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L.A. Votes: A testy debate, new ads and a flurry of mailers

April 24, 2013|By Seema Mehta
  • Los Angeles mayoral candidates Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel chat before they square off in a debate at USC's Health Sciences Campus.
Los Angeles mayoral candidates Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel chat before… (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles…)

Los Angeles’ mayoral candidates clashed in a feisty debate, with Wendy Greuel striving to create a strong distinction between herself and rival Eric Garcetti as mail-in voting begins in advance of the May 21 runoff election.

Greuel is arguing she is a strong leader rather than a flashy campaigner, with Garcetti countering his track record shows he has tackled challenging work, such as pension reform. The hourlong debate on Monday at USC was testy, with the candidates swinging at each other from the opening moments. Greuel argued Garcetti had violated ethics rules, while Garcetti questioned Greuel’s ability to be independent given her backing by many city worker unions.

On Wednesday, Garcetti will begin airing his first television ads in the mayoral runoff. The 30-second spots, which will appear on English- and Spanish-language television, are positive and highlight his work to revitalize his council district. Sources not connected with the candidate say the ad buy was $200,000 to $300,000, which is a fraction of what Greuel has been spending airing positive and negative ads in recent days.

FULL COVERAGE: L.A.'s race for mayor

Greuel continued to step up attacks on Garcetti on Tuesday, leveling a new contention -- that her rival accepted donations from an ex-felon whose Hollywood development project he supported. A spokesman for Garcetti said the contention was two decades old and noted Greuel also supported the development proposal.

Greuel also mailed a 35-page glossy mailer to more than 100,000 voters, an expenditure some believe cost six figures.

That move was reinforced by an arm of EMILY’S List, a political action committee dedicated to electing pro-choice Democratic women, which put $400,000 toward backing Greuel’s bid. Voters saw the first of the group’s independent expenditures this week -- a mailer with a picture of a young blond woman stepping out of a limousine that depicts Garcetti as an elitist who is “putting himself first.” “Most Los Angeles Families Don’t Live Like This,” the title says. “But Eric Garcetti does.”

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Garcetti has amended two years of financial disclosure statements to belatedly report his ownership interest in a Beverly Hills property linked to an oil drilling operation. Greuel has hammered Garcetti on a related oil drilling lease since the Times reported it before the March 5 primary. The councilman had failed to report in 2010 and 2011 that he co-owned the property, instead reporting rental income he received as proceeds from his grandfather's trust, another co-owner. In the 1990s, Garcetti signed a lease agreement that gave a company the right to extract oil from beneath the property via a drilling operation at Beverly Hills High School that some parents have criticized. Garcetti potentially could have gained from the deal, but the drilling didn't occur and he received only $1.25 a year. He recently signed the oil lease over to a family friend, with no money changing hands.

The Times, meanwhile, posted videos of voters asking the mayoral candidates questions and their responses. The full candidate interviews are about 30 minutes long, but readers can find shorter clips on specific topics, including neighborhood revitalization, small business, immigration, education, public transit and making the city more pedestrian-friendly.

All this occurs as termed-out Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who has about 10 weeks left on the job, unveiled his final budget -- a $7.7-billion spending proposal  that would begin reversing years of cuts to basic city services such as tree trimming and sidewalk repairs while avoiding employee layoffs and furloughs.

VIDEO INTERVIEWS: Eric Garcetti | Wendy Greuel

The plan is buoyed by an estimated $111-million uptick in revenue, and is rosier than what Villaraigosa and other local leaders warned was likely earlier this year as they unsuccessfully tried to pass a sales-tax hike. Regardless, Villaraigosa said to right the city’s finances, the city’s next mayor ought to renegotiate a 5.5% pay increase for civilian workers scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, and not allow salary increases for police officers, firefighters and other city workers after July 2014.

Times columnist Steve Lopez argued the mayor's spending plan deflects attention from the greater problem – a possible $267-million deficit in 2014-15 if the city fails to tackle labor concessions and police overtime. The former union member and son of a Teamster also argues the time has come for public employees in Los Angeles to shoulder more of their health and retirement costs.

Comments, questions or tips on city elections? Tweet me at @LATSeema

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