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Wendy Greuel's support of insiders runs counter to her outsider message

The controller has accused City Hall of being mired in mediocrity. But records show she endorsed nearly two-thirds of the council's current members as well as Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

April 18, 2013|By David Zahniser, Los Angeles Times
  • “We must change the L.A. that has emerged over these past few years,” City Controller Wendy Greuel said in a recent speech. “Today, paralysis rules.”
“We must change the L.A. that has emerged over these past few years,”… (Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles…)

Since retooling her campaign message last month, mayoral candidate Wendy Greuel has gone on the offensive against City Hall, telling audiences that the place is mired in mediocrity and needs to "return to a time of strong leadership."

"We must change the L.A. that has emerged over these past few years," she said in a recent speech. "Today, paralysis rules."

Yet a review of campaign records shows Greuel has publicly supported much of the current city political leadership. Over the last eight years, nearly two-thirds of the council's 15 members were endorsed by Greuel, who appeared in mailers, fundraising invitations and other campaign materials promoting them. Greuel, a former council member and now city controller, also backed Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's 2009 reelection campaign.

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Greuel's effort to portray herself as a challenger to the city's leadership is "putting it nicely, disingenuous," said former mayoral contender Kevin James, who ran as an outsider in the March 5 primary but finished third. He has since endorsed Councilman Eric Garcetti.

Greuel said her criticism of the city's leadership is meant to highlight Garcetti's tenure as City Council president from 2006 to 2011. "When there were critical problems happening in the city of Los Angeles, my opponent did not lead," she said.

Garcetti counters that he made difficult choices during that period — balancing the budget, cutting the size of the workforce and negotiating reductions in employee retirement benefits. On the campaign trail, he has repeatedly accused Greuel of standing on the sidelines during the financial crisis.

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"I'm proud that I was in the fight, even if that meant sometimes I paid a political price," said Garcetti while campaigning in the San Fernando Valley.

Unlike Greuel, Garcetti is not casting himself as an outsider. But his record is not always in line with his own campaign message. He asserts that he would be more independent than Greuel on issues involving the Department of Water and Power union, which has put more than $1.4 million into the effort to elect Greuel.

Those claims are partly undermined by Garcetti's past votes. In 2008, he helped get a controversial solar-energy measure sponsored by the union onto the ballot. A year later, he voted for a five-year pay hike for DWP employees. When Councilman Bernard C. Parks sought a ballot measure giving City Hall more control over DWP pension costs, Garcetti did not support it.

"He voted for all their raises, all their increases," Greuel said Friday, while discussing her plan for creating jobs.

Garcetti contends that he bucked the union in other ways, scaling back a planned electricity rate hike in 2010 during a bruising political showdown and working to create the position of ratepayer advocate, which has highlighted DWP salary costs.

Questions about the candidates' political independence and willingness to challenge the status quo have loomed large in a mayoral contest in which the two City Hall veterans have largely similar records. As council members, both embraced Villaraigosa's expensive initiative to hire 1,000 police officers. Both approved a deal to allow hundreds of digital billboards to be installed across the city, which was struck down and found to be illegal.

Both also backed giving 25% raises over five years to civilian city employees, which Villaraigosa recently described as the biggest mistake of his administration.

Those votes came during the 3 1/2 years that Greuel was the council's president pro tempore, or second in command, to Garcetti. In 2007, when Greuel voted to reelect Garcetti president, she offered a warm tribute to her colleagues, calling the council "one of the most uniquely qualified and talented bodies" assembled in years.

"This has become not only a council that is for the people," she said. "We spend a lot of time here, and it's a family."

In the current campaign, Greuel's assessment of City Hall's leadership has turned considerably more harsh. Appearing at UCLA two weeks ago, she called for a return to the time when city government "works for the people rather than against the people." Days earlier, she called a news conference to attack Garcetti and other city elected officials for doing too little to address unemployment.

"I believe the entire leadership has failed us," said Greuel, as she denounced the "paralysis of the last 3 1/2 years" at City Hall.

Records show that since 2009, Greuel supported at least seven of the City Council's 15 members in their bids for reelection or higher office. She also endorsed three council newcomers during that period — Paul Koretz, Mitchell Englander and Joe Buscaino.

On Monday, Greuel declined to criticize any city lawmaker other than Garcetti. During his presidency, she said, there was "a lot of unnecessary delay in decision-making." In 2009, Greuel said, council members took too long to approve a plan to allow 2,400 city employees to retire up to five years early with full pensions. The plan was a cornerstone of the city's effort to cut the workforce during the economic downturn.

Garcetti spokesman Jeff Millman said approval of the early retirement plan was postponed after lawmakers learned it was costlier than originally projected. After a new round of talks, city employees agreed to contribute 1% of their salaries toward the program, generating an estimated $189 million over 15 years, according to budget officials.

Had the city moved too hastily, those concessions might not have been secured, Millman argued. "Eric stepped up and negotiated substantial savings," he said.

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