SPI campaign swerves into mudslinging

With less than a week to go before the November election, a shower of negative ads has hit the airways awakening what had been a reasonably quiet campaign for state schools chief.

The advertisements, one from an independent group supporting Larry Aceves and the other coming from the campaign of Tom Torlakson, are largely focused on issues other than the education policies that had been the theme of the race up to this point.

It is also notable that Aceves almost immediately moved to distance himself from negative campaigning being done on his behalf, while Torlakson's campaign put up his attack ad.

The first ad, which hit Torlakson and made its appearance earlier this week, was paid for by an independent political committee of the Association of California School Administrators, a school management and advocacy organization that has contributed heavily to Aceves' campaign.

The ad calls Torlakson a career politician" and highlights a characterization made by the San Francisco Chronicle that he "routinely sides with the status quo.'"

In response, the Torlakson camp volleyed back with a TV ad charging Aceves with fiscal mismanagement during his time as a superintendent of the Franklin-McKinley School District in San Jose.

The Torlakson ad called Aceves the very sort of bureaucrat who is "the problem with California's schools." The ad is currently running in households throughout the greater Los Angeles area.

In an interview Tuesday, Aceves said he does not intend to smear his opponent and condemned any negative advertising done against Torlakson.

"I do not support any kind of campaign that was put out like that. I haven't heard it, I haven't seen it, nor would I allow it. It's certainly not out of my campaign," said Aceves.

A comment from the Association of California School Administrators was not available by press time.

According to Torlakson's ad, entitled Blackboard, Aceves spent $1.6 million to remodel his office and declined to provide air conditioning for his students during a 1995 heat wave in San Jose.

A Torlakson spokesman called the ad a "public service announcement" and said it was done in response to the ACSA ad.

"We had not intended on (running a negative ad)," said John Shallman, Torlakson's chief political strategist. "We're defending ourselves and pointing out Aceves' duplicity."

Aceves called the Blackboard ad "disappointing" and said the $1.6 million went for a district service center that shared school administrative space with free social and medical services for families.

"It's hardly my office," he said. "I would actually like to show him (Torlakson) around that office. I'd like to let him know where the money went."

The sudden fireworks came after an almost dormant summer of campaigning where the candidates appeared in only a couple of candidate forums and their political distinctions blurred.

With the last minute attack ads, the primary supporters of both candidates have stepped more into the center of the campaign - Torlakson, whose backing largely comes from teacher and school employee groups; and Aceves, whose support from the school administrators group has recently been augmented from charter school proponents and education reformists including former president of the California State Board of Education Reed Hastings.

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