The job of mayor requires a governing philosophy in order to guide the city and its policies. But it also requires administrative competence, the ability to manage effectively. It is the mayor's job to smartly choose the managers and commissioners who run city departments and then delegate large parts of the mayoral agenda to them.
That's an important and often overlooked quality in a candidate, and in this race, it helps to illustrate some differences between the leading contenders. While the leading candidates sometimes resemble one another in terms of ideology and background, they present significantly different profiles in terms of whom they would choose to run the government.
In the case of the two leading candidates, City Controller Wendy Greuel and Councilman Eric Garcetti, their past staffing choices give some indication of how they might act as mayor. Both have well-regarded, stable, diverse staffs headed by chiefs whose backgrounds say something about their bosses' priorities: Greuel's top deputy is an experienced government insider, while Garcetti's is a former community organizer.
Greuel's chief deputy controller is Claire Bartels, a veteran of City Hall who has worked for Greuel since 2002, moving with her boss from the City Council. Bartels is smart, personable and respected for her deep knowledge of the city bureaucracy.
Greuel prides herself in her "ability to hire and fire," she told me recently as we shuttled from a news conference announcing her latest audit to a senior center in the Valley. What does she look for? "I call it the 'get-it' factor" — aides who display an intuitive sense of mission and drive. She regularly confers with Bartels about the most effective way to use her staff.
Bartels' counterpart in Garcetti's camp is Ana Guerrero, the daughter of migrant farmworkers and a seasoned community organizer. She met Garcetti in 2000 when the two were involved in a project to create the Progressive Los Angeles Network. When Garcetti was elected to the council, Guerrero first joined him as the office's community organizer, and he later promoted her to chief of staff.
In that position, she monitors the office's legislative work and constituent services. She also helps spearhead its Neighborhood Leadership Institute, a training program that educates residents on organizing and navigating government. The initiative, which Garcetti describes as his proudest achievement, has so far graduated about 1,000 people.
"We're a very activist office," Garcetti said last week. "We see a problem and try to solve it" rather than waiting for complaints to arise. As for Guerrero, he said: "She's my comadre."
Councilwoman Jan Perry has many devoted admirers, but even they describe her as stubborn. One might think that would make her a difficult boss — it certainly makes her a formidable opponent — but she has assembled a devoted, eclectic staff. A couple of her top aides have spent time in prison, and Perry is proud of her willingness to overlook a person's setbacks in her search for a quality staff.
"Who am I to judge people?" she asked me recently. "We're here to help people."
That's noble but risky, and Perry did make a fateful early error in her council years. Her first chief of staff, Daryl Sweeney, was arrested in a corruption case related to his position as the mayor of Carson. He resigned from her office and later pleaded guilty to the charges.
These days, Perry employs a chief of staff who is a former critical-care nurse, Kathy Godfrey. Shrewd and yet easygoing, Godfrey is admired for her deep commitment to issues involving the poor, particularly the homeless. She and Perry are friends, and they describe their management styles as similar. Both say they press the staff to be results-oriented but allow aides to pursue their own methods for achieving goals.
For their campaigns, Garcetti and Greuel both rely on long-established political consultants. Garcetti's is Bill Carrick, a laconic veteran who is one of California's premier political operatives and has worked with the likes of Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Republican Mayor Richard Riordan; Greuel's is John Shallman, an aggressive fighter who has several candidates in the current campaign, including former Assemblyman Mike Feuer in his bid for city attorney. Perry, by contrast, has a less well-known advisor in her political camp — Eric Hacopian, a sharp-tongued operative especially respected for his use of mail.
The management style of Kevin James, a former assistant U.S. attorney and talk show host, is the hardest to assess because he has by far the least developed record as a boss. He co-chaired AIDS Project Los Angeles, a volunteer position, and in that post helped hire the agency's executive director.
For the campaign, James worked for months with one consultant, then dumped him in favor of his current team. He also has plowed through money — he's raised $332,000 but already spent $489,000 — interesting for a candidate who champions the city's need to restrain spending. James is clearly a less-experienced manager, but this is, after all, part of his pitch: that he's the person to break a calcified culture.
In picking a mayor, voters are also picking a team. Each of these candidates offers his own version of what that should be.
Coming Thursday: The mayor's race — money