Wendy Greuel and Eric Garcetti will meet in their first debate as finalists… (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los…)
Candidates Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel prepared for a Thursday night debate — their first since the two emerged as finalists to be the next mayor of Los Angeles — by renewing their sniping over who would be most beholden to public employee unions.
Wednesday afternoon's tit-for-tat came as Garcetti stood with the top three also-rans from the first round of voting last month who now support him for mayor, and as Greuel campaigned with school board member Monica Garcia.
The two candidates also traded barbs about who is ducking face-to-face showdowns leading into the May 21 election to determine who will replace Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who is leaving office after two terms.
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City Councilman Garcetti appeared at a farmers market in Hollywood's Barnsdall Park that he helped the Kaiser Permanente healthcare organization establish. Joining him were entertainment attorney Kevin James, City Councilwoman Jan Perry and former technology executive Emanuel Pleitez — all former mayoral candidates who said their up-close view of the campaign persuaded them that Garcetti would make the best mayor.
"You can judge somebody by the people who know them the best," Garcetti said. "These candidates here, my friends, spent a lot of time with both me and Ms. Greuel. They studied our records and got to know us, and … each one of them made the decision to join my campaign."
Garcetti called himself "independent," while his former rivals drove home the message that Greuel, the city controller, would do the bidding of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the union that represents most workers at the city's Department of Water and Power.
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James, a Republican who finished third in the March 5 election, said he learned how Garcetti cast tough votes to rein in the city's pension costs. Republicans would be willing to vote for the liberal Garcetti, James said, because "they realized that the DWP stranglehold over Controller Greuel does not allow her the freedom to be the kind of mayor we need in the City of Los Angeles."
Councilwoman Perry, who finished fourth, credited Garcetti with helping bring a ratepayer advocate to the DWP. She called Garcetti the only candidate prepared to "push back on those interests to the betterment of our entire city." Fifth-place primary finisher Emanuel Pleitez also characterized Garcetti as an independent voice.
The accusations came as the IBEW gave another $500,000 this week to an independent committee supporting Greuel. That's on top of more than $2 million that Working Californians, supported by the union and entertainment executives, gave to the candidate during the primary.
Greuel has argued that her record as controller — auditing departments, including the DWP — proves her judgment will not be swayed by campaign contributors. Appearing with school board member Garcia at a high school in Garcetti's district, the controller contended that it is her former council colleague who is in the thrall of a union — United Teachers Los Angeles — which is supporting his bid for mayor.
She said that Garcetti could not be relied on to take on the union as a mayor. Greuel criticized Garcetti for failing to endorse Garcia, a self-described reformer who won reelection on March 5 despite heavy UTLA opposition. "That's not putting children and L.A. first," Greuel said.
The UTLA has given almost no money to Garcetti, though other unions said they hope to donate more than $1 million to him before the contest is over.
After more than 40 debates before the March 5 vote, the two finalists face off for the first time Thursday at 7 p.m at American Jewish University in the Sepulveda Pass. The debate will be televised live by KABC-TV Channel 7.
The showdown arrives two days after Villaraigosa charged that both candidates have not talked enough about education. Garcetti on Tuesday proposed a debate against Greuel that would focus solely on education.
Greuel tried to one-up her opponent on Wednesday by demanding a debate to be held at Camino Nuevo Charter Academy, where she campaigned with Garcia and former school board member Yolie Flores Aguilar. The would-be mayor gave her opponent two hours' notice of her proposed debate.
Greuel then accused Garcetti, who was at his own news conference, of being a no-show. Garcetti retorted that Greuel had pulled a silly stunt. And both left to prepare for Thursday, when they presumably will hold a more substantive debate.
Times staff writer Kate Linthicum contributed to this report.