An influential union representing City Hall workers failed to reach a consensus Tuesday evening on whether and whom to endorse in Los Angeles' mayoral campaign, labor officials said.
Members of six locals of the Service Employees International Union questioned City Controller Wendy Greuel and City Councilman Eric Garcetti, two top contenders in the race, for at least half an hour. Neither was recommended for an endorsement, even though Greuel was ranked higher on a scoring sheet prepared by union officials.
The rating was prepared in December and ranked Greuel 4.3 out of 5 on issues important to the union. Garcetti was rated a 3.5, and consistently was graded lower on issues such as furloughs — the unpaid days imposed on civilian city workers — and on retirement benefits, according to the document, a copy of which was obtained by The Times.
Favel Jens, political coordinator for SEIU Local 721, which represents 10,000 city workers, said the scoring sheet was prepared by the political directors of six SEIU locals in December, after the candidates responded to written questionnaires.
Lowell Goodman, communications director for SEIU Local 721, said the heads of the union locals still could decide in the next few weeks to issue separate endorsements. "Or they could decide to go together and endorse the same candidate," Goodman said.
The union locals held a town hall-style gathering Tuesday evening so they could, for a second time, consider making an endorsement in the March 5 election to replace Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
Filing out of the meeting at union headquarters, attendees who described themselves as members of SEIU Local 99 — which represents school district employees — said their local decided not to pick either candidate. Employees with SEIU's United Service Workers West, which represents security guards, airport workers and others, said they too had decided not to endorse. But Myran Cotton, a city employee represented by SEIU Local 721, said her local recommended Greuel.
SEIU's backing is considered important because Los Angeles is a heavily Democratic, generally labor-friendly city. Also, SEIU has shown its support can mean a significant number of get-out-the-vote campaign volunteers and financial donations to pay for mailers and advertising.
But some of Greuel's and Garcetti's opponents are suggesting the next mayor needs to be more independent of public employee unions.
Greuel and Garcetti, the only two invited back for additional interviews Tuesday, were on the council when it voted for a package of raises for civilian city workers that totaled roughly 25%. Greuel moved on to citywide office by 2010, and did not have to vote when the council ordered unpopular layoffs, furloughs, employee transfers and reductions in an array of services.
In the competition for union support, those decisions have put Garcetti, who was then City Council president, at a disadvantage this election year. Greuel sought to sow doubt about Garcetti during the initial interview sessions with SEIU members last month. She cited his involvement in employee layoffs, telling workers they needed someone who would be with them "every step of the way."
City officials are grappling with a $220-million budget shortfall and trying to persuade the public to hike taxes.
Greuel already has the backing of the Department of Water and Power employees' union, which has given $250,000 to a committee supporting her candidacy and is expected to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars more. She has also picked up the support of the rank-and-file police officers' union, which spent nearly $750,000 to elect City Atty. Carmen Trutanich in 2009.
The SEIU did not invite three other leading candidates — Councilwoman Jan Perry, former radio host Kevin James and tech executive Emanuel Pleitez — to Tuesday's event. All three have been more critical than Greuel and Garcetti of the city's handling of its budget crisis.
The union employees "clearly don't want someone independent making decisions at City Hall," said James, shortly before Tuesday's SEIU session began.
Perry said earlier this week that she lost out on the endorsement because she said she had no plans to remove City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana, the budget official who recommended layoffs and reductions in pension benefits for new hires. Union officials asked the candidates last month to say whether they would keep Santana.
SEIU Local 721 has been at odds with Santana and Villaraigosa over their successful push to raise the retirement age and to roll back pensions for new hires. That pension measure was approved by the council last fall, but does not apply to DWP hires, or any current city employees.
The union also has been fighting efforts to turn the zoo and city Convention Center over to private management entities.