On Jan. 3, in the first mayoral debate of 2013, Congregation Beth Jacob hosted five candidates seeking to become the next mayor of Los Angeles.
Speaking to a crowd of about 350, the candidates answered questions about how they would manage the city’s public safety services, improve its public education system and unclog traffic — even as the city faces a $222 million budget deficit in the coming year.
The three candidates who currently hold elected offices — Los Angeles City Councilman Eric Garcetti, Controller Wendy Greuel and Councilwoman Jan Perry —have pledged to take a tough stance when negotiating with the city’s public employee unions, whose salaries and pensions are among the biggest drivers of the city’s budget deficit. In 2007, Garcetti, Greuel and Perry all voted to give city workers raises.
At Beth Jacob, Garcetti told the audience he would negotiate “respectfully but tenaciously” with public-sector union leaders over the terms of their contracts.
Greuel, who served on the City Council before being elected controller, emphasized economic development as a way of closing the deficit, but also said some pension reform would be required, promising to crack down on the practice of “double-dipping,” when workers collect pensions while remaining on the city payroll.
Perry, who has said that she regrets her 2007 vote, spoke about refocusing the city’s attention on providing core services — like public safety — and suggested Los Angeles might benefit from outsourcing management of its convention center and zoo, or privatizing those facilities completely.
Neither of the two other candidates on the stage, Kevin James and Emanuel Pleitez, has held elected office, and both pointed to past actions taken by the city as evidence that their better-known opponents will be unfit to lead the city.
Pleitez, 30, a self-described “progressive” candidate whose campaign reached the fundraising threshold to receive matching funds from the city two days before the debate, proposed raising the retirement age for public-sector workers. Pleitez also advocated converting city worker pensions to 401(k)-style plans and generally adjusting the benefits so that workers pay more and the city pays less.
James, a gay Republican lawyer and former radio talk-show personality whose campaign has been getting more attention in recent weeks, has also promoted converting city worker pensions to 401(k) plans in the past. At Beth Jacob, he pledged to use the threat of bankruptcy as a bargaining tool with city workers and accused his opponents of “municipal malpractice.”
CivicCare, a grass-roots group dedicated to engaging and educating Jewish voters in Los Angeles on matters of importance to local governance, organized the event. Jewish Journal President David Suissa moderated.