Defeated Los Angeles mayoral candidate Jan Perry warned Friday that electing a city chief executive too beholden to public employee unions could leave the city vulnerable to being "flipped over on its back, flailing, while a few insiders get what they want."
Perry, whose endorsement in the May runoff election could be significant, was aiming her remarks at City Controller Wendy Greuel, who benefited from heavy financial support from organized labor on her way to a second-place finish in Tuesday's primary. Greuel will face City Councilman Eric Garcetti in a May 21 runoff election.
Perry, a City Council member who finished fourth in the primary, declined to say whom she would support in the race's final round. But she disparaged Greuel's record, asserting that the controller owes too much to labor leaders she may have to face across a contract negotiating table.
Perry, an African American, represents a significant swath of South Los Angeles. She was the top vote-getter in that part of the city and among black voters — two voting blocs Garcetti and Greuel hope to attract in the runoff.
Garcetti and Greuel also are competing to attract conservative supporters of entertainment lawyer Kevin James, who finished third in Tuesday's mayoral voting. The onetime federal prosecutor was scheduled to meet with Greuel on Friday and with Garcetti over the weekend.
In her first sit-down interview since the election, Perry was clear about her lack of admiration for Greuel, her onetime colleague on the City Council.
Greuel received $2.8 million in support from independent campaign committees, much of it from union workers at the city's Department of Water and Power. The day after the election, she was endorsed by another union representing 10,000 civilian city employees. She also has the backing of the city's police and fire unions.
That should be cause for deep concern, Perry said.
Voters "need to examine what that will mean to them," Perry said. "They should look at where the money in this campaign comes from and think about if they want to have greater control of their public utility, for instance. Otherwise, if they don't pay attention, they will be completely rolled over.
"Because that is what is at risk here, at great risk," she continued. Having someone too closely allied with employee unions in the mayor's office could mean "the death of independent politics altogether. It could mean the only way you get elected in this town is if you get money from unions."
Greuel said she has demonstrated a willingness to confront those who aren't performing for taxpayers. "I am proud to have both business and labor support," she said. "I have demonstrated as controller that I am willing to take on my allies. I am going to be an independent person for the voters of Los Angeles."
Greuel's aides noted that Garcetti has also received public-employee unions support, including an endorsement from United Teachers of Los Angeles and the unions that represent airport and port police officers. Garcetti also sought the support of other city unions, which went to Greuel.
Perry argued that Greuel has received much more financial support from labor groups and alleged she would push out the city's chief budget official, Miguel Santana, who has been at odds with union leaders. Santana is "bright, gifted and a truth-teller" whose removal would be "tragic," Perry said.
Greuel said she has never said she would replace Santana. "I have been consistent and said I would look at every general manager when I become mayor of Los Angeles. And the bottom line is that I, ultimately, would be responsible."
Perry's rift with Greuel goes back at least to the mayoral campaign's early days. The councilwoman contends Greuel sought to undermine her candidacy by spreading rumors that Perry would drop out of the race. The accusation is untrue, Greuel said.
Perry also said she was "amazed and appalled" when Greuel sent a mailer to voters noting that Perry had filed for personal bankruptcy and warning, "Don't let her bankrupt L.A." The financial troubles, Perry said, stemmed from her former husband's law practice — a contention he backed up when the bankruptcy was first reported in the press.
Greuel "went and bought those ads and said I was covering something up," Perry said. "I never covered anything up."
Greuel said that the mayoral candidates' lives were thrown open during the campaign and that financial failures were fair game.
Perry — who worked at City Hall for 23 years, most of them as a council aide — also spoke about her time in City Hall and her plans for the future. Among the things she learned in the mayoral campaign is the city remains racially polarized, despite some progress, she said.
People "told me early on that I could go out to the Valley all I wanted and that nobody there would change their mind," she said. "I thought that was a sad commentary." She said she was heartened that some voters, including conservatives, heard her out and liked her message.
She said she was moved that many voters empathized with her personal story — growing up in Ohio, the daughter of two civil rights activists who once had a cross burned on their lawn. "A lot of people even saved the mailer on that," Perry said. "That meant a lot to me."
The struggle for equal opportunity continues, she said, recalling an election-day tour of South L.A. housing projects. Many young men were milling about, without jobs or meaningful activities to keep them occupied, she said. "That has got to change, and it can still change," Perry said. "I am looking for the candidate who can do something about that."
She said she already has fielded calls about job possibilities. "Whatever I choose to do, I will have to have some passion for it," she said.
She wistfully described driving out of the City Hall garage and seeing a man holding up her mailers. "You are my candidate! I am going to vote for you!" he declared.
But that was Thursday, Perry said, two days after the election.
Times staff writer Seema Mehta contributed to this report.