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Jan Perry's mailers send mirror-image messages

The L.A. mayoral candidate alternately touts her ties to Villaraigosa and shuns him as a symbol of what's wrong with City Hall. Confused? It's just 'campaign 101,' a consultant explains.

February 14, 2013|By James Rainey, Los Angeles Times
  • Based on recent campaign mailers, it's hard to tell how L.A. Councilwoman Jan Perry feels about Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
Based on recent campaign mailers, it's hard to tell how L.A. Councilwoman… (Los Angeles Times )

Does mayoral candidate Jan Perry think that current Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is a really good guy to have in her corner? Or maybe she thinks hizzoner's support marks the recipient as another hapless representative of the City Hall status quo.

It's hard to tell where Perry stands from a pair of recent mailers delivered by her campaign.

The Los Angeles city councilwoman came out with a bulk-mail pitch Tuesday that shows her side by side with Mayor V. Both are grinning. The headline quotes Villaraigosa, in English and Spanish, saying: "Jan Perry would make a good mayor."

It doesn't say it's an endorsement, though a voter might read it that way. But that would be wrong because a) Villaraigosa has said he does not intend to endorse, at least in the March 5 primary and b) what he actually told NBC4 political reporter Conan Nolan was: "Eric Garcetti would make a good mayor. Jan Perry would make a good mayor. Wendy Greuel would make a good mayor."

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

Perry's mailer somehow neglected to mention the other two.

But the intrigue only begins there because Perry — who has been positioning herself as the truth teller among a gallery of panderers —sent quite a different message with a mailer a week ago. That one showed rival Wendy Greuel and Villaraigosa arm-in-arm. The headline: "Wendy Greuel: Brought to you by the same people who brought you Antonio Villaraigosa."

The piece highlights a quote from a Los Angeles Times story: "Wendy Greuel would be Antonio Villaraigosa's third term in many ways, and that's a bad thing." Not very nice. And one might think the observation came from Times City Hall reporter David Zahniser, since it's right below his byline on the cut-and-paste presentation. But Kevin James, an entertainment lawyer and another rival for mayor, actually took the shot at Greuel, who serves as city controller.

So how can Perry both embrace and shun Villaraigosa, the man she hopes to replace in the executive suite at City Hall? The answer: targeting.

The mailer attacking Greuel as a Villaraigosa toady appears to be aimed at conservative voters, many of them in the San Fernando Valley. A whiff of connection to the over-taxing, electric-rate-raising fools at City Hall lands like a stink bomb in those households.

The voters who contacted the Times about the Greuel-Villaraigosa hit piece live in the San Fernando Valley.

The Spanish-English mailer, meanwhile, clearly targeted Latino voters, who played a key role in 2005 in making Villaraigosa the city's first Latino mayor in modern times. Perry appears only too happy to snuggle up next to the mayor in front of that audience.

"You just can't trust Jan Perry," said Shannon Murphy, spokeswoman for Greuel. "She's hoping voters don't find out that she changes her tune depending on who she's talking to. In a mailer to some voters, she attacks the mayor, but in a mailer to Latinos, she hugs him. Clearly the Perry campaign doesn't believe its own message, why should voters?"

Perry's campaign consultant, Eric Hacopian, defended the mailers, saying it was perfectly legit to lean on Villaraigosa for favor with one group, while scorning him before another.

"No person who is a public figure is universally loved, so it isn't that difficult to decide that you would highlight someone with one group of people," Hacopian said, "and that with some other group of people you wouldn't highlight them. This is not rocket science. This is campaign 101."

He said Greuel and City Councilman Garcetti would be free to note that Villaraigosa had said they would make good mayors. "If they were smart," he said, "they would have done the same thing we did."

With considerably less campaign cash to wage her fight for mayor, Perry has placed high hopes in the U.S. mail, rather than TV ads, to deliver her message to voters. Some pieces go to a mass audience but many — to Latinos, Korean Americans, Armenian Americans —have a specific target. The list of recipients can be narrowly aimed. The content can be all over the place.

Times political writer James Rainey will be filing dispatches from the campaign trail during the 2013 Los Angeles elections season. You can follow him on Twitter.com/LATimesrainey

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