Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel struck a mostly positive tone in the first debate of their runoff campaign for mayor of Los Angeles on Thursday, with Garcetti citing his work on redevelopment and budget balancing as former president of the City Council and Greuel pointing to a diverse resume that includes work in a family business, at the DreamWorks studio and as city controller.
Both Greuel and Garcetti rejected the pundits and political analysts who have said there is little to differentiate them. Garcetti, the three-term councilman, said voters should look to the revitalization he has brought to Hollywood and Atwater Village and to pension reform he helped enact “while others stood on the sidelines.” Greuel said she had proved she knows how to say “no” and to make entrenched interests unhappy with her more than 70 audits of city departments.
The hour-long debate at American Jewish University in Bel-Air was broadcast live on KABC-TV Channel 7, the first of about a dozen scheduled forums featuring the two candidates before the May 21 election. One of the two will replace Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who leaves office June 30 after serving the maximum two terms.
The two liberal Democrats have both positioned themselves as practical problem-solvers who will fill potholes, improve public transportation and maintain the size of the Los Angeles Police Department, which Villaraigosa struggled mightily to bring to 10,000 officers.
Asked by panelist Rob Eshman, of the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, if they had any bigger “dreams and visions” that would “really rock L.A.,” the two offered proposals they had rolled out earlier. Greuel said she would create technology centers around UCLA, USC and the city’s other universities. Garcetti called for a “Great Streets” program to revitalize 20 major thoroughfares, making them more pedestrian- and user-friendly.
(Garcetti also suggested that Los Angeles might follow the example of the video streaming service Netflix, which offered a $1-million reward to find a better algorithm for picking movies for its customers. Perhaps the city could offer $1 million to a worldwide audience, he said, to find a solution for moving traffic with better sensors or other innovations.)
Some things that had become old after a series of 40 debates before the March 5 primary became new again with the beginning of the runoff debate season. In discussing her skepticism about a bond measure to pave city streets, Greuel offered up a line from one of her friends: “We have a city where our rivers are paved and our streets are not,” the candidate said to laughter from a crowd of about 150.
Both candidates said they would be supportive of bringing professional football back to Los Angeles. “It just can’t be the Raiders, because we have gone down in crime every year since they left,” Garcetti said, receiving a roar of approval.
Greuel renewed her oft-repeated claim that she had found $160 million in waste, fraud and abuse as controller and that some of that savings could be applied to paving streets, hiring police and other services. She noted, for instance, that her audits had identified $1.3 million in savings in the Department of Animal Services and repeated her call to trim office budgets for the mayor and others at City Hall. The latter change alone would save $6 million, enough to pave all of Wilshire Boulevard, Greuel said.
As in the primary, Garcetti repeated skepticism from The Times and other media outlets about Greuel’s $160-million figure.
“So when we’re talking about paving all of our streets, I’m not going to pretend that a little bit here and a little bit there” will do the job, Garcetti said. “I’m going to talk honestly to the people of Los Angeles about what it will take to make sure that we pave our streets. Let’s have some real numbers.”
Neither candidate launched attacks as pointed as they had before the March 5 primary, though Garcetti was the more critical of the two. “I am not the hand-picked candidate of downtown power brokers,” he said near the start of the debate, an apparent reference to Greuel’s support from city employee unions.
Greuel, in turn, criticized Garcetti’s handling of a proposal to build twin high-rises in his district. She said he had dallied in drawing a community plan for the Hollywood area and then gave no idea where he stood on the high-rise plan until months into the debate.
“We need a leader who’s going to stand up and say, ‘Here’s my position on this particular issue. It’s in the district. You’ve been dealing with it.’ Not on the last day saying you have ‘concerns,’” said Greuel. “Not waiting until the last minute, but stepping up to the plate.”
Garcetti, in a short rebuttal, suggested that Greuel’s tenure on the City Council had seen the Valley Village neighborhood in her district go downhill.
In his closing remarks, Garcetti said his success could be seen by looking at his council district, from Echo Park to Silver Lake, and by reviewing his record on demanding increased pension payments of city employees.
“I don’t identify problems, I solve them. I am passionate about being the next mayor,” Garcetti said. “As president of the City Council, I faced difficult decisions on budget cuts, on pension reform and did the hard work of making sure we moved forward. I know second-guessing those tough decisions is easy; standing on the sidelines is safe. But we can’t afford that kind of mayor.”
Greuel closed by saying she is less willing to accept the status quo.
“I believe that optimism has faded, where mediocrity has become the order of the day,” Greuel said. “Are you satisfied with businesses leaving one by one? Are you satisfied with failing schools, and our traffic choking our neighborhoods and quality of life, challenging us every single day? I’m not satisfied. That’s why I am running for mayor of Los Angeles. That’s why I want to lead Los Angeles forward.”