The campaign for Los Angeles city controller has shifted into ugly mode today, with candidates Wendy Greuel and Nick Patsaouras trading charges and putting up last-minute ads attacking each other in the run-up to Tuesday's election.
Greuel hit Patsaouras over his stewardship of a bank and late tax payments made by his company, Patsaouras & Associates. Patsaouras, in turn, portrayed Greuel as a phony for attacking government programs, in a television commercial, that she either voted for or dealt with as a city councilwoman.
Meanwhile, the union that represents employees of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has poured nearly $200,000 into the effort to elect Greuel. Critics of the DWP described the spending by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers as payback to Greuel, one of the original proponents of Measure B, a solar energy ballot measure proposal by two of the union's locals.
"Wendy sponsored the deal. She's been bought and sold," said Jack Humphreville, who signed the ballot argument against Measure B, which is on the March 3 ballot.
Greuel dismissed the comments, saying that both supporters and opponents of Measure B have lined up behind her campaign. "The important part of why I supported (Measure B) was that it has controller audits to make sure the money is being spent and the program is being operated efficiently," she said.
Greuel also wrote a $110,000 check to her campaign on Wednesday, according to Ethics Commission reports.
While she fended off attacks from Measure B foes, Greuel began airing a television commercial spotlighting $100,000 in taxes owed by Patsaouras and his consulting business between 1993 and 2002. "Nick Patsaouras for city controller? Try out of control," says a grave, nameless voice in Greuel's spot.
Asked about the tax liens, Patsaouras said that between 1995 and 1997, he had to pay the IRS money that he had originally deducted from a failed property venture in Hollywood. In the other cases, Patsaouras had IRS liens placed on his consulting business each time his payroll taxes were late.
Patsaouras said he paid those taxes late to avoid cash-flow problems in his business. In those cases, he paid the taxes within months of being notified of a lien.
"I could have fired people, but I worked it through and paid the penalties and the interest, and I'm proud of that," he said. "But what would she know, when all she has done is live on the public trough?"
Greuel spokesman John Shallman said Patsaouras was wrongly trying to shift the conversation to his payroll tax woes. "Our ad is about his PERSONAL INCOME TAXES!" Shallman wrote in an e-mail. "Clearly there is a distinction he is trying to skirt."
Patsaouras offered his own 30-second commercial, which mocked Greuel for creating a campaign commercial that attacks a program that she voted for. Both commercials went up on Thursday night, just days after the electrical workers union sent out its own set of glossy mailers in the controller's race. One targets Patsaouras' tenure at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in the 1990s, when he served on a committee that supervised construction of a $300-million headquarters.
Patsaouras has boasted that project came in under budget. Still, the union mailers described the project as too costly and pointed out that it came with expensive materials, such as Italian granite. "Nick's development even included a bust to memorialize him," the mailer states.
The union has been at odds with Patsaouras for three years, since he joined the DWP board as an appointee of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Villaraigosa has endorsed Greuel.
County Supervisor Gloria Molina, who served on the MTA board in the 1990s, criticized the union's mailer, saying Patsaouras helped rein in costs while serving on the agency's oversight committee.
"Another person sat on that committee. His name is Antonio Villaraigosa, whom I think [the electrical workers] are supporting," Molina said. "So I think it's an unfair hit piece."
Molina, who has endorsed Patsaouras, praised him for watching over construction costs at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center. "I love Wendy too. She's a great friend," the supervisor added. "But the reality is that Nick has a proven track record when it comes to providing this kind of accountability."