In the first debate between the two remaining candidates running to be the next mayor of Los Angeles, City Controller Wendy Greuel and City Councilman Eric Garcetti attempted to convince voters that there were 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 Thursday night addressing questions about the city’s quality of life. The three-person panel on the stage at American Jewish University 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 them via Facebook.
Greuel and Garcetti both said they were in favor of bringing football back to L.A. 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 had voted to award to municipal workers in 2007, when both Greuel and Garcetti were on the city council. Were Greuel to 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 on April 11, which was co-sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League and AJC Los Angeles (American Jewish Committee), Greuel said she was “independent enough to be your next mayor,” even as Garcetti twice labeled her the “chosen candidate of the downtown power brokers.”
With the election set to take place on May 21, there weren’t too many fireworks between the two candidates on Thursday evening, but Greuel and Garcetti did throw some barbed attacks at one another.
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.
For her part, Greuel questioned Garcetti on whether he had acted quickly enough in making known his opinion on two skyscrapers planned for Hollywood. Garcetti opposed the plan, which was approved by the city’s planning commission late last month, but Greuel, who said she opposed the plan, felt 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, who was one of the three questioners on Thursday night, 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 have helped to prepare her to be the best mayor.
Garcetti, at other points during the debate, noted that he had the support of the three leading candidates for mayor who were knocked out during the first round of voting in March. He also said that the campaign shouldn’t be about “big names from faraway places telling us how to vote,” which was a thinly veiled criticism of Greuel who has won endorsements from President Bill Clinton and Magic Johnson, among others.
While most of the focus during Thursday evening’s debate was on the candidates who want the city’s top job, the lame duck mayor Antonio Villaraigosa fired off an attack at the two candidates 24 hours earlier during his final State of the City speech, critiquing Garcetti and Greuel for not paying more attention to education during the campaign.
Taking the mayor’s criticism to heart, Adrienne Alpert of ABC7’s Eyewitness News kicked off the debate with a question about education, 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 candidates said 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 was also in favor of the parent trigger.
Where Garcetti will stand on the polarizing issues related to education reform remains to be seen. As of late Thursday evening, both Garcetti and Greuel had signed an online petition in support of the LAUSD's reform-minded superintendent, John Deasy. Earlier in the day, UTLA members "issued an overwhelming vote of no-confidence" in Deasy, according to The Daily News.