An unidentified individual or organization that has not registered with the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission appears to be conducting a negative "push" poll to try to turn voters against mayoral candidate Wendy Greuel, according to two Greuel supporters who said they received the phone calls in recent days.
A source provided The Times with a recording of a caller making pejorative statements about Greuel, the city controller, under the guise of assessing voter sentiment leading in to the May 21 election.
The woman speaking on the recording describes Greuel as being "in the pocket of the Department of Water and Power union" and suggests her audits of the city utility have found no waste because of her close connections to the union.
The caller accuses Greuel of using "taxpayer time to campaign for herself rather than doing the people's work" and also notes that Greuel was once a registered Republican, accusing her of shifting parties only to run for office.
A couple of Greuel supporters said that they received similar phone calls, though they could not recall exactly how the callers identified themselves.
"Negative push polls that purposely smear a candidate's record have no place in Los Angeles city elections. These types of calls degrade our electoral process and they shouldn't be tolerated in our city," said Rabbi Zvi B. Hollander of Congregation Bais Naftali in West Los Angeles.
Andrew Friedman, a city fire commissioner and Greuel backer, said he was so disturbed by one of the calls that he hung up.
Greuel blamed the campaign of her opponent, Councilman Eric Garcetti, for the phone calls, which she called a "smear tactic," and said Garcetti should demand they cease.
"Now we are learning that Garcetti and his supporters are engaging in some of the most sleazy and desperate-style tactics, resorting to 'push' polls' that have been condemned as a way to suppress votes," Greuel said in a statement.
Greuel claimed backers of Garcetti resorted to the tactic because they saw him slipping in the polls.
Garcetti spokesman Jeff Millman said the campaign knew nothing of the calls. "I don't know whose calls they are, but they aren't ours," Millman said.
Garcetti has been pounding Greuel for weeks over her connections with the union that represents workers at the Department of Water and Power. An independent committee backing Greuel has received about $1.5 million from the union, Local 18 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
Greuel has responded that she will remain independent of the union and noted that Garcetti has approved wage and benefit increases for the union workers.
Greuel said her audits of the city utility have pointed out myriad needed changes, many of which were not welcomed by management or workers. She has explained her party shift as not politically calculated but a natural evolution that occurred moving away from her Republican family and into work for two Democratic leaders she served — Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley and President Bill Clinton.
Another phone call by a union backing Garcetti attempts to win the candidate an advantage on an emotional issue -- the proposal to move a runway at Los Angeles International Airport closer to homes in neighboring Westchester.
The robo-call, funded by SEIU United Service Workers West, tells voters that Greuel is backed by the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and the airlines, which the call says are "leading the push" for the runway reconfiguration. It then asks if that information would cause the recipient to be more or less favorable toward Greuel. The automated call then describes Garcetti's opposition to the runway move.
Greuel has actually not taken a position on the runway reconfiguration, saying it needs more study.