The Greuel-Garcetti conundrum

Here's why two San Fernando Valley voters have switched allegiances, and why a third is still pondering.

When I met them at their home on election day in March, Don and Prudy Schultz of Van Nuys had a Wendy Greuel sign planted in their frontyard.

But today, it's gone. Don jerked it out of the ground as if it were a weed, and got rid of it.

"Just wanted you to be the first to know," he wrote in an email. "We have switched camps in the mayor's race."

I've been checking in regularly with the Schultzes during the campaign, so I was eager to hear what ended their love affair with Greuel. I've also been checking in with Francine Oschin, an Encino resident, who gave her primary vote to Jan Perry. Who does Oschin like now, with City Controller Greuel and City Councilman Eric Garcetti her only options?

Oschin told me she's undecided, but leaning toward Greuel.

The Schultzes, decades-long community activists, and Oschin, a former City Council aide, are more than mere casual observers. They're tuned in, know the candidates, and know the difference between speaking and saying something.

Let's start with the Schultzes, who ran their own real estate appraisal company before moving on to fixed incomes. Interestingly, their vote switch had nothing to do with the megabucks Greuel's raked in from public employee unions. The Schultzes don't buy the notion that Greuel will be a pushover at contract time, saying that she and Garcetti are both pro-labor, but capable of doing what has to be done.

"The first thing that left a bad taste in my mouth … was when Jan Perry was brutalized by Wendy's campaign people," said Don, who knows and respects Councilwoman Perry, who finished fourth in the primary.

He was referring to a stink bomb of an ad in which Perry's fiscal know-how was questioned because of a long-ago bankruptcy and tax issues involving her ex's law practice. Clearly, the Greuel camp was trying to peel away whatever support Perry might have gotten from fiscal conservatives. But to the Schultzes, it was a shabby play.

The next disappointment for the Schultzes came with Greuel's endorsement of Nury Martinez in their council district. The Schultzes are nice people, so let me be the one to say that if you don't know much about Martinez's work as an LAUSD board member, maybe it's because there isn't much to know.

The Schultzes much prefer candidate Cindy Montanez, a former assemblywoman, who took notes and made a big impression during a three-hour meet-and-greet at the Van Nuys Denny's. The Schultzes love that Denny's, where they conduct much of their civic do-gooding; and anyone willing to hang in for three hours, answering hard questions with thoughtful answers, hits a grand slam with them.

A third beef the Schultzes had with Greuel is that, despite having known and worked with her for years, they couldn't get hold of her to share their thoughts on certain key issues, including the council endorsement.

"She doesn't need Prudy and Don's advice, but she knows how involved we are in our community," said Don, who told me he lost track of the number of unreturned messages in which he suggested to Greuel's staff that she try to bail out a threatened aviation mechanics school at the Van Nuys Airport.

It was Garcetti who saved that program, and the Schultzes cheered his call in opposing an LAX plan to move its north runway and eat up more of the neighborhood around it. But here's the deal sealer: When they attended a Garcetti appearance at Van Nuys City Hall, "he remembered Prudy by name."

That was all it took to grab two votes away from Greuel and give them to Garcetti.

Francine Oschin's vote, however, is still being held in reserve as she holds out hope for a concrete budget plan. From anyone.

"It's not just about the unions, but which candidate is really going to … get us out of this debt situation," said Oschin, who worked for Councilman Hal Bernson and ran unsuccessfully for City Council and state Assembly.

In her home office, where Oschin works as a government relations consultant and deals primarily with transportation and environment matters, she has photographs in which she is pictured with each of the last four mayors. She'd like the next one to break the "virtual stranglehold" labor and big business have on City Hall, though she's aware that both Greuel and Garcetti are part of that very establishment.

So how's she going to make up her mind? Oschin is angling to meet up with each candidate, so she can look through to their souls when she asks her questions.

When trash collection fees were tripled, what happened to the money that was supposed to pay for 1,000 new cops?

Why does the traffic-choked Valley have to wait decades for a rail line between Sylmar and Ventura Boulevard?

What does the next mayor hope to accomplish with four appointments to the MTA board?

With 40 million annual visitors to Los Angeles, why not add $2 in tourism taxes on each one and fill $80 million of the budget hole without hammering local taxpayers again?

Oschin said Garcetti's a smart guy but she worries that he's too nice. A mayor's got to be able to say no. She said Greuel's got amazing stamina and sparkles in public settings, but some of her campaign moves have been ding-dong (that's my word) — like when she promised to hire 2,000 more cops even though no one has figured out how to pay the current ones without going in the hole.

So why is she leaning toward Greuel?

Because she'd be naturally more inclined to champion Valley interests, said Oschin.

"But I honestly have not made up my mind yet. I've not yet had the epiphany I'm hoping for, like the Schultzes."

steve.lopez@latimes.com

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