city.
Guerrero had said that, if elected, she would ask the board to study the issue.
Instead, she placed fourth among five candidates competing for three available positions. She finished strong in the Dobson and Westwood high school attendance areas in west Mesa but fell short elsewhere.
Although she did not blame her loss on racial bias, she said Proposition 200 helped polarize voters on the immigration issue and probably hurt her campaign.
"There was definitely some mean-spirited things happening to me," Guerrero said. "And I don’t know where it came from."
She said a "whisper campaign" against her included false reports that she was not a U.S. citizen and that she would be divisive on the board. Anonymous notes sent to the Tribune the week before the election also criticized Guerrero.
Guerrero’s campaign manager, Mary Jo Whalen, said she tried to help Mesa voters see more than just Guerrero’s Hispanic identity. She said the campaign emphasized Guerrero’s expertise in arts education, her business background, her degree in economics and her extensive volunteer work at Emerson Elementary and Carson Junior High schools.
"Carmen was a wellrounded candidate," Whalen said.
But Mesa voters preferred Guerrero’s opponents.
Cindi Hobbs, the only incumbent in the race, finished first in every high school attendance area. Lynn Burnham finished second in the Red Mountain and Skyline high school attendance areas in east Mesa and placed second overall, while Rich Crandall finished second in the Mountain View and Mesa high school attendance areas.
Crandall, who lives in the Mountain View area, edged Guerrero for the final board seat by about 3,400 votes. When he starts his term in January on the five-member panel, he will join two other Mountain View parents, Elaine Miner and Mike Hughes.
Miner acknowledged that Mountain View parents historically have been wellrepresented on the board — but she said the dominance is not because of any organized effort to exclude outsiders.
She said Mountain View parents just tend to be involved in public education, and many step forward as candidates. Despite the board’s lack of diversity, Miner said the board reaches out to all students.
"If you love children, it doesn’t matter what race, what religion or what background they come from," she said.
But candidate Dave Lane, who finished fifth this year and lost to Miner and Hughes in 2002, said the lack of diversity on the board is becoming an issue. He said many Mountain View candidates have a financial advantage when they campaign that discourages working-class parents in other parts of the district from challenging them.
Lane said he supports the idea of geographic representation. "I’ve heard a lot of talk that that’s what’s going to happen," he said.
Teresa Brice-Heames, a member of the Mesa Association of Hispanic Citizens who unsuccessfully challenged Mesa mayor Keno Hawker this spring, served on the committee that drew up geographic districts for the City Council in the late 1990s.
She said geographic districts have worked well for the city and would foster better representation on the governing board, too.
She said Hispanic candidates such as Guerrero face challenges when they run for office because many Hispanic residents are not U.S. citizens and cannot vote — and those who are citizens often lack familiarity with the voting process.
"We simply have to address these issues and overcome them," Brice-Heames said.