Alex McDonald elected to CUSD Board, ending eight month drama
by Steven Felschundneff | email@example.com
As election night tallies go it was one of the shortest on record as candidate Alex McDonald needed just the first vote dump to decisively defeat his rivals and claim the Trustee Area 4 seat on Claremont Unified School District’s Board of Education.
When the mail-in ballot and early count was announced at 8:15 p.m. Tuesday, McDonald had claimed 70% of the votes, an insurmountable lead over his two rivals.
By 9:30 p.m. those numbers shifted slightly, with McDonald still holding a commanding lead at 1,170 votes (69%) over Aaron Peterson’s 512 (30%) and Joshua Rogers’ 25 (1%). This will likely be the final tally, or very close to it, with certification by the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk tentatively scheduled for August 4.
Turnout was light with just 26% of registered Trustee Area 4 voters casting a ballot. Remarkably, 88% of those who did participate voted by mail.
Tuesday’s special election caps a drama that was set in motion days prior to the December 10, 2022 resignation of former CUSD Board of Education President Steven Llanusa following allegations of impropriety involving minor children during a holiday party at his Claraboya home. Llanusa and two others have since been charged with crimes related to the party.
On January 18 the CUSD Board of Education appointed former board member Hilary LaConte to fill Llanusa’s seat until a permanent member could be elected in the scheduled 2024 election. However, some Claremonters, led by future candidate Rogers, felt the appointment was improper, and circulated an ultimately successful petition to force the special election, at a cost of approximately $273,000 to the district and taxpayers.
McDonald’s victory means he will serve the remainder of Llanusa’s unexpired term, which ends December 11, 2026.
According to co-campaign manager Laura Roach, the McDonald campaign did extensive grassroots outreach to emphasize the importance of the election. Among the 48 people who volunteered to help get McDonald elected, about 25 canvassed door-to-door, visiting 1,467 households and speaking with 3,450 registered voters.
“This race felt really important for a lot of reasons,” Roach said. “There was a lot on the line, but it was especially important for us to have a big margin of victory especially after the petition which the community was not largely behind. To have a win this big is quite a statement and we are very proud of it.”
McDonald “wanted to run a campaign that was not only positive but that was focused on the task ahead and he built a coalition of people that was diverse and embraced a wide range of ideas,” Roach added.
As the initial results came in Tuesday evening a crowd of McDonald’s supporters let out a burst of cheers as the candidate stood nearby.
In a victory speech around 8:30 p.m., McDonald began by thanking the many people who worked on his behalf, including co-campaign managers Roach and Nicole Ouellette.
“Thank you to the entire campaign committee, many of you who hosted events. There are too many people to list,” he said. “Everyone who helped in ways both large and small, thank you. Regardless of the result of our efforts, I’m really proud of the campaign we have run. I am honored and deeply appreciative of all the work and support you have put in and all the individuals who have let their voice be heard through their vote.”
He went on to say that taking on the task of serving on the board of education was not something he took lightly, and that the process taught him more than expected.
“I’ve been reminded that Claremont is a vibrant, complex, and dynamic place, with shifting needs, pressures, and realities,” McDonald said. “I’ve learned that hidden fissures exist in unexpected places, but I have also been validated in my belief that such fissures can be bridged and surmounted by authentic communication and persistent outreach.”
McDonald thanked rivals Peterson and Rogers for “making this race about important issues” and quoted “Hamilton” saying, “Winning is easy; governing is harder.”
“I’m excited to listen and learn from teachers, parents, and community leaders both past and present and to grow with all of you as we collaborate and build a stronger CUSD and with it a stronger Claremont, because we truly are smarter and stronger together,” McDonald said.
Peterson, reached via email Wednesday, offered this: “First and foremost, I would like to thank all the volunteers and supporters. Without your tireless efforts and dedication, such an in depth campaign would have been impossible,” he wrote. “Secondly, I am encouraged by the positive interactions with so many parents, students and community members, [who] continue to be involved! Finally, I would like to thank those who covered the election, from the Courier, to Active Claremont, Claremont Speaks, League of Women Voters, and others.”