Henry Jones, a retired financial officer of the Los Angeles Unified School District who started as a custodian and wound up managing a $7 billion budget, has been elected to the board of the California Public Employees' Retirement System.
Jones fills one of six elected positions on the 13-member CalPERS board, a seat that by law must be filled with a retiree from public service. The other seven positions are appointees.
Jones defeated Perry Kenny, a former president of the California State Employees Association, by about 4,120 votes, according to unofficial returns. Of 124,112 votes cast, Jones received 64,116 and Kenny received 59,996. A total of about 400,000 people, all retirees from CalPERS-covered government entities, were eligible to vote in the election. The voting, which was conducted by mail, began Nov. 9 and concluded Dec. 7.
Jones' campaign, which reflected nearly $350,000 in independent expenditures on its behalf by a labor coalition, outspent Kenny by about 15-to-1. The spending was unprecedented in a CalPERS board election, which typically draw little public attention. However, the seat is important because the vast amounts of money at stake involved in running the nation's largest public pension fund, which provides benefits to 1.5 million people and controls some $255 billion in investments.
The election was to find a successor to Robert F. Carlson, who was first elected to the governing board of CalPERS in 1971, and had served as the retirees' representative since the early 1990s. Carlson earlier had announced his retirement.
A campaign backing Jones made some $340,000 in independent expenditures, almost all of it for mailers. The group, Calpers Retirees for Henry Jones, included retirees and active public employees. The group's principals include Dean Tipps, executive director of the state council of the Service Employees International Union, and Dave Low, an assistant director of the California School Employees Association.
The contest also raised public labor tensions that have become familiar in the Capitol between the 140,000-member CSEA and SEIU. SEIU's Local 1000, with 85,000 members, is the single largest bargaining unit of state employees, and the SEIU and CSEA have been in number of disputes, stemming in part from split years ago between the two groups.
Carlson, also a former ranking CSEA official, has endorsed Kenny. SEIU and a variety of government employee groups, including the California Faculty Association and the Association of Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees, have backed Jones.
Jones began his career as a union janitor organizing for wage and benefit increases, and rose to become L.A.U.S.D.'s chief financial officer, serving as point person on the sprawling district's $7 billion budget as well as its large investment portfolio.
During the campaign, he said that preventing the erosion of retirees' benefits was a key concern. "The fear that comes from aging without healthcare benefits, coupled with assaults on a pension system that we've built over a lifetime and difficulties finding affordable housing on a fixed income become reasons for grave personal concern," Jones said on his Web site.
The Jones-Kenny contest was a runoff. Originally, there were three candidates-Jones, Kenny and Susan Bergeron-Vance, a retired finance director from the City of Santa Fe School District. In the October election, Jones received 44.6 percent of the vote, Kenny received 33.5 percent and Bergeron-Vance got 21.9 percent. Since no candidate got at least 50 percent of the vote, a runoff was required to be held between the two top vote-getters, Jones and Kenny. Bergeron-Vance endorsed Jones.