At a debate held on Thursday evening at Congregation Beth Jacob in Beverly Hills, five candidates for Mayor of Los Angeles may have been addressing a Jewish audience in an Orthodox synagogue, but the subjects they covered were anything but sacred.
Questions about economic development, public safety, education and traffic all were covered during the forum on Jan. 3, but the topic that brought to the fore some of the clearest distinctions between the candidates was the fiscal future of Los Angeles.
“Leadership is not telling people about what they want to hear, but what they need to hear,” Los Angeles City Councilman Eric Garcetti said when asked what he would do as mayor to help the city avert bankruptcy.
Los Angeles is facing a $222 million budget deficit, a sum that is only set to grow in subsequent years, and is driven in large part by commitments made by the city to its workers.
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In 2007, Garcetti voted for a deal to give city workers raises, which has helped contribute to the deficit. He told the audience of about 350 people on Thursday that he would negotiate “respectfully but tenaciously” with the leaders of public sector unions over the terms of their contracts.
The other two elected officials on the stage at Beth Jacob, Los Angeles City Controller Wendy Greuel and Councilwoman Jan Perry, also voted for the 2007 pay raise, and each offered different ways of closing the budget deficit facing the city.
Greuel, who served on City Council before being elected Controller, emphasized economic development as a way of closing the deficit, but also said that 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 the management of its convention center and the zoo, or privatizing those facilities completely.
Neither of the two other candidates who took part in the debate, Kevin James and Emanuel Pleitez, has held elected office, and both pointed to the past actions taken by the city as evidence that their better-known opponents were unfit to lead the city.
Pleitez, a self-described “progressive” candidate who just turned 30 years old last month and 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 401k-style plans and generally adjusting the benefits so that workers pay more and the city pays less.
James, a gay Republican radio talk show host who whose campaign has been getting more attention lately, didn’t offer specific measures to reduce the deficit, but he did pledge to use the threat of bankruptcy as a bargaining tool with city workers. He called the actions taken by his opponents “municipal malpractice.”
The debate, which was moderated by Jewish Journal President David Suissa, was organized by CivicCare, a grassroots group dedicated to engaging and educating Jewish voters in Los Angeles on matters of importance to local governance.
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