Kevin James, center, speaks during a debate at Cal State L.A.’s Edmund… (Katie Falkenberg, Los Angeles…)
Los Angeles City Councilman Eric Garcetti disparaged rival Wendy Greuel's record as city controller and mocked her campaign platform Monday night in a feisty debate that highlighted the intensifying clash between the top two contenders in the race for mayor.
Greuel defended her record and agenda, but declined to take direct shots at Garcetti. Instead, she accused the entire City Council of failing to act on her findings of waste, fraud and abuse at City Hall.
"They can attack me," she said. "They can attack my numbers. They can attack my auditors. But the one thing they haven't done is attack the problem."
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Garcetti's aggressive posture in the Cal State L.A. debate reflects the increasing pressure he faces as Greuel reaps the benefits of more than $1 million in advertising by independent committees funded by public employee unions and other supporters.
It also overshadowed efforts by three other candidates — Councilwoman Jan Perry, entertainment lawyer Kevin James and former tech executive Emanuel Pleitez — to decisively break from the pack during the 90-minute debate, televised live on KABC-TV Channel 7. Voters go to the polls in two weeks.
Garcetti began his assault by challenging as "simply not true" Greuel's frequent statements that she identified $160 million in squandered city money.
"It rests on an accounting maneuver and on unrealistic projections," he said, citing a Times review of audits by Greuel's office.
"What is real," he added, "is real pension reform like we've done the last few years, real cuts and consolidations — the tough choices — not just identifying potential savings, but actually enacting them."
Greuel told viewers that two former controllers, Laura Chick and Rick Tuttle, were supporting her.
"They told me that City Hall would try and kill the messenger, and that's what they're trying to do," she said. "And apparently my opponents don't feel there is any waste. I know there is and I'm going to do something about it."
Garcetti's offensive left James, a former federal prosecutor, in the unfamiliar role of watching another candidate play attack dog.
Nonetheless, he said large raises for city employees — approved by Garcetti, Perry and Greuel when she was on the City Council — show that three longtime officials were "too cozy with the union leaders that have run City Hall."
"We'll talk about cozy later, Mr. James," Perry responded. She too portrayed herself as independent.
"I'm not the favorite of the political power-brokers or insiders because I've never been willing to cut backroom deals or make promises to special interests," said Perry, whose campaign mailers have accused Greuel of selling out to the union representing DWP workers in return for support.
Pleitez struck similar notes, saying he was "tired of the same politicians saying what they're doing, yet the results — there's nothing to show for them."
"Let's take our city in a new direction," said Pleitez.
But it was Garcetti's attacks that stood out.
Alluding to $700,000 spent by the city utility employees' union to benefit Greuel, Garcetti asked, "Do you want a DWP union to buy this election by spending a million dollars on Ms. Greuel's campaign? Or do you want a mayor who is independent enough to make the right decisions and to preserve our democracy?"
Taking aim at her plan to hire more than 2,000 new police officers and 700 new firefighters and paramedics by 2020, Garcetti cited Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky's criticism of the plan as unrealistic, given the city's budget troubles.
Greuel defended her plan and attacked the council for cutting the Fire Department's budget after the recession hit. She also noted her endorsements by public safety unions.
"The police officers and the firefighters had a choice," she said. "They chose me."