L.A. mayoral candidates Wendy Greuel and Eric Garcetti meet with moderators… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)
The two candidates vying to be mayor of Los Angeles courted Latino voters Saturday, promising to do more to help those who are seeking citizenship and to make greater efforts to clean up and enhance Latino neighborhoods such as Boyle Heights and Pacoima.
Appealing to Latino voters who could account for as much as a third of the city electorate, Wendy Greuel and Eric Garcetti fielded questions at the Coconut Grove Auditorium at a forum sponsored by the education fund of the National Assn. of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, along with other local groups.
The two candidates did not appear on stage together — and did not make any direct contrasts with each other — instead taking questions one after the other from reporters from La Opinion and KNBC4, as well as Loyola Marymount University professor Fernando Guerra.
Both candidates pledged to make their administrations reflective of the city’s diversity and to appoint a greater number of commissioners who are Latino. Greuel said she would ensure that a greater share of city contracts are awarded to women and minority-owned businesses — a topic that she explored in one of her audits as city controller. The mayoral rivals both said they would prioritize job creation — enhancing adult education and job skill classes to help bring down the unemployment rate in the Latino community.
Looking ahead to the potential effect of the immigration reform legislation moving through Congress, Garcetti, who speaks fluent Spanish and has advised the Obama administration on its plans, noted that he recently won the City Council’s support to reinstate the city’s office of immigrant affairs, which he said would help city residents learn English and navigate a path to citizenship.
The office of immigrant affairs, Garcetti said, “will put Los Angeles at the front of the line for immigration reform — what are the changes that we have to do in terms of understanding the laws, where do we get English classes, and then also having a framework for making sure that people aren’t preyed on” as they try to earn citizenship.
“This country has to teach English to 11 million people in the next decade, but we want to make sure those are reputable schools, that people aren’t getting their money taken,” Garcetti said.
The two candidates were asked what they would do clean up working-class areas of the city like Boyle Heights, where residents have frequently complained to city officials about the buildup of trash on the streets. Pilar Marrero of LA Opinion said many constituents who submitted questions for the forum noted that police and other city officials were always on immediately on hand to issue parking and traffic violations — particularly on street-sweeping days — but slower to respond when tasked with community policing problems.
The city controller said it was important to change the mentality in some parts of the Police Department that “your job is not to write tickets. Your job is to serve the community.”
“We have to stop the culture, the mentality of ‘We’re just going to do whatever we can for revenue’ and not provide the services,” Greuel said. “It is important that we focus in on the delivery of basic city services.”
Greuel noted that the first district she represented in the San Fernando Valley was 49% Latin, and recalled that the first time she visited a park in her district, she discovered that the soccer fields were dirt and the bathroom stalls had no doors and were covered with graffiti.
City officials told Greuel, she said, that the fixes would cost $365,000 and that there was no money for those projects in the budget at that time.
“I said, ‘Is that what you say to Pacific Palisades, to Sherman Oaks, to these other places? I don’t think so.’ I said they would not accept that there’s no doors on those bathrooms. I want it done. And they found the money,” she recalled to applause. “Many of those people, not registered [to vote], probably here not legally — but it was their park. And that’s the kind of mayor that I’m going to be.”
Garcetti said that as mayor, he would try to engage the Latino community by continuing to do neighborhood walks to solicit residents’ concerns and would work out of different parts of the city like Van Nuys: “So don’t be surprised if I show up at your door as mayor,” he said.
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