Los Angeles mayoral candidate Wendy Greuel launched the first television attack ad of the runoff campaign Friday—accusing rival Eric Garcetti of hiding an investment in a company that established unpopular digital billboards and concealing a lease that gave his family drilling rights associated with an oil well at Beverly Hills High School.
The ad comes a little more than four weeks before the May 21 election and with City Controller Greuel apparently trying to close a lead that City Councilman Garcetti enjoyed as of the first round of voting March 5.
The 30-second spot shows images of digital billboards, which have annoyed many neighbors with their bright nighttime displays. It charges that Garcetti, as council president, “hid his investment in a digital billboard company. “
The charge stems from a story first reported by the LA Weekly in February—that Garcetti had a financial conflict of interest in 2006 when he voted for a legal settlement that allowed installation of the billboards at the same time he held between $2,000 and $10,000 in stock in Clear Channel Communications, the billboard company’s parent.
Garcetti’s aides disputed the suggestion that he covered up his investment, since it was reported on financial disclosure forms. Spokesman Jeff Millman said the vote did not amount to a conflict because Garcetti did not know that the stock he held was related to the billboard operation.
The candidate also noted that Greuel, when serving as a City Council member, joined in the vote approving the installation of the digital billboards.
The Greuel ad also accuses Garcetti of hiding his interest in “an oil drilling deal on his property near Beverly Hills High School.” The ad continues ominously: “He would profit, while toxic chemicals are released at the school.”
The claim stems from a report in The Times about Garcetti’s share of a family lease for subsurface drilling rights on a property near Beverly Hills High. The lease allowed slant drilling from a well at the high school to the Garcetti property, about half a mile away.
Garcetti said he didn’t disclose the drilling lease because it earned about $1.25 a year—below the financial disclosure threshold. He noted that no oil had ever been drilled via the lease and, after The Times report, transferred his interest to a family friend.
In a campaign appearance Friday morning, Garcetti said Greuel was trying to distract voters from his record of “turning around neighborhoods, of fighting for immigrants [and] making sure we have a city that’s back on track.”
“I always think the sign of a losing campaign is one that starts to attack,” Garcetti told the crowd at Our Lady Queen of Angeles church near Olvera Street.
Garcetti made his remarks after picking up the endorsement of U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles) and the political arm of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, an advocacy group focused on immigrant families. Angelica Salas, the group’s head, praised Garcetti for fighting for changes in federal immigration law and improving relations between immigrant families and police.
“He has been so accessible and open that our volunteers say that this is the City Council office where they feel the most welcome,” Salas said. The CHIRLA Action Fund will join other volunteers already walking neighborhoods in support of Garcetti, she added.
“We have a great, great coalition,” said Garcetti, “and we’re going to keep talking about the issues of Los Angeles. If [Greuel] can’t run on her record, she’s going to run on attacks.”
Greuel ‘s chief strategist, John Shallman, called Garcetti a hypocrite who's “in it for himself.” That mimicked the last line of the television ad.
The charges seem almost certain to be part of the discussion when Greuel and Garcetti debate Friday at 6 p.m. on Univision TV’s KMEX (Channel 34). The debate will be conducted in English and translated into Spanish.
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