One day last year, a 9-year-old named Thomas came home and announced he was running for office. “Are you kidding me?” his father responded. “Don’t we have enough elections in this family?”
Thomas, the son of Los Angeles City Controller Wendy Greuel, has been around politics his entire life. Over the years, he has gamely tagged along as Greuel has waged four election campaigns, including her current bid for mayor.
He’s the kid with sandy blond hair and square-framed glasses standing next to Greuel at fundraisers, field office openings and in commercials. He pops up frequently in Greuel’s speeches, whether she’s talking about education reform or transportation. In one campaign trail staple, Greuel tells the story of her son’s successful run for vice president of Colfax Charter Elementary School to explain her own values.
His campaign motto: “Vote for Thomas, he keeps his promise.”
While Greuel has put Thomas at the center of her political life, her opponent in the May 21 election has taken a more private approach with his own child.
Many people don’t know that City Councilman Eric Garcetti and his wife, Amy Wakeland, are the parents of a 16-month-old girl, Maya. That’s partly because Garcetti doesn’t often mention her and rarely brings her to campaign events.
“I value my family time as family time,” said Garcetti, who adopted Maya with Wakeland last year. “When my daughter is older and she wants to make decisions about whether she wants to be with me in more public settings, that’s going to be her decision to make.”
As the candidates enter the final stretch of a marathon two years of campaigning, both acknowledge the challenges of balancing political obligations and family life.
Garcetti said his strategy has been to pare down the nonessentials. “I only really have three things that I do: my day job, my campaign and time with my daughter,” he said. “I guess there’s some sleep somewhere in there.”
Garcetti said he often gets home too late at night to put his daughter to bed, so he makes sure he’s the one to wake her up in the morning. When he’s scheduled to make fundraising calls, he tries to do it from home so he can get in a little playtime.
When Greuel has to miss bedtime because of work, she gets creative. Once, while sitting in a late-night session of the council’s budget and finance committee, Greuel used sign language to say good night to Thomas, who was watching the hearing on television at home with his dad, Dean Schramm.
Dad and son texted Greuel: “Simon says touch your nose.” The next time the camera panned to her, Greuel did.
Greuel was single and childless when she first ran for City Council in a 2002 special election to fill a vacant San Fernando Valley seat. Her mother warned her that she might remain that way.
“She said I would never get married or have children if I ran for office, and I needed to put that on the ‘con’ side when I was determining whether I would run or not,” she said. Not long after, Greuel met Schramm, a literary agent and producer, on a campaign stop. They married, and had Thomas soon after that.
When he was a baby, Thomas and a nanny would accompany Greuel to work, sitting at a nearby table while she held breakfast meetings, and spending the day in a makeshift nursery in her office at City Hall. Greuel would duck away from council meetings to feed her baby.
These days, Thomas plays violin, listens to hip-hop and excels at math. His dad said he is relaxed about his parent’s often hectic schedule. “Thomas rolls with it,” Schramm said.
Last summer, Thomas accompanied his father to Scotland for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival of art, where Schramm was producing a play. They visited the British Museum and caught part of the London Olympics.
Schramm started working from home a few years ago, making himself more available to care for Thomas during the day. Before that, the family had two nannies who worked in shifts.
Garcetti and Wakeland also have a nanny for their daughter. Garcetti’s parents and his sister, an acupuncturist on the Westside who has two kids of her own, also help out with child care.
Garcetti and his wife adopted Maya last year after serving as foster parents for years. Wakeland grew up in a blended family that included foster kids, so the decision to open their home came naturally, Garcetti said.
“We wanted to make an impact and help young people in need, help extend family to them,” he said.
The couple met at Oxford University, where they were both Rhodes scholars. A community activist, Wakeland now plays a prominent role in Garcetti’s quest for mayor. At his primary victory party in March, Garcetti introduced her as his “unofficial campaign manager.”
In recent months, Garcetti and Wakeland have set up mattresses and cots in their Silver Lake home and invited friends from around the world to come work on the campaign. “It’s like Grand Central Station,” he said.
Maya, who knows only a few words and has an endless appetite for beans, doesn’t blink in the presence of strangers, he said. Sometimes she’ll totter into a roomful of people making calls for the campaign, look around, and say: “Hi.”
Times staff writer James Rainey contributed to this report.