"If the situation isn't repaired, clearly we will be deemed insolvent," she said, not mentioning that she, Garcetti and Greuel, a former council member, approved spending growth that worsened the city's budget shortfalls.
Richard Leyden, a Northridge insurance broker, told Perry she was "a breath of fresh air" and asked how she managed to get elected in her urban district. "You seem to be opportunity thinking rather than entitlement thinking," he told her.
The appearance, and Leyden's reaction, underscored the dissimilar political terrain Perry is trying to bridge. She looks back on the civil rights movement as a major influence on her politics. Her mother and father both served as the elected mayor of her hometown, Woodmere, Ohio.
"One of the few times in my life when I ever saw my father cry was when Martin Luther King was assassinated," she said, recalling her fear as a young girl when her parents boarded a bus to join King's 1963 March on Washington.
Her father, Samuel S. Perry, was a law partner of Carl B. Stokes, Cleveland's first black mayor, and his brother, Louis Stokes, a longtime congressman. Her mother, Bettie Perry, was a social worker who, for a time, played organ at an ice skating rink.
Racial discrimination was central to Perry's upbringing and the era. Some whites in Cleveland's suburbs were resisting black integration in their neighborhoods. She remembers screaming at the sight of a cross burning on the lawn of her family's ranch house in Woodmere. Her mother still keeps remnants of the cross in her garage, she says.
At school, racial epithets were a daily source of pain. On a road trip across upstate New York in the mid-1960s, Perry recalled, her mother, trying to avoid trouble, insisted she use a pot in the car to go to the bathroom. A few years later, when her father was mayor, Perry was riding in his robin's egg blue Thunderbird when police stopped him and made him put his hands on the hood. When she got upset, he yelled at her to stay in the car.
"These things affected me very much," Perry said. She described herself as "a natural fighter, especially if I feel people are being disrespected, or disenfranchised, or disregarded, or marginalized."
In her nearly 12 years on the council, Perry has championed new housing and social services for the homeless and mentally ill on skid row, another part of downtown removed from her district.
On occasion, Perry has also stood up to unions, as she did in 2008 when labor allies tried to force the Fresh & Easy market chain to guarantee 30 living-wage jobs in return for city approval of a housing and retail project in a Historic South-Central area that needed a grocery store.
"This puts the project in serious jeopardy," Perry wrote in a letter to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
Perry has also backed tying tax breaks for big downtown projects to developer funding for low-income housing in South L.A., such as the Dunbar Hotel restoration in the Central Avenue jazz district. "But for Jan Perry, none of this would be happening," Dunbar developer Andrew Gross said last week as he toured the building with Perry.
Perry laments the loss of the lion's share of downtown — she kept only Staples Center and L.A. Live — from her district, saying that she became adept at "leveraging" the city center's economic renaissance to help rebuild poor neighborhoods south of the 10 Freeway.
She grows uncharacteristically circumspect in discussing details of her spat with Wesson, apart from complaining that the former state Assembly speaker has infected City Hall with the "transactional" customs of Sacramento. Wesson declined to comment.
As the new council district borders were coming up for final approval last year, Perry in a public council session apologized to Wesson for not supporting him.
"Perhaps I shouldn't have been so direct," she said. "But if I had known then what I know now, I would have kept my mouth shut so that my district would not be sacrificed."
But as mayor, Perry said in the recent interview, she would be direct and independent, come what may.
"You only pass this way once," she said. "Why wouldn't you say what you think?"