In an unusual move, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has broken with the California Democratic Party to endorse a rival over incumbent Tom Torlakson in the race for state superintendent of public instruction.
Villaraigosa, a former Assembly speaker with a possible eye on a future governor's race, announced his support for former charter schools executive Marshall Tuck last Thursday, calling him the "only candidate with the experience needed to bring major change to California schools."
"Marshall will bring real strategies, not politics, to Sacramento," Villaraigosa said in a statement.
The endorsement is not entirely unexpected: In 2006, Villaraigosa selected Tuck to lead a non-profit organization that assumed control of 17 failing public schools in Los Angeles Unified School District.
But the move puts Villaraigosa at odds with his party, which endorsed Torlakson at its convention in March. Torlakson has also received endorsements from prominent California Democrats including Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, as well the state's two biggest teacher's unions.
And Villaraigosa also has a prior relationship with Torlakson: They served together in the Assembly from 1996 to 2000, where Torlakson joined Democrats to elect Villaraigosa as Speaker in 1998.
"Given that the former mayor had previously hired Mr. Tuck, his endorsement comes as no surprise," Torlakson spokesman Paul Hefner wrote in an e-mail. "It certainly is not likely to carry the weight with voters the support Superintendent Torlakson enjoys among teachers, school employees and dozens of county and local school superintendents."
Editor's note: This post was updated at 3:39 p.m. to add a comment from Torlakson's office.
PHOTO: Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa speaks at a Sacramento Press Club lunch on August 15, 2011. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua