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Jan Perry attack mailers seek to siphon votes from Wendy Greuel

L.A. mayoral candidate Jan Perry meets voters at a home in Encino on Super Bowl Sunday. The L.A. city councilwoman is trying to weaken support for rival Wendy Greuel.
(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)

Jan Perry occasionally lets loose a subtle swipe at her rivals in the Los Angeles mayor’s race. But for the most part she has been a polite voice in the campaign’s many debates, presenting herself as a truth-teller willing to forthrightly confront the city’s challenges.

But away from the public forums, the councilwoman who represents South Los Angeles and part of downtown has unleashed a blistering attack on City Controller Wendy Greuel in an effort to draw fiscally conservative voters into her column. Her latest mailer goes after Greuel’s ties to the city utility workers’ union and features the smiling controller holding a sign that reads, “I sold you out.”

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At least three of Perry’s mailers include disingenuous criticisms of Greuel, a tactic that appears at odds with the plainspoken and upright image she has sought to nurture. Among other things, Perry has criticized Greuel for supporting utility rate hikes and a city contract that Perry also voted to approve.

FULL COVERAGE: L.A.'s race for mayor

Perry defends the attacks as effective campaigning.

“You target your mail and target your message,” she said. “Everybody does that. A smart person does.”

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The mailers are part of a larger gamble Perry is making that she can weaken Greuel and siphon off votes in the relatively conservative San Fernando Valley, the controller’s home base of support. Perry, who presents herself as pro-business and willing to stand up to public employee unions, recently opened a field office in North Hollywood and has been courting area activists.

Former City Councilman Greig Smith, a Valley Republican who has endorsed Perry, said that if Perry hopes to make it into a May runoff election, “her best shot is taking out Wendy.” And the mailers could help, he said. “Wendy has some liabilities that are going to come up — all her union endorsements aren’t going to help her in the Valley.”

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Valley voters are getting “a tremendous amount of targeted mail from the Perry campaign,” said Tom Hogen-Esch, a political science professor at Cal State Northridge who has studied city politics for nearly two decades. “This is a battle between two candidates who are positioning themselves for the conservative vote,” he said.

Perry may win over some Greuel supporters, but probably too few to stop her chief rival, he said.

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“Wendy Greuel has a long history in the Valley, and I think people know her record. Jan Perry, to a large extent, is unknown outside of her district,” he said. And the negative tone of Perry’s mailers could work against her, Hogen-Esch said. “I just don’t think those kind of attacks are really going to resonate with a lot of voters,” he said.

Perry is running third in fundraising and appears unlikely to have money for television ads unless she receives a late infusion of contributions. In a mass media market such as Los Angeles, that puts her at a disadvantage against Greuel and Councilman Eric Garcetti, who have been airing TV ads heavily for more than a week.

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Perry and the other two elected officials in the race have been painted by other candidates as three peas in a City Hall pod. But Perry is viewed as having a more fiscally conservative record than Greuel or Garcetti, and has a testier relationship with organized labor. Indeed, she underscores not being the favored candidate of the powerful union that represents Department of Water and Power workers and that is the primary funder of an independent pro-Greuel effort that has raised nearly $1.3 million.

Perry hopes that political profile will attract Valley voters. But Greuel grew up in the area, serving as senior class president at Kennedy High School in Granada Hills, and later representing much of the area on the City Council. She has a long list of Valley endorsements, including from the Los Angeles Daily News and the Valley Industry and Commerce Assn.

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With less campaign cash, Perry has been dependent on less-costly mailings for her flanking maneuver against Greuel.

Some contain attacks on Greuel that were inconsistent with Perry’s own record.

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In one, Perry criticizes Greuel for voting three times to raise DWP rates, when Perry also voted for the hikes. Perry said Greuel’s votes were fair game in light of the DWP union throwing its support behind her. In another about a controversial expedited parking-ticket review program used by public officials and their staff — known as the Gold Card desk — Perry criticizes Greuel for backing the contract with a firm that ran the program. But Perry voted for the contract as well. Perry also defended that hit, saying that she and her staff never used the service, an allusion to the fact that a Greuel staff member used the service to process a parking ticket for his mother.

In yet another mailer, she criticizes Greuel for her ties to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. At the same time, Perry was sending mailers to Latino voters with photos of her alongside Villaraigosa and suggesting that he views her as a good successor. The mayor has not endorsed anyone in the race.

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A spokeswoman for Greuel, who previously called Perry a hypocrite for the mailers, said the latest pieces raise troubling questions about the councilwoman.

“Either Jan doesn’t know how deceptive her campaign mail is or she knows and doesn’t care,” Shannon Murphy said. “Neither inspires much trust in someone who wants to be the mayor of Los Angeles.”

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Perry’s campaign consultant, Eric Hacopian, said the mailers are “common-sense” campaigning. Perry has remained true to her fundamental beliefs about reforming city government, he said.

“What you try to do is try to tailor your message to a particular constituency,” he said. “You must always be strategically consistent, but tactically flexible.”

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He asserted the mailers are working and that Perry’s name-recognition among voters now equals that of Greuel and Garcetti.

Smith said some Valley voters assumed Perry was more liberal than she is because she’s an African American who represents South Los Angeles. But when they hear directly from Perry, many are impressed, Smith said.

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“More and more people are saying I know why you endorsed her,” he said, citing her candid approach to the city’s financial woes.

But she can’t meet the entire region through kaffeeklatsches, homeowners association gatherings and meet-and-greets.

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Perry’s biggest obstacle remains “not enough name-recognition,” Smith acknowledged. “We’ll see.”

seema.mehta@latimes.com


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