Columnist Steve Lopez wonders what San Fernando Valley voters think of… (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times )
The long-running love-in between Wendy Greuel and public employee unions continued Tuesday, with the mayoral candidate from the San Fernando Valley bagging an endorsement from the powerful Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.
Which raises a question:
Is Greuel's labor embrace going to backfire with Valley conservatives, whose votes she might need in order to beat Eric Garcetti in the May 21 runoff?
FULL COVERAGE: L.A.'s race for mayor
"I think you're going to find that a majority of conservatives will not vote in that race," said Gary Aminoff of the San Fernando Valley Conservatives Meetup Group, an offshoot of the Valley GOP club.
Let's face it. This election is a nightmare for a true conservative in Los Angeles. Kevin James, the lawyer and radio show host who wanted to wring the necks of labor bosses, came in third in the March 5 primary.
So that leaves us with Eric Garcetti, who conservatives consider pinker than the new benches in Grand Park, and Greuel, who's starting to sound like the reincarnation of Woody Guthrie and has compared Garcetti to Scott Walker, the Republican Wisconsin governor who tried to crush labor in his state.
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"Which one is worse than the other?" asked Peggy Christensen, a Granada Hills resident and member of the conservative meet-up group. "I hate to give either one of them my vote."
Like Aminoff, Christensen voted for James in the primary. She didn't promise she'd vote for either of the runoff candidates, but said she'd begin taking a closer look at Greuel and Garcetti to see "if there's a discernible difference."
There is, as a matter of fact.
Greuel this week told my colleague David Zahniser that if elected, she'd go back to the bargaining table on a pension reform deal agreed to last fall by Garcetti, the City Council and mayor and expected to save the city $4 billion over the next 30 years.
Say what? City officials, looking at budget deficits from here to eternity, tweaked the package a bit for future employees, and Greuel wants to reopen the discussion?
Greuel called me Tuesday afternoon to reemphasize that she supports the plan to raise the retirement age for new employees from 55 to 65 and to eliminate healthcare benefits for spouses of retired city workers.
"I completely support pension reforms," she told me. "I would not roll them back, and I think we can do more."
But she said the city imposed those changes without fairly bargaining for them, and she fears a union lawsuit because of it.
Well maybe, but it sure sounds like she's trying to have it both ways. Greuel, a former Republican, has appealed to moderates and conservative voters by trumpeting her mission to root out waste, fraud and abuse. But on the other hand, she's clearly the winner of this year's labor lottery.
"I can tell you that conservatives recognize her for who she is," Aminoff said.
And who is that?
"She is a left-wing, big-government, public employee-supporting politician."
I asked James, who's gone back to lawyering and has not decided whether to endorse a runoff candidate, if he thinks Greuel has simply written off conservative voters and thinks she can win without them.
"I think she had some conservative Valley support when she was a council member, and I think she thinks that with me out of the race, they're going to naturally gravitate back toward her," James said.
If enough of them do, he said, and the big-money support of the unions allows her to dominate in the TV ad war, the job of mayor could be hers.
Howard Cohen, a political analyst and Valley resident, said Greuel's camp may be calculating that there could be a historically low voter turnout that works in her favor. The labor machine will gear up to get out the vote, and Greuel may get solid support among blue-collar Latinos and whites with all those "union stickers … affixed to the lapel on her ever-present periwinkle jacket."
Unless Garcetti's handlers and independent support groups are all dunces, though, they'll make every effort to throw Greuel under the wheels of the labor locomotive.
I will say that when ruptured sidewalks don't get fixed, and potholes don't get filled, and DWP rates go up, a good chunk of the complaints I get are from the Valley. And their take is often that the city can't manage a budget or get anything done because city officials are owned by public employee unions.
The truth is more complicated than that, but that's the perception. And former Councilman Greig Smith, who represented the Valley, told me he thinks Greuel's labor support has already hurt her among some Valley voters.
"I thought she was going to win very big in the Valley, and so did a lot of people," Smith said of the primary. "And I think a lot of that slipped away and began going to Kevin James, even though people didn't think he could win."
Although Garcetti has union support, said Smith, the unions that support Greuel represent a big part of the total budget. Smith told me he's been surprised by how big a deal Greuel has made of her labor endorsements, and he said he told her he thought it was a tactical error.
"I believe Republican voters are going to support me like Democratic voters," Greuel said, "because they care less about political party than they do about getting the streets fixed, getting jobs and getting our fiscal house in order."
OK, great. But doesn't getting our house in order mean the love-in has to end?