Wendy Greuel and Eric Garcetti blasted one another with a torrent of allegations Wednesday night in the most acrimonious debate of the Los Angeles mayor's race, with each charging the other could not be trusted to oversee the city's Department of Water and Power.
Garcetti, a city councilman, opened the rhetorical brawl at Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks by calling Greuel the "handpicked candidate of the DWP union," citing the more than $2 million in campaign money spent on her behalf by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
"That is pure hypocrisy," Greuel shot back. Greuel, the city controller, said her rival had accepted campaign money from the same union, took a "world-class trip" abroad at DWP expense, supported higher salaries for DWP employees, backed a water and power rate hike and agreed to spend $175,000 on a DWP Rose Bowl parade float.
"I hate to rain on his parade," she told the crowd of several hundred in a school cafeteria. "But let me tell you, I think it's important to have the facts out there, because he has questioned my integrity."
The debate, sponsored by the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Assn., came less than five weeks before the May 21 runoff.
The campaign's final wave of TV advertising started Wednesday with Greuel airing a spot featuring testimonials by supporters with diverse appeal: Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), former Republican Mayor Richard Riordan and basketball superstar Magic Johnson. The ad's positive tone contrasted with the unrestrained rancor of Wednesday night's debate.
Garcetti said his opponent was tossing "the kitchen sink" at him to distract from his record of revitalizing neighborhoods in his district, namely Hollywood, Silver Lake, Echo Park and Atwater Village.
But he bore down on his central charge that Greuel was too beholden to the DWP union to act in the public's best interest on matters involving the municipal utility. Ridiculing Greuel's contention that she has found $160 million in waste, fraud and abuse at City Hall, Garcetti said the controller had "come up with zero dollars in fraud, waste and abuse at the DWP."
"Now do you believe that there's zero dollars in fraud, waste and abuse at the DWP?" he asked the crowd, drawing a rumble of groans.
Greuel said some labor unions had started making six-figure donations into an independent campaign to elect Garcetti.
"Sure," Garcetti responded, "there's friends of mine who are not going to lie down as someone seeks to buy this election. The DWP union needs to know this election is not for sale, and this city is not for sale."
Moving beyond the DWP, Greuel said that she, unlike Garcetti, had not "gotten fined for taking free tickets." She said Garcetti was cited for 13 ethics violations.
"How many of you got free tickets to go to the Academy Awards?" she asked. "How many of you got free tickets to go to different places?" As a few chuckles broke out in the audience, she added: "I don't think so."
Both candidates sought to lay claim to the title of strongest champion of the San Fernando Valley, where they each grew up. Garcetti reminisced about playing Little League during his Encino upbringing, while Greuel recalled growing up in Granada Hills.
"The difference is I never left," said Greuel, who lives in Studio City with her husband and 9-year-old son. "I chose to live here."
Garcetti's family moved to Brentwood when he was a senior in high school. He now lives in Silver Lake.
Garcetti and Greuel in recent days have honed policy proposals and sharpened attacks on each other as the campaign swings into its final month.
Greuel has criticized Garcetti for being absent from numerous City Council meetings as he campaigns for the mayor's post.
Garcetti missed another council meeting Wednesday as he visited a school in Watts and held a news conference.
The councilman defended his absences, saying that he was available if his presence was necessary.
"I'm in close touch with the council president and whenever he needs me, I'm making sure that I'm there to maintain quorum and other things," he said when asked about his absences.
Garcetti also dismissed an attack website by Greuel's campaign that dubbed him the "Prince of Hollywood." The website calls him "a trust fund kid who never had to work a day in his life" who believes the rules don't apply to him, according to the Daily News, which first reported on the site, which now is password-protected.
"Personal attacks I always take as a compliment because it's a sign of a losing campaign," Garcetti said.
Greuel's top strategist, John Shallman, said Garcetti was being "hypocritical" because the councilman has had an attack website up since before the primary.
Times staff writer Seema Mehta contributed to this report.