Mayoral candidates Wendy Greuel and Eric Garcetti prepare for their debate.… (Brian van der Brug, Los Angeles…)
Eric Garcetti talked about how he has led on pension reform and would like to bring "geek chic" to Los Angeles, so engineers educated in the city would stay to build tech jobs.
Wendy Greuel touted her recent endorsement from President Bill Clinton and how she is a strong leader, not a flashy campaigner.
The two candidates for mayor of Los Angeles made robust cases for themselves in a televised debate Monday night from the USC Health Sciences Campus east of downtown, but they became most passionate when they squared off again on the question of who would be the most independent leader.
Greuel, the city controller, raised what she called an "ethics violation" by Garcetti, accusing the city councilman of delaying a hearing that would have provided the council and public with negative information about a 2009 ballot measure promoting solar power. (The measure lost.)
Garcetti countered by noting that Greuel would not be able to make independent decisions after a campaign group, Working Californians, put at least $3 million into the effort to elect her, a large portion of it from the powerful union that represents Department of Water and Power employees.
Although the election is four weeks away, voting by mail begins this week, so voters' perceptions of Monday's debate could loom large. In the March primary, more than 45% of voters cast ballots they received in the mail.
The candidates don't face each other in another televised debate until May 1, a forum scheduled to be broadcast by KCAL-TV Channel 9. The runoff election is May 21.
Besides raising the alleged conflict allegation against Garcetti — charges asserted Monday by Greuel's ally, former Controller Rick Tuttle and rebutted by a Garcetti ally, Councilwoman Jan Perry — Greuel argued that her opponent talks tough about the DWP but has not taken actions to back up his words. Garcetti voted for pay raises for DWP employees and rate increases for the public, she said.
Garcetti said he had been one of those who pushed to create the position of ratepayer advocate at the utility along with Perry, a first-round candidate for mayor who lost in the primary and has since endorsed Garcetti. He noted that Greuel had also approved DWP pay raises when she was a council member.
A day after a USC Price/Los Angeles Times Poll showed her trailing Garcetti by 10 percentage points, Greuel also tried to use the debate to reestablish a theme she raised earlier in the race — that she is the workhorse who can get things done, while Garcetti is a show horse, who knows how to campaign but not to lead.
"There may be a lot of people who are great campaigners, but I'm a great leader," Greuel said. "There may be a lot of people who can talk a lot, but I'm a good manager. I'm going to lead the city of L.A. in a way that will distinguish myself."
Garcetti countered by talking about the improvements that his constituents have seen in Hollywood, Silver Lake and Atwater Village during the 12 years he has been on the council. He repeated that the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce had ranked his district No. 1 in job growth and described expanding the number of parks in his district, from 16 to 47, since 2001.
While Greuel had endorsements from the "power-brokers" in business and labor, Garcetti said he had results people could see with their own eyes.
"I don't know if I'm amused or scared that Mr. Garcetti has been hypocritical about this issue," Greuel said in her toughest shot of the night. "He voted in 2009 for raises for employees of DWP. Two, voted not only to raise rates for the people who are watching tonight, three, took thousands of dollars from the Water and Power union and four took a world-class trip paid for by the DWP."
Garcetti punched back equally hard: "Attacks like you just heard are the kind of attacks you hear from a desperate campaign. They are signs of a campaign that is losing." He said that although his donations from the DWP union had been "a few thousand," Greuel had received "millions of dollars." The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers has actually donated on behalf of the controller about half of the $3 million in independent expenditure money raised during the mayoral campaign.
Greuel cited the fact that she audited the DWP eight times as proof that she could be independent. But Garcetti scoffed that she had found "zero dollars in fraud, waste and abuse." He asked the audience: "I don't believe there's zero dollars. Do you?"
Greuel then retorted that she had every right to go after Garcetti because "he's questioned my integrity."
Greuel took it from all sides when there were five leading candidates in the first round of the election. Now Garcetti may feel the extra pressure of being the apparent front-runner.
After the councilman made his claims about strong business growth in his district, debate panelist Frank Stoltze of KPCC-FM (89.3) offered a different interpretation. "I was talking with someone from the chamber a little bit earlier, and they are not satisfied with your record on improving the economy," Stoltze said. "They're not happy with your putting limits on Wal-Mart, on living-wage requirements, on waste-hauler restrictions — a list. They're very concerned about your role on the economy and your ability to improve it."
Garcetti countered that businesspeople who knew him best — represented by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce — have supported him. He said the shots he has taken from other business interests were because "I have done things in this campaign that have made me the independent candidate. I am not the handpicked candidate of the downtown power-brokers."