The day after Eric Garcetti won a spot in the May runoff for Los Angeles mayor, the city councilman turned his focus to African Americans in South Los Angeles, campaigning in Leimert Park with comedian D.L. Hughley.
“In too many of our communities, especially communities of color, we still have way too much crime,” Garcetti told the audience. “We still have too many gunshots, too few opportunities for our young people.”
A day later, Garcetti rival Wendy Greuel, the city controller, announced that one of the city’s premier black clergymen, Rev. Cecil “Chip” Murray, was backing her. “Chip Murray has redefined what it means to be a faith leader in Los Angeles,” she said of the former pastor of First African Methodist Episcopal Church.
So began the 11-week battle over the tens of thousands of Los Angeles voters who shunned both Garcetti and Greuel in last week’s primary. Many of them fall into two groups: black Democrats in South L.A. and white Republicans in the San Fernando Valley.
As Garcetti and Greuel each clamber to gain support among these dissimilar voters — concentrated on opposite sides of the city, focused on disparate needs — it is something close to an even match, at least for now.
For both, the math of building a winning coalition is difficult. In Tuesday’s primary, Greuel, who lives in Studio City, established her dominance in the Valley and Harbor areas but won few neighborhoods in the vast urban stretch in between. Garcetti, who lives in Silver Lake, swept the Eastside, central city and Westside. Garcetti finished first with 33%, followed by Greuel at 29%.
Greuel had hoped to win extra support citywide among women by stressing that she would be the city’s first female mayor. A poll last month by USC and The Times found no sign of success for that strategy, but Greuel’s campaign team is still counting on the potential barrier-breaching to motivate women to vote in the May 21 runoff.
“I think where the historic nature of Wendy’s candidacy will make a difference is in turnout,” Greuel campaign manager Rose Kapolczynski said.
Garcetti, whose paternal ancestry is Mexican, had tried — with mixed results — to win outsized support among Latinos, roughly a quarter of the vote in Los Angeles. He did win the city’s most heavily Latino neighborhoods but by narrower margins than he would probably need in the second round.
One of Garcetti’s main challenges now is to spur some of the potential supporters who declined to vote in the low-turnout primary — such as young Latinos — to cast ballots in the runoff. Lending a hand will be an independent committee that has hired operatives of President Obama’s reelection campaign to comb voter data to find those most amenable to backing Garcetti and prod them to the polls. Daniel Wagner, the Obama campaign’s “chief analytics officer,” is one of those hired.
“The only job we have is to produce more votes for Eric Garcetti than Eric Garcetti would,” said Rick Jacobs, a co-founder of the committee, the optimistically named Lots of People Who Support Eric Garcetti for Mayor.
In South L.A., the key for both Garcetti and Greuel is to capture the votes of African Americans who overwhelmingly favored City Councilwoman Jan Perry in last week’s election.
For months, Garcetti and Greuel have been making frequent visits to black churches — on one Sunday, the same churches.
Garcetti highlights his early support of Obama, reminding crowds he was California co-chair of Obama’s historic 2008 campaign. In Greuel’s case, a staple of her South L.A. speeches is a tribute to former L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley and recollections of her work as one of his aides.
In the runoff, endorsements will be particularly valuable in South L.A., said Mike Shimpock, a veteran Democratic campaign consultant.
“South L.A. has a lot of needs that have historically been ignored — parks, public safety, economic development,” he said. “So I think one of the reasons you see third-party validators being more important is because people don’t necessarily trust government to do the right thing.”
Greuel and Garcetti are indeed competing for the support of black political leaders, including Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) and L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “They both have very strong followings,” said Jewett Walker, a campaign strategist who has long worked for Democrats in the area.
Also in play is Perry’s support. On Friday, she sharply criticized Greuel, who had attacked Perry over her personal finances during the primary, but stopped short of endorsing Garcetti.
In the duel for Republicans, Garcetti and Greuel are looking to pick up support from those who backed former radio talk-show host Kevin James in the primary. The lone Republican in the race, James ran strongest in Porter Ranch, Chatsworth and other conservative parts of the West Valley but also picked up thousands of votes on the Westside.
From the start, Greuel has framed her candidacy with Republicans as a major target audience. She often calls herself a tough fiscal watchdog with a record of combating waste, fraud and abuse at City Hall.
“Fiscal watchdog: That’s an expression Republicans love,” said Garrett Biggs, a Republican campaign consultant in Woodland Hills.
But Garcetti, like Greuel a Democrat, is making a play for Republicans too, citing the economic rebound of Hollywood and other parts of his council district, his service in the Navy Reserve, his plan to abolish the city business tax, and his votes for layoffs and furloughs of city workers when cash was running short.
“We’re going to spend a lot of time talking to those voters,” Garcetti strategist Bill Carrick said.
Greuel’s alliance with public employee unions has complicated her positioning as a conservative. The unions spent more than $2 million on her behalf, drawing relentless attacks from Garcetti, Perry and James. All three have suggested that Greuel would sell out to the unions’ demands for raises and benefit protections when the city struggles with budget shortfalls on the next mayor’s watch.
“Her courting of the labor vote may make her look less appealing to those Valley conservatives,” said political scientist Tom Hogen-Esch of Cal State Northridge.
Greuel, a Republican until 1992, has denied she would show favoritism to the unions.
Greuel has also promoted her pro-business agenda. She too supports elimination of the business tax, and she often tells crowds about her experience with her family’s building supply company in North Hollywood.
The day after the primary, Greuel’s first stop was WET Design, a Sun Valley firm. When the company sought to expand in 2008, she said, she cut red tape. Greuel planned to spend Sunday morning at church on the opposite side of town, joining Baptist worshipers in Historic South Central.
Garcetti staged his own business event Thursday, promoting tech jobs at a start-up in Venice. By Saturday, he was back in South L.A., greeting guests at a block party in West Adams.