Two Not Supported by Teachers Union Advance in Montgomery

By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 14, 2008

Two Montgomery County parents prevailed in a school board race Tuesday without the support of the county teachers association, which was thought to be crucial for election in the school-obsessed county.

Phil Kauffman and Tommy Le took 34 percent and 25 percent of the vote, respectively, in a five-way race for an at-large seat, and both advanced to the general election. Alies Muskin, the choice of the Montgomery County Education Association, finished a distant third.

"I think that the results surprised everybody," said Tom Israel, executive director of the teachers association.

Only Kauffman and Muskin mounted large-scale campaigns, and most observers expected them to finish first and second. Both are well known within PTA circles.

Kauffman, 55 and a father of two, works as deputy assistant general counsel at the Department of Veterans Affairs. He ran against Nancy Navarro, an incumbent on the board, in 2006 and captured 37 percent of the vote.

His campaign this year has struck a balance between advocating fiscal responsibility and emphasizing the value of preserving the county's high caliber of education, both strong selling points with the electorate.

Yesterday, Kauffman recalled saying during a recent candidates forum that "people do move here for the strength of the schools, and we can't jeopardize that.

"And that was the biggest applause I got," he said.

Le's strong showing was a surprise, although he fared well in a 2006 bid for the seat now occupied by Shirley Brandman. The contrarian of the field, Le, 65, criticized the influence wielded by the teachers union and said that many of the current board members had been elected to do the labor group's bidding.

"I don't know how to say this nicely, but he didn't run much of a campaign," Israel said. "Simple name recognition seemed to be a factor."

Voters in two other suburban counties selected school board members Tuesday.

In Calvert County, William Chambers and Patrick E. Flaherty advanced to the general election for the 1st District seat. Tracy H. McGuire and Ran┬┐ Franklin advance for the 2nd District seat. The Calvert County Education Association endorsed Chambers and Franklin.

Six of seven candidates in Howard County advanced to the general election for three seats. The top vote-getter was Janet Siddiqui, with 20 percent. The others, in order of votes received: Ellen Flynn Giles, Diane Butler, Allen Dyer, Betsy Grater and Di Zou.

Staff writer Jenna Johnson contributed to this report.

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