Former President Bill Clinton campaigns with mayoral candidate Wendy… (Allen J. Schaben, Los Angeles…)
After weeks of pummeling her rival Eric Garcetti over his ethical standards, Los Angeles mayoral candidate Wendy Greuel can run quickly through her list of reasons that she sees her former City Council colleague as dishonest and untrustworthy.
For starters, she alleged on a visit to a downtown fashion school Friday, Garcetti hid his Beverly Hills oil drilling investment, took campaign money from a felon and did the bidding of the powerful Department of Water and Power union at City Hall in a way that she never would, despite his accusations to the contrary.
"That is very hypocritical to suggest that somebody else is going to be more beholden than the other," said Greuel, the city controller, who proclaims her independence each time Garcetti calls attention to the $1.4 million spent by the DWP union to get her elected as mayor.
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Garcetti questioned her independence once again as he campaigned Friday outside a pizzeria on Sunset Boulevard in Echo Park. "My opponent is the handpicked candidate of downtown power interests — DWP union, others — for a reason," he said, alluding to the city's upcoming contract talks with the union, Local 18 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
So goes the closing phase of the mayor's race, with each candidate in the May 21 contest trying to exploit what could be the biggest vulnerabilities of the other.
For Garcetti, Greuel's increasingly harsh ethics attacks are turning into a central challenge of his campaign to succeed Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. A plurality of likely voters surveyed in a USC Price/Los Angeles Times poll this month chose Garcetti as the candidate who cares more about big businesses and developers than Los Angeles as a whole.
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Echoing Greuel's attacks is Working Californians, an independent committee controlled by leaders of the DWP union. This week, it began sending a series of mailers to thousands of voters alleging that Garcetti drove Los Angeles to the brink of bankruptcy while living like a star.
It shows photos of Garcetti in dark sunglasses, with a chauffeur, a stretch limousine and a Chihuahua in a fur coat. While cutting the budget for street repairs and emergency crews, the mailers say, Garcetti "enjoyed the finer things on the taxpayers' dime," such as five-star hotels and seven city cars.
They also highlight, as Greuel did Friday, the penalties that Garcetti paid for city ethics violations. In 2011, he was fined $4,800 by the city Ethics Commission for accepting free tickets to the Oscar and Emmy awards. In 2005, he was fined $5,000 for failing to provide the commission with copies of 10 campaign mailers.
As a whole, Garcetti's ethics violations appear "fairly small," said Garry South, a Los Angeles political consultant who is unaligned in the mayor's race, but voters who are paying only passing attention to a campaign tend to "believe that where there's smoke there's probably a little bit of fire."
"This is all about perception," South said. "In politics, perception is reality."
At the same time, he said, Greuel "has been damaged to some degree by her close association with IBEW," a union that will soon be seeking raises and pension and healthcare protections for workers at "probably the most despised city agency in all of Los Angeles government."
So far, Working Californians has spent $3.8 million on its efforts to elect Greuel. Of that, $2.8 million came from IBEW and other unions and $1 million from other sources, such as Greuel supporters in the entertainment industry.
If the DWP union spends still more on TV advertising in the campaign's final stretch, it will come with risk of a backlash. In the USC Price/Los Angeles Times poll, a plurality of likely voters named Greuel as the candidate who cares more about unions representing city employees than Los Angeles as a whole.
On Friday, Garcetti's campaign pushed back on the ethics attacks. A Garcetti supporter, former Westside Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, filed an ethics complaint accusing Greuel of misusing city computers by using her controller's office email address to communicate with campaign advisors.
"Ms. Greuel's misuse of public resources is an insult to the voters and taxpayers of Los Angeles," Galanter said. Greuel's emails with campaign staff were first disclosed by Los Cerritos Community News.
Greuel campaign spokeswoman Laura Wilkinson said the controller had inadvertently forwarded scheduling or "fyi" emails to campaign staff from her city email address on her personal iPad or iPhone. "Her campaign did not benefit from these emails, nor were city resources negatively impacted," she said.
After Greuel gave her exhaustive rundown of Garcetti's ethics issues at her downtown campaign stop, Garcetti responded by saying he found it ironic that she was attacking him for "a whole bunch of stuff that she has done herself."
"Ms. Greuel has traveled on the public dime," he said. "She has had seven cars herself."
To South, the tenor of the dialogue suggested a lack of grand vision from either candidate, even if both are smart and decent.
"In the absence of big ideas, these races, unfortunately, devolve into trivia and minutiae," he said. "And that's the situation I think we're in at the moment."
Times staff writer Maloy Moore contributed to this report.