Cuomo hired Greuel in Washington as a top HUD administrator of grants to fight homelessness. A year later, she was visiting Los Angeles when the Northridge earthquake hit. With 18,000 housing units demolished, HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros placed Greuel in charge of earthquake relief. Before long, she was put in charge of HUD's L.A. regional office.
In 1997, Andy Spahn, one of Clinton's top Hollywood fundraisers, hired Greuel at DreamWorks, where she handled the company's political affairs for co-founders Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen. Greuel helped the studio win local government approval to build its Glendale animation studio and a major complex in Playa Vista. The company chose not to build the Playa Vista project.
Greuel also went before the state Coastal Commission to get permission for Geffen to build a sea wall to protect his Malibu oceanfront estate from water damage. She also organized frequent campaign fundraisers for Clinton and other Democrats on behalf of the DreamWorks moguls.
"I probably would never have run for office if I hadn't had that experience of that political side," she said.
Greuel also probably would never have won. Entertainment-industry fundraising was crucial to her narrow victory in 2002 over rival Tony Cardenas in her first race for City Council. She won by 242 votes.
Now, the $2.8 million that Greuel has collected for the mayoral campaign puts her alongside Garcetti in the top tier of candidates. She hopes to defeat Garcetti in a May runoff.
Doing so would make her the first woman mayor of Los Angeles, a prospect she has promoted heavily in her campaign. She has drawn endorsements from U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and L.A. County Supervisor Gloria Molina.
"We need to make sure that we elect someone who has the experience, the knowledge — and yes, make history: the first woman mayor of the city of Los Angeles," Greuel told a crowd in South Los Angeles last month.
But Greuel's main pitch is she has been "the city's fiscal watchdog" fighting for greater efficiency.
"Given the tough economic times our city is facing, this is absolutely unacceptable and reckless," she said at a news conference on her mileage reimbursement report.
Later that morning, in her office overlooking City Hall, she interrupted an interview to take a return call from LAFD Chief Brian Cummings. On visits to firehouses, Greuel told the chief, she'd heard new firetrucks were sitting idle for weeks because of delays in getting radio equipment installed.
"So what's the problem?" she asked.