Dave Bryan, fourth from left, of KCAL-TV Channel 9 hosts the final mayoral… (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles…)
In the midst of a deluge of outside spending to boost the campaign of Los Angeles mayoral candidate Wendy Greuel, several rivals sharply questioned the city controller's ability to serve as an independent voice at City Hall at a time when the union representing the city's water and power workers has spent nearly a million dollars on her behalf.
When the five major mayoral contenders met for their final debate on KCAL-TV Channel 9 Friday night, Greuel had benefited from at least $2.65 million in independent spending—a figure that dwarfed the outside aid for her rivals.
Greuel on Friday tried to keep the focus on opponent Eric Garcetti's financial interests in an oil drilling operation at Beverly Hills High School, but throughout the day her opponents pounded her connections to the Department of Water and Power union, suggesting she was too closely tied to the union to rein in its labor and pension costs.
Hours after Garcetti charged at a news conference that the DWP union was trying to buy the election for Greuel, candidate Jan Perry burrowed into the issue at the debate—demanding an explanation from Greuel about why she had met with Brian D'Arcy, the head of the utility union, 13 times since she became controller.
"What would you be discussing with them that required 13 meetings?" Perry asked Greuel. "And what commitments have you made to them?"
Later, Garcetti questioned why Greuel had not found any fiscal mismanagement in her eight audits of the utility.
"You found zero dollars in waste in your audits," Garcetti said. "Why did you let them off the hook in a way that we haven't seen with other departments?"
Greuel declined to condemn attacks on her opponents by the utility union-backed committee. But she said she would not be "beholden to anybody."
"My promises are to the people of Los Angeles, those are the only promises I made—to be a tough fiscal watchdog."
In the final days before Tuesday's election, the top contenders have increased their personal attacks on one another, although they agree on many issues. As Angelenos have struggled to make a final decision, Greuel and Garcetti have centered their attacks on who would be more trustworthy and politically independent.
In a sign of a tightening contest, Greuel on Thursday questioned Garcetti's authenticity and environmental credentials by seizing on an a Times report that he signed a 20-year lease with an oil company granting it subsurface drilling rights to a Beverly Hills property he co-owns.
Friday, Garcetti lashed back, alleging that the union was trying "to buy" Tuesday's election for Greuel. Garcetti said Greuel had not done a comprehensive audit of DWP operations during her four years as city controller, unlike her predecessor, who performed two top-to-bottom reviews of the department.
"Ms. Greuel has failed to audit the DWP pension system, and the DWP salaries, and now the DWP union is spending millions to elect Greuel and attack me, because they know that I will be an independent voice for our ratepayers," Garcetti said at a news conference outside the department's downtown headquarters. "If the DWP buys this election for Greuel, what does that mean for our DWP bills?"
He noted that the independent pro-Greuel Working Californians group has also aired radio ads attacking Perry: "It's no coincidence," he said, noting that he and Perry wrote a law creating an independent ratepayer advocate to review rate increases. "This was a law that was opposed by the DWP union and Ms. Greuel," he said.
Like Garcetti, Perry's campaign sought to use the outside spending by the DWP union and its allies to energize voters. In a fundraising solicitation, Perry consultant Eric Hacopian said the anti-Perry ads showed that Greuel allies "are in panic mode" and that Perry was "the one candidate running for mayor who has promised to fight the kind of transactional politics that increases your DWP rates in exchange for filling the coffers of craven politicians."
Greuel's campaign manager Rose Kapolczynski noted that Greuel voted against DWP recommendations as a San Fernando Valley councilwoman and called her a "tough watchdog who has stood up for ratepayers over and over again."
"Eric Garcetti didn't complain when the DWP footed the bill on his trip to Asia where he flew business class, or when IBEW gave him thousands in campaign donations," Kapolczynski said. "He didn't complain when he voted for pay raises and rate increases. Now Eric is changing his tune."
A 30-second attack ad from Working Californians opens with an image of Garcetti, dressed all in white and singing "White Christmas" at a holiday party, while a narrator declares: "It's Christmas every day for Eric Garcetti, president of the highest-paid City Council in America." It accuses Garcetti of staying in "five-star hotels," using multiple city cars and redirecting funds for special projects to pay the salary of one of his staff members.
Garcetti noted Friday that the footage of him singing was from his visit to a convalescent home last Christmas. "It seems kind of a little bit strange that they would take that and use that as the ad."
Times researcher Maloy Moore contributed to this report.