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James tries to turn up the heat on rival Greuel

CAMPAIGN NOTEBOOK

The GOP mayoral candidate issues a press release describing the city controller's ties to County Assessor John Noguez. The evidence is skimpy, and her campaign calls the insinuations outrageous.

January 24, 2013|By James Rainey, Los Angeles Times
  • Los Angeles mayoral candidates Kevin James and Wendy Greuel at a debate in September.
Los Angeles mayoral candidates Kevin James and Wendy Greuel at a debate… (Allen J. Schaben, Los Angeles…)

Candidate Kevin James has spent weeks trying to depict City Controller Wendy Greuel, a rival in the race for mayor of Los Angeles, as part of an irresponsible, spendthrift culture at City Hall.

James' campaign super-charged that claim this week with a press release that suggested Greuel also could be in thrall to Los Angeles County official facing criminal corruption charges.

James' broadside Wednesday described Greuel's "close relationship" with County Assessor John Noguez, who remains behind bars awaiting trial on charges that he took payoffs to lower property assessments. The press release asked whether Noguez might have been "a pseudo-advisor to Controller Greuel on how to manage city funds."

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One might expect those loaded questions to come with some pretty conclusive evidence. The James campaign offered this: a Greuel office calendar showing a meeting between Greuel and Noguez; modest Noguez campaign contributions to Greuel; and her endorsement of the assessor when he ran for office.

Local elected officials routinely support one another with both endorsements and campaign contributions. Noguez got the backing in 2010 of not just Greuel but other politicians, including four of the five members of the county Board of Supervisors.

Attorney and former talk-radio host James noted earlier meetings between Greuel and the now-disgraced county official. But those events took place when Noguez was a candidate. James offered no other evidence to buttress the notion that Greuel had a close relationship with Noguez, who stands charged with bribery and misappropriation of public funds.

James said in an interview that Greuel's last meeting with Noguez in January 2012 was "perilously close" to press reports that the assessor had fallen under suspicion and was reason enough for his attack.

Greuel's campaign called the insinuations outrageous. The city controller routinely meets with other elected officials and has an obligation under the City Charter to track property tax revenues delivered via the county, said John Shallman, Greuel's campaign consultant. Greuel recalled discussing tax revenues with the county assessor during the meeting in her office, Shallman said.

It was two weeks after Greuel met Noguez in her office on Jan. 23, 2012, that the Los Cerritos Community News broke the story that the district attorney's office had opened an investigation into Noguez's activities as assessor.

The Greuel campaign said James' attempt to link her to the jailed county official smacks of his career as a talk-radio provocateur.

"He is an entertainer and he is a bomb thrower," Shallman said of James. "He has been running for office like he is auditioning to be the next Rush Limbaugh. So he says reckless and crazy things to hope … his ratings will go up."

Greuel began her political career representing part of the San Fernando Valley on the City Council. James, a Republican, has been viewed as a threat to siphon away at least some of Greuel's base by appealing to fiscally conservative Valley voters.

James' campaign has delivered a series of critiques of Greuel it calls "Wendy Watch," based on the office calendar she released as a result of a public records request. This week's press release, headlined "Money Makes the World Go Round," noted the January 2012 meeting between Greuel and Noguez.

"Why is Wendy Greuel, the chief fiscal watchdog of the city, meeting with Noguez just months before his arrest?" the James press release asked. "What did she know and when did she know it? Was Noguez a pseudo-advisor to Controller Greuel on how to manage city funds?"

Asked for evidence to back the provocative questions, James campaign manager Jeff Corless cited additional meetings between Noguez and Greuel. The four events all came in 2010 when Noguez was a councilman from Huntington Park, seeking the county assessor's job. Two of the events were fundraisers, another was a surprise birthday party for Noguez and the third a meeting in Greuel's office.

It would be more than 15 months after the last of those events that the case against Noguez first surfaced in the media.

james.rainey@latimes.com

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