Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel shake hands before their debate at Cal State… (Anne Cusack, Los Angeles…)
Wendy Greuel called on Eric Garcetti on Friday night to stop all negative advertising in the last 11 days of the Los Angeles mayor's race, a challenge that her rival dismissed as "disingenuous" for a candidate whose campaign is effectively "bankrupt."
"OK, my campaign consultants are probably not going to like this, but I say no more negative ads," Greuel told Garcetti in a debate aired live on KABC-TV (Channel 7).
Garcetti said he had already endured "eight weeks of pummeling" by Greuel, including an accusation that he was "causing cancer for children" with a lease of oil drilling rights beneath his family's property in Beverly Hills.
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"Ms. Greuel's campaign is now bankrupt," he said, alluding to her latest financial disclosure report. "It has more money owed than it has in the bank, so of course she would like to end any comparisons. But I think it's fair for the people of Los Angeles to know the difference between us."
Garcetti, a city councilman, said Greuel's allies, led by a union for more than 6,000 workers at the city's Department of Water and Power, had spent millions of dollars on her behalf and asked her to get them to pledge a halt to negative advertising.
"I can't communicate because they're independent expenditures, which you know, Mr. Garcetti," she responded, setting off loud groans from Garcetti supporters in the audience at Cal State L.A.
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"Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait," she said to calm the crowd before going on to urge her supporters to cease attack advertising.
The tart exchange came just as TV advertising is reaching its peak in the run-up to the May 21 election. Greuel, the city controller, has too little money left to advertise heavily, but the one spot she is running accuses Garcetti of "collecting money from a felon at a polo match" and approving his development project.
Greuel allies are running positive spots about her, while Garcetti is airing an ad suggesting his opponent would burden taxpayers with costly pay raises for DWP workers to reward the union for spending at least $1.45 million to get her elected.
The debate came a day after the university's Edmund G. "Pat" Brown Institute of Public Affairs released a poll showing the candidates virtually tied among likely voters, with Greuel at 46% and Garcetti at 45%.
The survey was a major boost for Greuel, who was running 10 points behind Garcetti in a poll last month by USC and The Times. In the debate, she put Garcetti on the defensive — starting with the negative ad challenge — in a way she has sometimes been unable to do in their previous encounters.
On city finances, Greuel faulted him for $80 million in Fire Department cuts. "It's a Fire Department that has not been able to respond to 911 calls," she said.
Garcetti responded, "The fact of the matter is that Ms. Greuel voted to cut $46 million from our Fire Department in 2009."
He went on to blame Greuel for the city's failure to realize that $86 million was parked in a special fund at the Department of Transportation and left unused.
"There was $42 million sitting under our nose that the city controller did not find in an audit and an additional $43 million in transportation monies which could have been going to paving our streets," he said.
"He's incorrect," Greuel protested.
"I'm still surprised that Mr. Garcetti does not know what the city controller does in audits," she said.
She took credit for the Transportation Department's eventual discovery of the money. "The general manager — smart guy — looked at my recommendations and actually implemented them, something you haven't been able to do."
When Garcetti returned to the topic later, Greuel partisans booed.
"I'm going to send him also, I think, all of the other audits I've done where they haven't taken action," Greuel said, reprising her frequent charge that the City Council has failed to act on her findings of waste and fraud.
In the final moments of the debate, Garcetti and Greuel used their closing statements to call for civility while continuing to slash at each other.
Greuel suggest that he was not as committed to doing the hard work that the city's next mayor will have to do. She cited an article published Friday that quoted Garcetti's father saying he could one day see his son becoming a U.S. senator or ambassador.
"Living on a national stage or photo ops with world leaders is exciting, no doubt," she said. But "it doesn't get the streets paved."
"I'm ready for this job, I'm up for this job," Greuel said. "I'm the most qualified to deliver results."
Garcetti, in his closing statement, held up a mailer Greuel put out during the primary that attacked Councilwoman Jan Perry.
"She was the one who put this out against a single woman who devoted her life to public service, Ms. Perry, going after the fact that her husband's business has gone bankrupt," he said. "This is the measure of what this campaign is about."