In a surprise move, a union that represents about 10,000 civilian workers at Los Angeles City Hall has called two top mayoral candidates back for more interviews, signaling it may bestow a pivotal endorsement five weeks before the election.
The Service Employees International Union failed to back any of the four leading contenders in the March 5 mayoral election after they appeared at a closed-door union forum nearly two months ago. But both City Controller Wendy Greuel and City Councilman Eric Garcetti have been summoned to appear for a second round Tuesday and spend 45 minutes answering questions from members, union officials said.
An endorsement from the City Hall union could add considerable get-out-the-vote manpower and spending in support of the favored candidate.
SEIU Local 721 spokesman Ian Thompson said the group wants to make sure it doesn't have "another four years of the same anti-worker policies emanating from City Hall" — a reference to key cost-cutting decisions backed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the council. SEIU regional director David Sanders said certain questions also needed to be posed to Garcetti, who was president of the council when the layoffs of about 360 city workers were approved.
"Eric … voted to lay off our members. He has to say why it happened. He has to own up to that," Sanders said.
Last month, when the mayoral candidates appeared before the SEIU, Greuel zeroed in on the issue of layoffs and strongly implied that workers could not trust Garcetti. She also told the union members she would be with them "every step of the way."
Garcetti responded during the appearance by saying he would not apologize for votes that ensured the city "does not go bankrupt." But he also touted his public opposition to a now-abandoned City Hall pension rollback plan briefly proposed by former Mayor Richard Riordan.
Councilwoman Jan Perry, who was not invited to Tuesday's do-over, said she assumed that a decision had been prearranged and predicted that the SEIU would back Greuel. She said she failed to make the second round because she had publicly voiced support for City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana, the budget official who recommended layoffs and other cost-cutting strategies, such as private operation of the zoo and Convention Center.
Greuel and Garcetti both sidestepped the question about whether they would keep Santana.
Thompson said Garcetti and Greuel were invited back because they were the most viable candidates in the race. He disputed the assertion that an endorsement decision had already been made.
"It's up to the candidates to impress our members," he said in an email.
If SEIU members vote to endorse on Tuesday, the recommendation would still need to be taken up by the union's executive board, Thompson said. A final decision would probably occur next week.
Garcetti did not respond to requests for comment. A Greuel spokesman, Dave Jacobson, said he knew of no decision on an endorsement having been made. Greuel would be honored, he said, to have "the support of the working men and women who keep our city running."