"The voters have made a decision and there are two candidates that remain," James said in an interview Monday evening. "I had to look at both of those candidates and decide which one is best to lead the city forward for the next four years. I think the opportunity for independence is greater with Eric.… The potential for independence he shows in the future I think is significant because of the way labor has lined up for his opponent in this race."
James, a former conservative talk radio host, was initially not considered a serious candidate in the race. But strong debate performances, shrewd use of media attention and the backing of an independent committee funded by Texas billionaires pushed his bid into relevancy. In his first attempt to win public office, he ended the March 5 primary just ahead of better-known City Councilwoman Jan Perry and received more than 60,000 votes.
FOR THE RECORD:
Mayoral endorsements: An article in the April 2 LATExtra section about mayoral candidate Eric Garcetti getting the support of former contender Kevin James said that onetime candidate Emanuel Pleitez endorsed Garcetti earlier this month. Pleitez endorsed Garcetti in March. —
James harshly criticized Garcetti and Greuel during the campaign, arguing that their many years of helping set policy at City Hall were responsible for the city's financial problems. But he was consistently piqued by the millions of dollars spent to boost Greuel's candidacy by city employee unions, notably the organization representing many workers at the city's Department of Water and Power, and that played a major role in his decision.
James said that although Garcetti also has labor backing, he has demonstrated the ability to disagree with public employee unions. He noted that Garcetti has faced criticism from labor because he supported an effort to roll back retirement benefits for new hires.
"That willingness to stand toe to toe with the very powerful interests in the city — that's something that's attractive to me," James said.
James said that although he doesn't agree with Garcetti on all the issues, Greuel has made moves since the primary that troubled him, such as announcing an endorsement by an SEIU chapter the morning after the election, as well as statements that the city failed to engage in collective bargaining in the decision to roll back retirement benefits for new hires.
He also said he was impressed by the economic revitalization that has occurred in Garcetti's district.
"If I had been able to pick those numbers apart, I would have done so," James said. "We fact-checked them on our own."
Greuel has received the bulk of the blue-chip endorsements since coming in second in the primary, including from former President Clinton, basketball legend Magic Johnson and the county Federation of Labor. But James' decision to back Garcetti puts the councilman in the enviable position of having the unanimous backing of all other major candidates who ran for mayor. James said he anticipated that Garcetti would have the three of them campaign together.
Perry announced last week that she was supporting Garcetti, and Emanuel Pleitez announced his endorsement earlier this month. Their decisions were not surprising, given the tenor of the primary, but James had been closely watched — and heavily courted by both Garcetti and Greuel.
The three losing candidates had a total of 36.3% of the primary vote, and if their supporters unanimously back Garcetti, that would easily place him within grasp of victory in the May 21 runoff. But there is no guarantee that these voters will follow the lead of their original candidates, particularly in James' case. Many of his supporters are Republicans in the San Fernando Valley who may be resistant to voting for a liberal Democrat.
Whether James would weigh in on the race has been the subject of a guessing game in Republican circles in recent days, with some saying they would never again support him if he backed either Greuel or Garcetti. Others argued that James had a responsibility to back whoever he thought would do a better job, even if the candidate is far from perfect.
"I'm not someone to sit on the sidelines, I never have been," James said in explaining his endorsement, noting that he had a history of reading his ballot selections during his radio shows.
"Unfortunately I'm not on the ballot. I still care deeply about this city, and I know this campaign, this race pretty well because I lived it for two years and stood in debates with those candidates," he said. "I do believe I have a duty to tell voters who I'm going to vote for. And I'm going to vote for Eric."
James is scheduled to officially endorse Garcetti at 10 a.m. Tuesday in Van Nuys.