L.A. mayoral candidate Wendy Greuel, seen at a debate this week, has accused… (Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles…)
The Los Angeles mayor's race took a sharp negative turn Wednesday as City Controller Wendy Greuel accused rivals Eric Garcetti and Jan Perry of lying about her record to distract from their own spending of taxpayer money on wasteful travel and perks.
Her broadside came after weeks of relentless attacks on Greuel by the two City Council members and Kevin James, a former radio talk-show host. The dynamics of the campaign — Greuel's top rivals each see pockets of opportunity among key voter groups that she is well-positioned to capture — have made her a prime target, leaving the impression at times that opponents have been ganging up on her.
Greuel fought back Wednesday in a mailer that showed a wooden Pinocchio and photos of Garcetti and Perry.
"Why are City Council politicians Eric Garcetti & Jan Perry lying about Wendy Greuel's audits?" it says.
Greuel, whose rivals scoff at her frequent statement that she uncovered $160 million in waste, fraud and abuse at City Hall, said Garcetti and Perry were "asleep at the switch" and failed to give her audits a hearing in the council.
"Garcetti and Perry's reckless disregard for the facts are meant to distract voters away from their record of waste," the mailer says. "Garcetti travels around the world on the taxpayer dime and uses a slush fund to pay his personal staff. Meanwhile, Perry votes to lay off city workers while accepting a pay raise and a free Lincoln Town Car LS paid for by taxpayers."
The attack's potency was limited by, among other things, Greuel's own travel at taxpayer expense and her longtime use of a city car and driver.
But the mailer was significant because it signaled Greuel's approach to taking down her rivals, revealing a crucial part of her campaign strategy to independent committees that are spending more than $1 million for advertising on her behalf.
The committees, formed by public employee unions and other Greuel allies, are barred from coordinating with her campaign, but have been careful to mimic her advertising in an effort to maximize its effect. Unlike the campaign, the independent committees face no limits on contributions, giving a small group of donors enormous influence on the election.
Garcetti responded to Greuel's attack by suggesting that she was a hypocrite.
"I know for a fact that she has travel that she's billed the taxpayers for," Garcetti said outside City Hall after a news conference on the council's approval of his plan to open a city office of immigrant affairs. His campaign released a list of publicly funded trips that Greuel took to New Orleans, San Jose, Sacramento and Washington during her seven years as a City Council member and nearly four years as controller.
As for his own travel, Garcetti recalled going to Washington at taxpayer expense for National League of Cities meetings. He said he took other trips as an Aspen Institute or Asia Society fellow. A spokesman said city agencies paid for Garcetti's 2002 visit to Asia on a trade mission.
Garcetti also denied slowing down the city's response to audits released by Greuel's office. At the same time, he described the audits as nearly useless.
"The truth of the matter is, on her own website, she's brought in $239,000," he said. "During that time period, she was paid $800,000 as controller. Those results speak for themselves."
Perry spokeswoman Helen Sanchez also challenged Greuel's facts. Perry and other council members took a pay cut in 2010 as the city was reeling from a budget shortfall that led to layoffs and furloughs, she said. Perry's city car was a Lincoln after she first took office in 2002, but has been a Honda Accord hybrid since 2006, according to Sanchez.
"The only thing revealing about this mailer," Perry strategist Eric Hacopian said, "is that they just confirmed to the world which candidate is in third place."
For his part, James, a former federal prosecutor, opened a new line of attack against Greuel, saying she was stonewalling in responding to a public records request for her email with campaign advisors, and with Brian D'Arcy, business manager of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 18.
The union, which represents more than 8,600 Department of Water and Power employees, has put $700,000 into an independent committee backing Greuel.
"What do they have to hide?" James asked reporters outside City Hall. "Where are the documents?"
A Times review of the controller's calendars from September 2009 through June 2012 found that Greuel scheduled nine meetings with D'Arcy, 20 dinners, social events or meetings with lobbyists for his union, and two appointments with Don Attore, co-founder of the committee that the union is using to buttress her mayoral campaign.
At a morning campaign stop in Studio City, Greuel said she would need to ask her city staff whether any email between her and D'Arcy existed on her city account. But she denied stalling any response to records requests.
"We're transparent," she said.
Times staff writer David Zahniser contributed to this report.