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Greuel cites high-profile role as an executive at DreamWorks SKG

L.A.’S RACE FOR MAYOR

The candidate's position at DreamWorks was about more than making movies — she was a go-between for the studio to the political, governmental and civic worlds.

May 16, 2013|By Maeve Reston and Seema Mehta, Los Angeles Times
  • In this photo from 2002, Wendy Greuel and her future husband, Dean Schramm, react in her office at DreamWorks SKG after learning that she had won the runoff election for the 2nd District seat on the L.A. City Council. As a candidate for mayor, Greuel ofen refers to her time as a high-ranking executive at the studio.
In this photo from 2002, Wendy Greuel and her future husband, Dean Schramm,… (George Wilhelm / Los Angeles…)

Wendy Greuel's resume is dotted with the political accomplishments of a politician on the rise. But there was an unconventional detour: her stint as an executive at DreamWorks SKG, working alongside Hollywood titans Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen.

Greuel cites the job as evidence that she understands the city's most prominent industry. Her position at DreamWorks, however, was about more than making movies — she was a go-between for the studio to the political, governmental and civic worlds.

She organized political fundraisers for the three founders at a time when White House ties to Hollywood were at their peak. During the making of "The Prince of Egypt," a tale based on the Book of Exodus, she was part of a team that reached out to religious and minority leaders to seek feedback on the animated production.

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Her role expanded to high-profile matters — including trying to sway elected officials to support development projects like a proposed (and ultimately scratched) studio in the Playa Vista area on the Westside, and helping clear the way for construction of a Glendale animation campus. She juggled tasks such as arranging a screening of Spielberg's "Amistad" for President Clinton and U.S. Supreme Court justices at the Warner Theatre in Washington, D.C. And she worked to get Geffen a controversial seawall to protect his Malibu oceanfront properties.

The job, at the first new film studio to open in 60 years, had no formal title. But it opened up doors in politics and philanthropy, giving her a fresh set of skills and an enviable Rolodex that would later help her raise the millions needed to fund her bid for Los Angeles mayor.

Both Greuel, the city controller, and her opponent in Tuesday's election, Councilman Eric Garcetti, stress their ties to the city's signature industry, and their commitment to retaining entertainment jobs. Garcetti, who has played a fictional mayor on TV and made cameo appearances on programs such as "All My Children," represents Hollywood and boasts of being a Screen Actors Guild member.

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But if she wins Tuesday, Greuel would be the only former studio executive to serve as Los Angeles' mayor.

She highlights her DreamWorks chapter on the campaign trail, pointing to the jobs she helped create as the studio rapidly expanded into games, music, films, TV and animation.

Interviews and public records give a fuller picture of that formative period and her assorted roles in the creative culture the studio founders nurtured. Greuel's duties spanned a heady mix of political and personal assignments.

"What I loved about that job was you had some incredible dreamers — visionaries about what they wanted to see" in a company that would be a force in Hollywood and an active, "socially responsible" player in Los Angeles neighborhoods, Greuel said.

"She was always drawn to public service," said Alan Arkatov, an education advocate who recommended Greuel for the studio job. But DreamWorks added "the combined thrill-weight of these three partners who wanted to change society in a good way."

"Corporate and media were all interwoven. That, to her, was exciting," he said. "Power and glitter could meet, and there were tangible outcomes for her."

Garcetti has claimed Greuel should have registered as a lobbyist on the controversial Playa Vista studio project, citing her testimony at a City Hall hearing and documents showing she was involved in it. But a former councilwoman who represented the area and oversaw the review of the proposal said she could not recall discussing it with Greuel.

At that time, anyone who received $4,000 or more per quarter to engage in "lobbying activities" was required to register as a lobbyist with the city's ethics commission. But it's not clear how much of her salary could be linked to those efforts. Spokeswoman Shannon Murphy said Greuel was the person who hired lobbyists for DreamWorks, not a lobbyist herself.

Another key part of Greuel's job was to keep the DreamWorks chieftains happy.

"I used to tease that Jeffrey Katzenberg is an action-oriented guy. When he called for something," Greuel said, snapping her fingers, "he expected you to already know what it was he was going to call about, and [expected] you had already taken care of it. "

On occasion, that involved non-studio issues, such as a seawall at Geffen's Malibu home on Carbon Beach, which became an issue before the California Coastal Commission.

Geffen's representatives argued that the seawall was necessary to prevent winter storms from eroding sand beneath the pilings supporting the home. The commission's engineers opposed the seawall as unnecessary and noted the potential for it to alter ocean patterns and strip away sand on some of the region's most pristine beaches — curbing public access. Environmentalists argued that a billionaire's interest shouldn't override the public good.

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