A candidate for Los Angeles city controller called her leading rival a liar in a tense confrontation Friday after the taping of a debate for cable television.
The cameras had barely stopped rolling in the Westside studios of Adelphia Communications when businesswoman Laurette Healey turned to city Councilwoman Laura Chick and declared, "Get your facts straight, Laura!"
When Chick responded that she did have her facts straight and told Healey to calm down and "act like a grown-up," Healey moved toward her, voice rising in emotion: "You lied! You lied on camera!"
By the time their campaign aides rushed into the studios from an adjacent viewing room, the two women were shouting at each other.
"I wish the cameras were still on, so people could see how you really are!" Chick told Healey as the program moderator tried to defuse the situation. The third candidate in the race, financial consultant Mervin Evans, wished everybody a nice weekend and left.
Healey's outburst was sparked by Chick's on-camera reference to a disclosure in The Times on Friday that Healey owes back taxes on a holding company she said has been inactive for years. Chick mentioned the 1997 $1,252 tax lien by the State Franchise Tax Board.
Chick also brought up two 1992 county liens and a 1994 default judgment involving another company, True North Film and Video, that listed Healey as its president. Healey, however, has said she resigned from the company in 1990 and knew nothing about the tax liens and court case.
"We want to make sure the person who watches over the taxpayers' money pays her taxes herself," Chick said.
Healey responded by saying she had moved to dissolve the company but the "IRS messed it up."
After urging Chick to "talk about the issues," Healey then added, "I don't need to do opposition research to prove my case" to voters.
Even without the tax lien matter, the forum--the only one in which all three candidates for controller have appeared together--was laden with tension between the two women.
The forum video will be run on cable systems throughout the city through the April 10 municipal elections, including a showing scheduled for 8 a.m. Sunday on Channel 36, a community access outlet.
Healey said Chick, as an eight-year member of the City Council, did not do enough to ensure taxpayers are getting value for their dollars, and she cited high worker compensation claims as an example.
When Chick suggested ways to make government more cost-effective, such as seeing that the city removes temporary street barricades before they are stolen or vandalized, Healey retorted that the city controller "needs to look at the big picture."
At another point in the debate, Chick said the ideas Healey offered for saving tax dollars were things she had already set in motion through her work on two City Council committees, those having to do with public safety and government efficiency.
Without naming him, Chick also referred to her battles with Mayor Richard Riordan, who is backing Healey, and blamed his office for holding up some money-saving measures, such as authorizing the hiring of additional workers to scrutinize workers' compensation cases.
Chick said her experience running a family-owned retail business and her eight years on the City Council make her the best candidate for city controller, who is the city's bookkeeper and fiscal watchdog. Under the recently revised city charter, the controller's office also is responsible for performance audits of city departments.
Healey said the controller should be someone with strong experience in private enterprise and not a "termed out politicians looking for a place to land." (The city's term-limits law prohibits Chick from seeking reelection to the council.)
Financial consultant Evans said his top priorities as controller would be protecting children and improving race relations.
"I'm not going to bad-mouth either candidate," Evans said.
"I bring you one commitment:" Evans added, addressing viewers directly, "that I'll make sure the books are straight, that I'll make sure that I'm there on time, that I'll show you respect. I won't make a fool of you."