Sheila Kuehl and Bobby Shriver came out swinging and sought to draw policy contrasts Tuesday night in the first major debate of the November runoff campaign to fill a Westside-San Fernando Valley seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
The candidates, appearing at UCLA, sparred on a number of hot-button issues including how best to spur the economy and manage the county's 100,000-employee workforce, as well as whether it makes sense to consider any adjustment to a controversial Westside subway route under Beverly Hills High School.
Kuehl and Shriver, seeking to replace longtime Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, disagreed on using tax credits to attract and keep businesses. Kuehl said the state of Nevada was a "fool" for granting electric-car maker Tesla significant tax subsidies to build a battery factory there.
Shriver argued the deal would spur the state's economy over the long term.
Both did agree on one key economic policy matter likely to come before a new Board of Supervisors early next year. Each said they supported a gradual increase in the minimum wage and praised a plan being promoted by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti to raise base pay for workers in that city to $13.25 an hour by 2017.
"Maybe we can do this all at once," said Kuehl, a former state legislator who has received backing from labor, environmental and women's groups, as well as the Democratic Party.
She suggested the minimum wage could be boosted by Los Angeles city and county, as well as by surrounding municipalities in a coordinated process that would promote economic growth.
"When working people are making more money, they are spending more money," she said.
Shriver said a base wage increase should be phased in "sooner rather than later." Both said it is a myth that jobs are lost when workers' minimum pay is increased.
Shriver, a former Santa Monica City Council member who has been backed by several business groups, trade unions and Westside activists, said his position on the minimum wage demonstrates that he has the "political courage" to serve effectively on the county board.
By contrast, he suggested Kuehl had pandered to opponents of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's chosen subway route under Beverly Hills High by publicly stating that their concerns should be heard.
Kuehl repeated again Tuesday that the route could possibly be moved slightly, while remaining on a path under the school, if it would end pending litigation filed by opponents of the selected route.
Shriver pounced on the statement: "The minute you say to people in Washington, 'Well we will think about some slight deviation,' the financing does in fact get held," he said, calling her position "a terrible mistake."
"Sometimes in politics and life you've got to be able to say no to people."
Kuehl landed her own blows. After Shriver repeatedly invoked Yaroslavsky's name, she clarified for the audience that the retiring veteran had not endorsed either candidate in the race.
"It's important to note he hasn't endorsed Bobby or me," Kuehl said, drawing laughter. "We both think he's quite wonderful and I'm sure the people of his district think so too."
The debate was moderated by Conan Nolan of KNBC-TV Channel 4 and topics were limited to transit and economic issues. More than 200 people attended the event in the Little Theater at Macgowan Hall.
Yaroslavsky and Supervisor Gloria Molina are being forced from office in December by term limits after more than two decades on the board.
Former U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis was elected to Molina's eastern county seat in June. Analysts say that whoever wins Yaroslavsky's seat could serve as a swing vote on labor, budget and other issues. The five-member county board oversees a $26.5-billion budget and the largest workforce in the region.
Kuehl finished first in the primary out of field of eight candidates, snagging 36% of the vote to Shriver's 29%. He is being aided by an independently run campaign, financed heavily by real estate and business interests.