Mayoral candidate Wendy Greuel at a news conference Monday at Cal State… (Ricardo DeAratanha, Los…)
Former President Clinton endorsed Wendy Greuel to be Los Angeles' next mayor on Monday, saying that her track record, including a stint working in his administration, makes her a proven leader with the skills to confront the city's challenges.
"In her many years of public service in Los Angeles…Wendy has personified good, honest and effective government, improving the lives of countless Angelenos while saving millions of their tax dollars," Clinton wrote in a letter to supporters. "And she's not done yet. Los Angeles is a great city with equally great challenges, so it's vital that Angelenos elect a proven, creative problem solver to lead them. That's Wendy Greuel."
The support comes at a critical time in Greuel's campaign, as she tries to move past a rocky stretch that included a staff shake-up and continued questions about her ties to labor with less than two months to go until the May 21 runoff with City Councilman Eric Garcetti.
Greuel said the endorsement was "humbling."
"He united communities and built partnerships. He delivered results. And that is precisely what I will do as mayor of the city of Los Angeles," Greuel said. "President Clinton has been a role model for me — he has shown what it means to be a leader, how to build coalitions and create jobs where they are needed most, and how to [be] steady in a crisis."
Clinton has frequently endorsed people who have been loyal to his family, either helpful during his time at the White House or supporters of his wife's unsuccessful 2008 presidential run. Greuel fits both categories — in addition to being an early and active backer of Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign, she worked in the Clinton administration at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
In announcing his support, Clinton — who was traveling out of the country on Monday — highlighted Greuel's time at HUD.
"When the Northridge Earthquake struck — causing so much loss of life and destruction — Wendy sprang into action," Clinton wrote. "She helped deliver over a billion dollars in federal emergency aid to Los Angeles residents and worked around the clock to assist families who lost their homes."
Political observers said the endorsement could be pivotal, especially in what is expected to be a low-turnout election.
"Most endorsements from politicians matter very little. This one matters very, very, very much," said Dan Schnur, the director of USC's Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics and a former GOP operative. "Bill Clinton is the gold standard of Democratic endorsers. There is probably not another political figure in this country whose involvement in a campaign can have more impact."
The sole endorser that Garcetti could pick up to counter the Clinton nod is the current occupant of the White House, Schnur said.
As a sitting president, it's more difficult for President Obama to weigh in on the race, and he is not expected to get involved. But he has a long friendship with Garcetti.
The councilman was an early supporter of Obama's 2008 presidential campaign, and was his California co-chair in 2008. He has maintained close ties to the president and was among a small group of supporters invited to the White House for a champagne toast the night of Obama's second-term inauguration.
Garcetti has invoked his ties to Obama on the campaign trail. There is a larger-than-life-size picture of the two men outside Garcetti's South Los Angeles office, and he just sent out mailers to black voters that feature a picture of Garcetti walking alongside Obama and noting his long-time support of the president.
A Garcetti spokesman declined to comment on the prospect of an Obama endorsement and said the Clinton endorsement of Greuel had been expected. The ties between Greuel and Clinton were already known to voters because of more than $1 million in television ads aired by an independent committee largely financed by labor that is backing Greuel, said Garcetti spokesman Jeff Millman. "Bill Clinton has been a constant refrain in Greuel's campaign, so this is no surprise."
It's not clear if Clinton will campaign or raise money for the city controller, but the cross-section of voters he inspires could be vital in the race. Clinton is beloved by Democrats, and has special ties to two voter groups that could be key in the election — moderate Republicans in the San Fernando Valley and African Americans in South Los Angeles.
Supporters sometimes referred to Clinton as the "first black president" because of his deep affinity with the black community.
And while he was by no means favored by Republicans during his tenure in the White House, he has gained in popularity as the years have passed, with some Republicans contrasting his centrist path, notably his accomplishments on welfare reform and a balanced budget, with President Obama.