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Greuel shakes up staff, taps Villaraigosa aide to run campaign

Janelle Erickson, the mayor's deputy chief of staff, will run day-to-day operations, and Jim Dantona, a former Greuel aide, is the new policy director. Four key campaign staffers resigned Thursday.

March 23, 2013|By Michael Finnegan, Los Angeles Times
  • Wendy Greuel has reshuffled her campaign leadership with two months left in the L.A. mayor's race after four staffers resigned March 21.
Wendy Greuel has reshuffled her campaign leadership with two months left… (Reed Saxon, Associated…)

After a series of missteps in her run for mayor of Los Angeles, City Controller Wendy Greuel has hired a senior aide to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa as her new campaign manager for the final weeks before the May runoff.

Janelle Erickson, who is on leave of absence as Villaraigosa's deputy chief of staff, will take over day-to-day management of the campaign.

Rose Kapolczynski, who had been playing that role, will stay on as a senior strategist.

The replacement of a campaign manager just two months before an election is highly unusual. It is an implicit acknowledgment by Greuel that her campaign has not run as smoothly as she believes it should. On Thursday, four Greuel aides who had worked on President Obama's reelection resigned.

Greuel has also hired another former aide, Jim Dantona, as her policy director. Until now, the campaign did not have one. Candidates typically rely on policy directors to shape their most significant proposals.

The only major policy initiative announced by Greuel so far has been a plan to hire several thousand police officers, firefighters and paramedics.

That proposal clashed with Greuel's central message that she is a tough fiscal conservative who would get the city's troubled finances under control. It also sparked private criticism by key Greuel supporters.

In a statement released Saturday night, Greuel cast the changes in a positive light.

"I'm thrilled that we are expanding our campaign team for the general election to join strong leaders such as Rose and John," she said, alluding to John Shallman, her other senior strategist. "We've made a lot of progress in our campaign — and I know what we need to do in this final push to May 21."

Shallman said Kapolczynski "did a great job to get us through the runoff, and it's a new campaign."

Greuel's hiring of Erickson and Dantona, along with her new field consultant, Sue Burnside, reunites key players of Greuel's campaigns for City Council. Erickson managed Greuel's first council campaign in 2002. Greuel won by 242 votes.

"We're happy and excited to have the band back together," Shallman said.

Greuel, whose runoff opponent is City Councilman Eric Garcetti, has faced a variety of troubles in the mayor's race — some, like the poorly received police and fire plan, are self-created.

Her alliance with unions that represent city employees has sparked concern among some of her business backers that she might not stand up to their pension and healthcare demands. Garcetti and her primary rivals voiced those same concerns, if more caustically.

Greuel has sought to reassure voters that she would be independent enough to buck unions when it serves the city's best interests.

Turmoil among Greuel's campaign staff burst into the open after her field director, Stacy Cohen, and three people on her team resigned Thursday. All four had worked on President Obama's high-tech get-out-the-vote reelection operation.

But their expertise was in mobilizing thousands of volunteers, a model poorly suited to a low-turnout local election that sparks little public excitement. Greuel hired Burnside to replace the field team and quickly assemble a network of paid canvassers.

"I'm happy to get back to message development and strategy, and leave the details of the day-to-day campaign to our new team," Kapolczynski said.

Shallman said that in her new role, Kapolczynski "gets to come back and do something she's more comfortable with, which is just general strategy."

Erickson, who was a top aide to Greuel when she was on the council, said, "I believe in her, and we are taking the campaign in the direction it needs to go to win on May 21."

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