Alex Caputo-Pearl is the Donald Trump of Los Angeles
It’s widely thought that President Trump is a poster child for many of the worst qualities in a leader: outrageous ego, deep self-interest, a passing allegiance to the truth, and a willingness to inflict pain on the most vulnerable in order to advance a divisive agenda. Unfortunately, for those of us on the west coast, we don’t need to look across the country to view a leader with these qualities. This national embarrassment is closer to home and is none other than Alex Caputo-Pearl, Trump’s political doppelganger.
We’ll skip the comparisons in comeliness and the strange mutual affinity for Moscow-red neckware, because the more important similarities are downright terrifying for the students and families of Los Angeles.
Caputo-Pearl wields the bullhorn like Trump decorates his penthouses — full of pomp and little circumstance. And like many people with bullhorns, how loud what is said is more important than how clear or true it is. Trump styles himself as the defender of the everyman, and it’s hard not to note the similarities when listening to Caputo-Pearl call into radio shows the last week, as if he were auditioning for Extreme Makeover: Folk Hero Edition. By Caputo-Pearl’s telling, he was a sterling teacher, beloved by colleagues and students alike. The UTLA has spent much of its considerable media budget on enhancing this image: here’s Caputo-Pearl assuming a hero stance, in poncho, at the pulpit:
Like Trump, however, who in recent weeks informed the media that protesters on the border weren’t jeering his visit — “The Hispanics love me, they were cheering for me,” Trump declared — this portrait of Caputo-Pearl is as false as the president’s orange spray-tan and wispy-blonde hair piece.
In reality, Caputo-Pearl’s track record is one of a low achieving teacher who traded the rigors of the classroom for a cushy office and a nearly $150,000 annual salary — almost double what the average LAUSD teacher makes. Why the move to union leadership you might ask? He was fired from both of his school assignments — the first, by his principal, due to Caputo-Pearl’s subversive, arrogant behavior; the second, because he missed over 100 hours of teaching in order to campaign for union president.
When you swap classroom time for campaign time it’s clear where your loyalties lie.
Yet, like Trump, who has presented himself as a master dealmaker and businessman despite repeated business failures but for an infusion of Russian dollars into his properties, Caputo-Pearl has crafted an image of being LA’s strongest student supporter. Nothing could be further from the truth; like Trump, he’s been willing to trade the interests of his constituents for his own political gain at every turn.
Secondly, both Trump and Caputo-Pearl operate with an arsonist’s philosophy. Trump has been widely — and rightfully — panned for refusing to reopen the government from the longest shutdown in American history, holding hundreds of thousands of federal workers’ paychecks in order to create political pressure to build his wall.
In a district where both the teachers and students are overwhelmingly Hispanic, it’s no surprise that a Trump-like demagogue is wrecking daily life, particularly for low-income parents that rely on the school system to protect and education their children while they try to make ends meet. Local media has, by and large, done an awful job at capturing their stories and the pain that Caputo-Pearl’s strike is having on their families. The portraits we do get are deeply troubling.
Some would argue that the short-term losses of normalcy because of the strike, and its oversized impact on low-income parents, are both worth it for long-term gains in greater numbers of support staff and reduced class sizes; and that might be true, if the strike had even a remote likelihood of forcing the district to meet the union’s demands. If that’s all that Caputo-Pearl wanted, he would have either signed off on LAUSD’s last best offer, which would have capped class sizes, added support staff, and given Los Angeles’ teachers a raise of 6%, or would have agreed to work with the district to petition Newsom’s new administration in Sacramento for the dollars needed to expand upon these changes.
In rejecting the deal and refusing to engage with those who could actually solve the problem — Sacramento or voters at the ballot box who would pull the lever for tax increases — Caputo-Pearl shows that he wants unrest more than an agreement.
Caputo-Pearl and friends have gambled that the parents of Los Angeles aren’t savvy enough to understand the financial state of the district, nor the rules and regulations around the district’s reserve fund. For those of us living in reality, here’s what happens if the district agrees to the union’s demands to end the strike: the district’s reserve fund will be depleted below the 1% of expenditures threshold, leading to district insolvency. Once that happens, the county — or the state — will be forced to take over Los Angeles Unified. Their first order of business, to restore solvency, will be to cancel the teacher contract — meaning that Caputo-Pearl’s members will be back to square one.
Caputo-Pearl claims that he and his members are fighting for a better contract; every economic realist who has looked at the situation comes to a different conclusion: under the current strategy, Caputo-Pearl’s road leads to not having a contract at all. This is a car that no smart dog would ever want to catch. At least for Trump, should he defy all political odds and get the funding for his fence, will actually be able to build it; Caputo-Pearl can’t even honestly promise his members that.
Caputo-Pearl and his advisors are surely savvy enough to understand the math, which is why they ignore it. Their union employs political strategists who know that the real solutions will come from an infusion of cash from Sacramento or change at the ballot box — including a repeal of Proposition 13 which has hamstrung the tax code.
So why strike at all, especially with no clear endgame? Caputo-Pearl slipped in a recent interview and said the strike was about creating “political pressure.” Those in the know say, alternatively, it’s actually about political ambition.
Caputo-Pearl is term limited — he’ll be out as UTLA president in 2020, and unlike Trump, he won’t be able to run for reelection. An insider at UTLA reports, “Alex has been planning this strike for five years. It’s happening now because he knows he’s running out of time and needs to make a leap to the national stage. That’s what this strike is about. It’s all smiles between them on stage, but both [AFT President] Randi [Weingarten] and [NEA President] Lily [Eskelsen-Garcia] know that he’s gunning for one of their jobs. They’re worried.”
Shutting down the school system with no endgame and demands that the district can’t meet without being turned over to the state?
Just like the current occupant of the White House.