Mayoral candidates Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel are shown at a debate… (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles…)
It's beginning to look like there's nothing Wendy Greuel wouldn't do to become the next mayor of Los Angeles.
Her boatload of big-money backers seems fond of trash-talking gibes so slimy, they're apt to backfire and turn voters off.
FOR THE RECORD
Negative campaigning: In the May 4 Section A, a column about the mayoral campaign reported that candidate Wendy Greuel said she resorted to negative campaigning in response to an advertisement by backers of her rival, Eric Garcetti. Greuel cited a video depicting her as cartoon villain Cruella De Vil, which Greuel's campaign said was an ad Garcetti's supporters posted online during the primary campaign. In fact, the video was not an ad and did not appear online until April 25, more than a month after the primary election, when its creator posted it on his YouTube channel and personal blog. The video's creator says he has no connection to Garcetti or his campaign, and he is not a campaign contributor.
I hope Greuel takes a lesson from what happened this week, when she castigated opponent Eric Garcetti for accepting support from their former rival.
Greuel blanketed black and Latino neighborhoods with mailers blasting Garcetti for accepting the endorsement of Kevin James, a Republican who finished third in the mayoral primary. James, a former conservative talk-show host, has made inflammatory comments in the past about "illegal aliens" and President Obama.
"Say no to Eric Garcetti!" order the mailers, in English and in Spanish. "He sold us out to win Republican votes."
What the mailers don't say is that Greuel also courted James' endorsement.
And James has a string of fawning text messages that he pulled out for reporters to prove it.
"These messages went on for weeks," James told me Wednesday. "All hours of the day, willing to meet me anywhere, anytime... She admits that she's 'stalking' me," he said.
James did meet with her, but decided to endorse Garcetti, his polar opposite politically. He explained that to me with three letters: DWP. He thinks the utility's powerful union has "a stranglehold on the Greuel campaign that does not allow her to be the leader we need."
Still, he didn't intend to make the texts public, until Greuel backed him into a corner, he said. "I'm not just going to roll over and let her demonize me just because I didn't endorse her."
The kerfuffle shows how petty the politics of this race have become.
Because the two candidates hold such similar views on major issues, image has become their chief battleground, with each trying to tear the other down.
Greuel is nothing but a tool of the DWP's labor bosses. That's what Garcetti would like us to believe.
Garcetti is ethically challenged with a silver-spoon sense of entitlement. That's the Greuel campaign's counter.
Greuel has the tougher road right now. Behind in the polls, but not by much, she's slinging mud at the Garcetti camp in hopes that some will stick.
But as the campaign winds down and the mud-slinging amps up, I hope they'll recall these lyrics from an old Bill Withers song:
If you're throwing dirt at people, You got to get some dirt on you.
Politics isn't playtime. But it doesn't have to be a blood sport.
Greuel's backers seemed to set the tone with an ugly jab in the primary at rival Jan Perry. A radio ad, paid for by an independent committee controlled by leaders of the DWP's union, implied that Councilwoman Perry couldn't be trusted because of a long-ago bankruptcy and tax issues involving her ex-husband's law practice.
It seemed to me like a low blow, particularly given Greuel's feminist credentials. Bashing a woman because of her husband's folly? Run that by Hillary Clinton.
But Greuel considered it fair game. Managing city finances shouldn't be left to a novice, she said.
We met in Van Nuys for coffee on Friday, to talk about what I perceived as her tacit approval of supporters' below-the-belt attacks.
Gruel says she's just hitting back. She showed me an ad from the primary, posted on YouTube by Garcetti backers, that likened her to cartoon movie villain Cruella deVille, who got her kicks killing puppies.
"You go into a campaign saying, we're all going to be positive, then you realize you're the only one on that path," Greuel said. "Sometimes we have to be tough."
She doesn't consider her campaign ads negative, just factual. "Garcetti is going around saying 'I'm the goody-two-shoes guy,' " while accusations of ethical lapses mount, she said. "Someone's got to call him on that."
But she seems to be so desperate that she's now accusing Garcetti of some of the same things that she has done.
She slammed Garcetti for accepting campaign donations from a felon, then discovered that she had her own check-writing ex-convict in the donor woodpile.
She gave her felon his donation back. But she can't refund the $4,000 of presumably tainted money that the onetime criminal and his wife gave her campaign when she ran years ago for City Council and controller.