Mayoral candidates Greuel, Garcetti go head to head

In the first debate between the two remaining Los Angeles mayoral candidates, City Controller Wendy Greuel and City Councilman Eric Garcetti attempted to convince voters there are significant differences between them, even as the two veteran politicians took identical positions on one issue after another.

The candidates spent a good deal of time on the evening of April 11 addressing questions about the city’s quality of life. A three-person panel on the stage at American Jewish University (AJU) asked about neighborhood development and traffic, and the moderator, KABC anchor Marc Brown, relayed questions about the city’s sidewalks and its spay-and-neuter law from people who submitted via Facebook.

Greuel and Garcetti both said they favor bringing football back to Los Angeles. Each also promised to end chronic homelessness in the city and pledged to ask for givebacks from the unions if elected mayor.

That last pledge would place the new mayor in the awkward position of trying to take back some of the raises that he or she voted to award to municipal workers in 2007, when both Greuel and Garcetti were members of City Council. Should Greuel win and make good on her promise, she would also be negotiating against some of the very same unions that spent millions promoting her candidacy during the primary.

But at the debate at AJU, co-sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League and AJC Los Angeles (American Jewish Committee), Greuel said she is “independent enough to be your next mayor,” even as Garcetti labeled her the “chosen candidate of the downtown power brokers.”

With the election set for May 21, there weren’t too many fireworks at this event, but Greuel and Garcetti did throw some barbed attacks.

Garcetti questioned the math underlying Greuel’s claim to have identified $160 million in wasteful spending as controller; he also assailed Greuel’s proposal to increase the number of police officers by 2,000 over the coming eight years. Greuel stood by the $160 million number and called her suggestion to increase the city’s police force a “goal,” not a plan.

“I believe that if you don’t look forward to a goal, you’ll never get there,” Greuel said.

Greuel questioned Garcetti on whether he acted quickly enough in making known his opinion on two skyscrapers planned for Hollywood, the district he represents. Garcetti has opposed the plan, which was approved by the city’s planning commission late last month, but Greuel, who also said she opposed the plan, said her opponent had waited too long.

“Let’s resolve it before it comes to the planning commission,” Greuel said.

Garcetti defended his course of action, saying that he had always thought the project was too large but wanted to give the developers the opportunity to see if they could rally public support behind it.

When Jewish Journal Editor-in-Chief and Publisher Rob Eshman, one of three questioners at the event, asked each candidate for the “vote-defining difference” that could help Angelenos decide between these two polished, Democratic City Hall insiders, Greuel pointed to their “different experiences,” arguing that her work in the public and private sector has helped to prepare her to be the best mayor.

Garcetti noted he has endorsement from all three leading candidates for mayor knocked out during the March primary. 

Just a day earlier, lame-duck Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had fired off an attack at the two candidates during his final State of the City speech, critiquing both candidates for not speaking out enough on schools.

Taking the mayor’s criticism to heart, Adrienne Alpert of ABC7’s Eyewitness News kicked off the debate by asking the candidates if they would support Villaraigosa’s 22 “partnership schools,” which are under the supervision of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) but receive additional support from private funds. Both replied that they would maintain the mayor’s support and focus on those low-performing schools.

And even if it was Greuel who came out with a stronger-sounding defense of “choice” on Thursday night, loudly proclaiming her support for the “parent trigger” law, which allows parents to vote out a school’s administration and bring in a new operator, Garcetti, who has been endorsed by the city’s teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), said he is also in favor of the parent trigger.