Four Central Unified school board challengers wrangling for a win at the polls are billing themselves as a set of Wild West cowboys on a quest to improve the school district.
Old-time “Wanted” campaign posters displaying the four candidates sporting cowboy hats and other equestrian regalia have gone up in yards and near freeways this week.
The “four horsemen,” as they call themselves, aren’t of the apocalypse variety. Instead, they’re pitching themselves as a group of newcomers looking to make change.
“It’s just an Old West thing. We’re a country school (district) so we thought people would relate to it,” said Richard Atkins, a shop manager who is challenging Area 4 incumbent George Wilson Jr. and bus driver Becky Vanoni in the Nov. 4 election.
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Atkins, who goes by the moniker “Shotgun Atkins” on the signs, has teamed up with Area 1 candidate Cesar Granda, Area 2 candidate Ruben Coronado and Area 7 contender Rama Dawar.
“Kid Granda” is facing incumbent Phil Rusconi and manager Nick Espinoza. Coronado, or “Doc,” is up against incumbent Judith Geringer and mortgage loan officer Julia Montoya Shields. “El Rama” is challenging incumbent Diana Milla.
They’ve created a Facebook page dedicated to the campaign, with the group posing on horseback in more than a dozen photos.
But these buckaroos aren’t just horsing around.
“We just know the only way to make change in the district is to replace at least four seats,” Atkins said. “I wouldn’t say we joined up as candidates, but I would say we believe in the same thing.” The candidates have proposed a barrelful of changes, like seeking more outside grant funding for school projects and boosting campus security measures.
Not everyone is pleased with the campaign tactic.
Montoya Shields is calling on the candidates to remove the signs, saying their depictions come across as racist against Hispanics.
“When I saw them around the district, I’m like, what the heck?” she said. “If a kid did that in school, I think they’d throw him out.”
Of particular concern is the photo of Dawar, who is of Asian Indian descent and is shown sporting a sombrero and traditional Hispanic poncho. Espinoza, who is Hispanic, said the image is stereotypical and could offend some people.
Espinoza admitted he thinks the get-up is “kind of funny,” but said, “if you’re trying to win the Hispanic vote, that’s not the way to go.”
“If all four of these guys get elected, are they supposed to ride Central Unified into the sunset? That’s what I’m thinking,” he said. “For those four guys to do something like that, it’s basically saying that Central Unified is a joke.”
Former history teacher Richard Martinez, who is organizing the horsemen campaign and is married to the Central Unified Teachers Association president, said “there was absolutely nothing racial attached” to the messaging. Dawar has strong support from the Hispanic community, he added.
“Four lawmen come in, clean up the town, bring some positive change, and it’s nothing more than that,” he said. “I know they’re trying to make it something other than that, but they’re really getting it — pun intended — straight from the horse’s mouth.”
The incumbents don’t have a burr under their saddle about the campaign, at least not yet.
Milla and Wilson said they haven’t yet seen the signs.
“I haven’t received any calls about it,” Wilson said.