In her speech at UCLA, Los Angeles mayoral hopeful Wendy Greuel said she… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)
Los Angeles mayoral hopeful Wendy Greuel promised Tuesday to govern as an independent "business-labor" leader who will stand up to the unions backing her campaign, at the same time she accused her chief rival of demonizing the city's "working people."
Greuel's remarks came in a UCLA speech delivered shortly after Kevin James, a Republican who finished third in the mayoral primary, endorsed her opponent, Eric Garcetti. James said he decided to back the Hollywood-area councilman because of his "willingness to go toe-to-toe" with city employee unions, and James' concerns about "the way labor has lined up" behind Greuel's effort.
Greuel, the city controller, rebuffed the suggestion that she would be soft on employee unions. She said she would "not shy away from telling my friends in labor that the city is going broke and cannot sustain" current retirement benefits.
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"There will have to be more sacrifice for the long-term health of our city. And that means current workers — not just future workers — including [Department of Water and Power] employees," Greuel said, alluding to the union that has spent the most money to boost her campaign. "We can't keep kicking the can down the road like my opponent and the City Council did."
Garcetti, she asserted, has failed to demonstrate he has the mettle to make difficult budget decisions and avoid paralysis in a city that has struggled to pay its bills.
She charged that her opponent had maligned the labor groups supporting her, and that the media, as well as Garcetti and the political establishment, have had "a hard time dealing with the fact" that she has attracted support from both business and labor groups.
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"My opponent seems to think I should apologize for having earned the support of working people," she said. "When he's not out pandering to them for their endorsement, Garcetti throws the word 'union' around like it's a slur, and has even called L.A.'s working people 'power brokers.' "
She said she would not apologize for securing backing from workers or "the support of businesses, large and small."
The messages underscored a fundamental challenge Greuel faces in the campaign's final stretch. She aggressively and successfully courted labor in the March primary, in part by criticizing Garcetti for agreeing to city employee layoffs and partly by pledging to work with labor groups "every step of the way." In all, organized labor spent nearly $2 million on her behalf.
But that backing, much of it from city workers unions, has risked alienating fiscally conservative voters in the San Fernando Valley and on the Westside, who were expected to form a bulwark of support for her campaign.
By urging Republicans to support Garcetti, James' endorsement further complicates that equation for the controller. James received about 32,000 votes in the Valley, or nearly a quarter of the ballots cast there. In the northern and western portions of the Valley, he edged ahead of Greuel in neighborhoods such as Porter Ranch and West Hills, according to a Times analysis of election results.
"With Eric Garcetti, we have an opportunity to provide a business-friendly city again," James said as he announced his endorsement on the steps of the historic City Hall in Van Nuys. "We have a candidate that has demonstrated a willingness to go toe-to-toe with some of the powerful interests that have had too much control over City Hall for too long and also to run the city in a more efficient way. Those are all things that Republicans, that conservatives that I know care about.
"They can make a difference in this race. My intent, my goal in the next 49 days, is to deliver them."
Garcetti now has the backing of every major mayoral candidate eliminated in the first round of voting in March.
Greuel briefly acknowledged James' announcement during her speech, noting all of her primary opponents "may now be on one side — but I'm on the side of a better Los Angeles."
Dismissively referring to Garcetti as "a nice guy," she said the councilman has tried to make the race about personality rather than substance. "Leadership isn't just looking good on TV," she said.
The two candidates have not offered much detail on how they would address employee pension costs that are contributing to large budget deficits.
But on Tuesday, Greuel did offer new belt-tightening proposals, including cutting the office budgets for the mayor and City Council members by 25%.
Greuel said she chose UCLA, her alma mater, for what was billed as a key speech because it's a place "where people care about policy, not personality."
"We have seven weeks to ignite voters to care," she said. "Do they want a fighter — a doer — as mayor? Or do they want someone who is good at the handshakes, but who won't stand by his work or his commitments?"
Garcetti criticized Greuel on Tuesday for issuing audits that netted limited savings and for a recent shake-up in her campaign leadership.
"This race is about something important, that it isn't enough just to identify [problems], you have to have a proven track record of solving them," he said. "You can argue about statistics till you're blue in the face, you can reboot your campaign as many times as you want, but we're running on results, we're running on real support and we're running on a vision to move Los Angeles forward."
Asked what more she would do to reduce the city's budget shortfall, estimated to be as much as $165 million, Greuel said cutting the budgets of the mayor and City Council was simply "a flavor" of new policy proposals that she would roll out in coming weeks.
Times staff writer Ben Welsh contributed to this report.