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Villaraigosa fundraisers, appointees coalescing around Greuel

A broad array of political fundraisers and appointees who helped Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa win office and govern the city for eight years is coalescing around mayoral candidate Wendy Greuel, according to a Times analysis of endorsements, campaign contributions and other records.

At least 70 current and former Villaraigosa appointees have donated to Greuel’s campaign, endorsed her or both — more than twice the number lending support to her leading rival, Councilman Eric Garcetti.

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Key Villaraigosa fundraisers also have collected campaign cash for Greuel. And a lopsided share of current and former Villaraigosa staff members — including deputy mayors and deputy chiefs of staff — have lent their names or provided other forms of support to Greuel’s campaign.


FOR THE RECORD:
L.A. mayor’s race: In the Jan. 26 Section A, an article about supporters of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa backing Wendy Greuel’s campaign said that Metropolitan Transportation Authority board member Richard Katz and his wife, consultant Wendy Mitchell, had opened their home for a Greuel fundraiser. Katz and Mitchell are not married.


Whether Villaraigosa will weigh in with an endorsement in the race, and what effect that might have, has hung uncertainly over the close contest to replace him. The mayor declined to be interviewed but has signaled he won’t back a potential successor until after the March 5 primary election and possibly not at all.

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The quiet support of dozens of city commissioners and many others in the mayor’s camp adds political benefits and risks to Greuel’s campaign. They represent an experienced cross section of L.A. civic leaders — from Police Commissioner John Mack, onetime head of the Urban League, to San Fernando Valley business advocate David Fleming — lending heft to her claim that she is building momentum across diverse communities.

But those associations also could alienate voters dissatisfied with reduced city services and give fresh ammunition to Greuel’s opponents, who have portrayed her as the candidate of insiders and the status quo.

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Even some Angelenos who embraced Villaraigosa and his policies are looking for a change, said Jaime Regalado, professor emeritus of political science at Cal State L.A.

“Many politicians wear out their welcome, even if they’re doing a relatively good job. Voters are fickle and they get tired of their elected officials, especially their chief executives,” he said.

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Richard Katz, a Villaraigosa advisor and Metropolitan Transportation Authority appointee who has helped guide the expansion of the region’s rail network, is among those backing Greuel and helping her raise campaign cash. He said Greuel is benefiting from relationships developed during 25 years of public service — as an aide to former Mayor Tom Bradley, a member of President Clinton’s administration, a City Council member and city controller.

“People know her and they’ve worked with her,” Katz said.

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Greuel declined to say whether she has asked for the mayor’s backing, adding she is not focused on endorsements from him or others at City Hall. She said she is “absolutely not” Villaraigosa’s heir apparent and argued that, as the city’s chief auditor, she has been “tough” in holding the mayor and the City Council accountable.

“I am not afraid to stand up and say that the city needs to be transformed,” she added.

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Two of Greuel’s opponents said her ties to the mayor’s administration are a problem.

“Wendy Greuel would be Antonio Villaraigosa’s third term in many ways, and that’s a bad thing,” said mayoral candidate Kevin James, a former radio host. “You’re going to have the same folks running City Hall, the same special interests running City Hall. There won’t be an opportunity for a new voice.”

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The mayor selects more than 300 volunteer city commissioners who oversee the Police Department, airport, harbor, libraries, Convention Center, zoo and other agencies. Among those who served under Villaraigosa, at least 61 have contributed $46,810 to Greuel, according to city records. At least 29 have donated $21,025 for Garcetti.

About a dozen of the commissioners gave to both Greuel and Garcetti, with Greuel frequently receiving larger amounts.

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Within Greuel’s campaign, longtime Villaraigosa supporters such as Raman Raj — a onetime executive at the Department of Water and Power — are helping raise funds. Outside of Greuel’s campaign, former deputy mayor and Villaraigosa campaign consultant Sean Clegg is helping the DWP employees’ union and entertainment executives prepare a TV campaign on Greuel’s behalf.

Katz and his wife, Wendy Mitchell, who served until 2011 as a Villaraigosa appointee on the South Valley Area Planning Commission, opened their home for one Greuel fundraiser last year and served as co-hosts of a second. They and others —including Villaraigosa appointees at the DWP, airport commission, fire commission and two pension boards — have given the maximum $1,300.

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Ari Swiller, a longtime Villaraigosa advisor, has co-hosted at least three fundraising events for Greuel — two in Los Angeles and one in Washington, D.C., records show. Swiller’s wife, who served as a Villaraigosa commissioner, lent her name to the events. Employees of Swiller’s firm, Renewable Resources Group, which works to develop solar and wind projects, co-hosted two additional Greuel fundraisers, according to campaign invitations filed with the Ethics Commission.

Three Villaraigosa staffers assigned to boost the city’s business activity — Raffy Ardhaldjian, Rogelio Navar and Chris Pearson — teamed up in October to host a Greuel fundraiser. Ardhaldjian, who used his Studio City home to stage the event, referred questions to the mayor’s press office, which did not comment.

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Greuel said Ardhaldjian is a constituent from her days on the City Council. She described Swiller as someone she met in 1997 when she worked for the DreamWorks movie studio, before Villaraigosa waged his first mayoral campaign.

Garcetti acknowledged that Greuel is getting more backing from Villaraigosa’s political circle. He sought to draw a contrast, claiming that 70% of his donors are new to city politics. That, he argued, would make an “independent mayor.”

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Eric Hacopian, consultant to mayoral candidate Jan Perry, said the backing from Villaraigosa’s camp ultimately will damage Greuel’s standing with a key part of her political base in the San Fernando Valley, which has pockets of more conservative voters.

“Once she is known as the candidate of insiders, she loses a good chunk of people who were likely to support her,” he said.

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david.zahniser@latimes.com


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