L.A. mayoral candidates Wendy Greuel and Eric Garcetti greet the moderators… (Luis Sinco, Los Angeles…)
The candidates for Los Angeles mayor proved they could be almost as disagreeable before a Spanish-language audience as they have been in front of English speakers — challenging each other's integrity in a debate Friday night on a Spanish-language television station.
Councilman Eric Garcetti renewed his charge that opponent Wendy Greuel is beholden to the union that represents Department of Water and Power workers, while Greuel, the city controller, repeated her rebuttal that her rival is a hypocrite who has supported raises and other benefits for the same workers.
The debate on KMEX-TV (Channel 34) came on the day that Greuel launched the first television attack ad of the May runoff campaign for mayor. It accused Garcetti of hiding an investment in a company that erected unpopular digital billboards, and concealing a lease that granted a company the right to extract oil from under family property via a well at Beverly Hills High School.
Garcetti rejected those allegations both earlier in the day and in the televised showdown with Greuel, asserting that his one-time City Council ally, sensing she is losing the race, is "trying to distract from a record of accomplishment." After The Times reported on the oil lease, Garcetti turned it over to a family friend.
The contenders to replace Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa did not break new ground Friday. Both said they would judge Villaraigosa on his record, sidestepping the moderator's query as to whether the mayor, who had an affair while married, was a "good moral leader for the city." Both said they supported medical marijuana use but also tighter restrictions on its sale. Both also supported bilingualism, but dodged a question about whether Spanish should be made a second official language in Los Angeles.
Greuel stressed her connections to the Latino community, touting her endorsements from luminaries such as Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers of America, and prominent elected officials, like John Pérez, the speaker of the state Assembly, and L.A. County Supervisor Gloria Molina.
Garcetti mentioned his Mexican heritage several times, noting that his paternal grandfather earned his citizenship by serving in the U.S. military during World War II. He reiterated his pledge to revive an office of immigrant affairs at City Hall.
The debate moderators posed their questions in both Spanish and English, before the candidates answered mostly in English. Garcetti, who represents the Hollywood area, gave part of his opening remarks and his entire closing comments in Spanish, while Greuel read a few sentences in Spanish during her closing.
Near the end of the debate, KMEX anchor Leon Krauze challenged Garcetti on the significance of his Latino roots.
"Mr. Garcetti touts his immigrant roots at every opportunity," Krauze said to some chuckles from the studio audience. "As we see tonight, he speaks in Spanish every chance he gets. Is speaking Spanish enough of a calling card when it comes to earning the Spanish vote in Los Angeles?"
Greuel, answering first, said she spoke the language too, "but not as well as I should." Angelenos want a mayor who speaks the "language" of job creation and good schools, she added. "They want someone who will be a fighter, who will fight for their issues," Greuel said.
Garcetti said he did not expect support because of his heritage. "I would say to everyone who is out there, 'Don't vote for me because I am Latino. Don't vote for me because I speak Spanish. Vote for me because I have turned neighborhoods around. Vote for me because I have made tough decisions.'"
The debate was far less contentious than one two nights earlier, when the candidates faced each other before the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Assn. and traded sharp jabs over who would be most likely to sell out to DWP workers. Krauze rekindled that feud Friday by asking Garcetti if he was suggesting that Greuel "is in the political pocket of the unions."
Garcetti accused Greuel of "being on the sidelines" as he made tough decisions about worker contracts and pension benefits. He again highlighted $3 million in independent expenditures backing Greuel's candidacy, saying they were "led by the union that represents the Department of Water and Power."
Greuel said she brought up Garcetti's involvement with DWP workers because she was attacked. "Mr. Garcetti has challenged my integrity. He has … suggested that I have not been the independent watchdog that I have," Greuel said. "I learned from my parents if someone pushes you push back and say 'You are incorrect.'"