City Controller Wendy Greuel greets female supporters at a house party… (Barbara Davidson, Los Angeles…)
The top three Los Angeles mayoral candidates began an aggressive final push Saturday to get out the vote for Tuesday's primary contest, swooping in to Little League games, house parties and campaign phone banking operations — warning that the outcome could come down to a few votes because a low turnout is expected.
At a contentious debate Friday night, City Councilwoman Jan Perry and Councilman Eric Garcetti railed against record-breaking spending by labor-backed groups on behalf of City Controller Wendy Greuel. But on Saturday the contenders stayed positive as they turned their attention to getting voters to participate in Tuesday's election.
Greuel reminded supporters at a "Women with Wendy" house party in Hancock Park that she won her first race for City Council by 225 votes — about the same number of doors that she had knocked on during her final day of campaigning.
"It will be close; it will be very close," Greuel said, after shimmying into the party to the strains of Whitney Houston's "I'm Every Woman." "We're going to be fighters. We're going to be fighters for justice, fighters to make sure that we have someone in the mayor's office who is going to have a strong voice for all of us."
Greuel, who made 10 stops across the city Saturday, eyed the footwear of the guests as they mingled by the pool sipping mimosas from blue and green champagne flutes. "I hope you're ready to walk — some of you don't have walking shoes on," she said. She lifted up her own hem to reveal patent leather pumps, noting that was wearing them when she threw out the first pitch at a Little League game in Granada Hills that morning: "Women can do anything.... We can do it in high heels."
For all her talk of shoe leather, Greuel enters the final stretch in an enviable position, with several outside groups backed by city employee unions and movie executives spending nearly $2.8 million on her behalf. Unlimited outside spending in the mayoral race and 10 other city offices reached $4.7 million on Saturday, breaking the record set during the 2005 municipal campaign, according to City Ethics Commission records.
The spending for Greuel has been fueled in large part by Working Californians, a campaign committee closely tied to the Department of Water and Power union, which spent $2 million to promote Greuel and attack Garcetti, Perry and a fourth candidate, former prosecutor Kevin James.
The labor-backed push for Greuel has provided ammunition to both Perry and Garcetti, who have argued that she would be beholden to the powerful union that represents the city's utility workers. "We knew this was coming," Garcetti wrote in a recent fundraising solicitation to supporters: "The DWP union will do anything to defeat me.... But I'm not backing down."
Garcetti's hot rhetoric at Friday night's debate went missing, however, as he began his own drive to election day. After also spending the morning tossing out a Little League pitch, he reminisced about his idyllic childhood in the San Fernando Valley, telling supporters that as mayor, he wanted to restore "the very simple pathways that people had back then to success."
"This is the time when people are throwing the kitchen sink out at you," he told about 30 volunteers who assembled at his storefront campaign office just east of the Beverly Center, "but we have stayed on the path and stayed focused. We have seen nine polls in a row with a narrow lead." Still, he said, alluding to the spending on Greuel's behalf, "I feel like an underdog. I feel like we have to fight as if we are 20 points behind."
While Greuel and Garcetti have been able to finance expensive television campaigns to reach voters, Perry has used her money to send 2 million pieces of carefully targeted mail across the city. "We broke through early, when no one else was out there," Perry said in an interview Saturday. "If we had waited, I might be singing a different tune."
The councilwoman, who has presided over the renaissance of downtown Los Angeles during more than a decade at City Hall, spent much of Saturday popping into house parties in Los Feliz and on the Westside, fielding questions about the city's efforts to synchronize traffic signals and the controversial debate over whether to move the runway at Los Angeles International Airport closer to Westchester.
At an intimate house party near Brentwood, she asked for contributions as part of her pitch. "I'm tenacious, I'm highly independent, I'm not beholden to anybody," Perry said. "I do not have an enormously, ridiculously funded super PAC, and the money I have raised I have raised through the strength of my own character."
Earlier, Perry spent several hours visiting barbershops in South Los Angeles, where she hopes a strong African American turnout could help boost her bid. One of her stops was at Tolliver's Barber Shop, where she chatted with customers while sitting in a chair as owner Lawrence Tolliver worked his clippers.
"It will be interesting to see if money can buy an election," Tolliver said. "It will be interesting to see how well someone like Jan Perry can do with her ideas and her experience — without having her name all over television."
Perry dropped off a thick stack of campaign literature, handing mail pieces to several customers, including Bill Layne, a 64-year-old retired postal worker.
"You're preaching to the choir, you've already got my vote," Layne told Perry.
Times staff writers David Zahniser and Catherine Saillant contributed to this report.