In their first, and probably only, broadcast debate of the runoff campaign for Los Angeles city attorney, Councilman Mike Feuer and Deputy Mayor Rocky Delgadillo on Thursday sparred over delayed police reforms and the Rampart Division police corruption scandal.
During their debate on KCRW radio's "Which Way, L.A.?" public affairs program, Delgadillo said Feuer, as a member of the council's Public Safety Committee, had failed to implement recommended police reforms, lost out on a federal grant for a system of monitoring problem officers and failed to heed an early warning about rogue officers.
"My opponent was warned in 1996 about the 'Rampart Reapers,' and he did nothing about it," Delgadillo said, in response to a question about a television ad his campaign began airing late last week.
Face-to-Face Clash Over a Commercial
Feuer, calling the commercial "really scurrilous," said the incident consisted of a passing remark from Councilman Mike Hernandez, who, during a closed-door council session on another matter, had asked then-Police Chief Willie L. Williams whether he had heard anything about a group of rogue officers in the division, which is in Hernandez's district near downtown.
"The police chief responded that he had no knowledge [of anything like that], and we went on. . . . That is not a warning," Feuer said.
But Delgadillo, who grew up on Los Angeles' heavily Latino Eastside, said that inquiry, brief though it was, should have been checked out.
"I come from a community where relations between the LAPD and [residents] are not always comfortable. . . . I would have said, 'Let's take a look,' " Delgadillo said.
"For what it's worth, no one in the room that day thought this was worthy of further discussion," Feuer retorted.
Earlier in the debate, Feuer said Delgadillo, who has spent eight years at City Hall as Mayor Richard Riordan's deputy for economic development, has "absolutely no credibility on police reform at all because he has not achieved one thing" in that area. Delgadillo noted that he had the endorsement of former U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher, who headed the commission that a decade ago produced comprehensive recommendations for police reforms, which the city has been slow to implement.
Other testy exchanges during the half-hour debate, moderated by program host Warren Olney, involved questions about the billboard industry's generous financial support of Delgadillo and the two candidates' widely differing views of the role of the city attorney's office.
Feuer said the outdoor-advertising industry, which on its own has put up some $424,000 in billboards supporting Delgadillo and contributed money directly to his campaign, "is a big issue in this race" because of Feuer's efforts to crack down on billboard blight and on tobacco and alcohol signs where children are likely to see them. Feuer also said his longtime refusal to take contributions from City Hall lobbyists and political action committees put him in a far better position than Delgadillo to make "independent" decisions as city attorney.
Still Swinging as Final Bell Sounds
Delgadillo has raised considerably more money for the race than Feuer. He noted that Feuer's campaign told The Times shortly after the April election (in which Delgadillo forced the front-running Feuer into Tuesday's runoff) that the councilman was reconsidering his self-imposed ban on such contributions. In addition, Delgadillo noted, Feuer "does take from the developers who hire the lobbyists." Delgadillo said his personal integrity and "strength of character" would enable him to act objectively as city attorney and not be influenced by contributors.
The punch/counterpunch tone extended even to the end of the debate, when Feuer used his closing statement to attack a slate mailer falsely describing Delgadillo as a prosecutor and deputy district attorney. The designation was an error made by the commercial political mail firm C.O.P.S. Voter Guide, and his campaign was trying to get the firm to correct the mailing, Delgadillo said.
But there was at least one moment of warmth and civility. Delgadillo proudly announced near the beginning of the program that, early that morning, he and his wife had become parents of Christian Rockard, their first child. Feuer, the father of Aaron and Danielle, offered his congratulations.