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Eric Garcetti, Wendy Greuel find common ground in USC debate

City Controller Wendy Greuel, left, and City Councilman Eric Garcetti met Sunday night at USC's Galen Center in a debate and town hall sponsored by the Los Angeles Times.
(Katie Falkenberg, Los Angeles Times)

Despite bitter attacks in recent weeks, the two candidates for mayor of Los Angeles grudgingly conceded in a debate Sunday night that their rival was (mostly) honest and not so different on many of the plans they have for leading the city.

That didn’t mean City Councilman Eric Garcetti and Controller Wendy Greuel didn’t find plenty of opportunity for attacks on each other’s trustworthiness and independence. But they also laid out records that they said made them most qualified to replace Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who is leaving office June 30 after serving the maximum two terms.

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Greuel cited her audits of city departments and her experience developing housing and community programs, as a staffer for former Mayor Tom Bradley and, later, in the administration of President Clinton.

Garcetti repeated his admonition that voters look at improvements in his council district — from Hollywood to Silver Lake and Atwater Village. He stressed his work on the city’s recent pension reform and presented a diverse public resume that includes service in the U.S. Naval Reserve.

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The debate at USC’s Galen Center was sponsored by the university and the Los Angeles Times and broadcast live on KTLA-TV (Channel 5). Co-moderators Jim Newton, the Times’ editor-at-large, and Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC, attempted to cut through the recent attacks.

Newton noted the negative tone that has prevailed and asked each candidate whether they believed the other was “a dishonest person.” They both said “No.” But each couldn’t resist adding caveats that made the other look like less than a pillar of rectitude.

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After saying he “had a ton of respect” for Greuel, Garcetti added that heavy campaign spending on his opponent’s behalf — by the union representing workers at the Department of Water and Power — was changing the dynamics of what should be a “democratic” election. “No one interest,” Garcetti added, “should counterbalance the people’s interest.”

Greuel also said she would not call her opponent dishonest. She then added that Garcetti needed to come clean about ethics violations that she said were epitomized by his failure to properly disclose his family’s oil lease for a property near Beverly Hills High School.

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“I think it is important as we go forward to say who is going to be the trustworthy and clear leader,” Greuel said.

The two candidates agreed on many issues Sunday as they have throughout much of the campaign. Both supported the idea of more frequent evaluations for public school teachers. Both described policies they had employed to make neighborhoods more pedestrian friendly.

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Garcetti and Greuel said they supported federal immigration reform but opposed provisions that would limit funds for family reunification and limit the rights of same-sex partners.

About 20 minutes into the debate, moderator Schnur asked the two candidates whether they disagreed with any of the policy prescriptions that their rival had outlined so far. Both answered “No.”

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Among the new programs Garcetti, 42, said he would like to initiate were funding for summer jobs for all high school students who want them and to initiate a green energy program that he said could lead to as many as 20,000 jobs.

Garcetti said he would use federal community block grant funds to pay for jobs for an estimated 10,000 teenagers who applied but were not hired last summer. Greuel wondered what other block grant programs would have to be cut to make that happen.

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Among his achievements, Garcetti cited a two-thirds drop in violent crime in his district, which he has represented for 12 years, and the creation of 31 new parks.

Greuel, 51, said she wanted to create a “tech fund” to assist new startups in the city. She also cited the dozens of audits her office has completed as evidence that she would be able to find savings to fund other city programs.

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When the debate turned to job training, for instance, Greuel said she had audited the city’s job training program and found that only 4% of the funds went to training and the rest to job placement. “Placement,” she said incredulously, “at a time when we have no jobs.”

She cited other audit findings that she said could produce real savings: the failure of the Department of Transportation to adequately collect parking ticket fines, waste in city employee’s cellphone use and wasteful expenditures on gas for city vehicles.

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Garcetti has mocked the controller’s work, saying she had produced little real savings. But Greuel countered that, as controller, her job was to find problems. She faulted the council for not putting many of her recommendations into action.

“I work for the taxpayers of Los Angeles,” Greuel said. “I don’t work for anybody else.”

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Moderator Schnur asked Greuel about the historic nature of her campaign and whether voters should support her to elect the first woman mayor of Los Angeles.

“People need to judge me on what I’ve been able to accomplish,” Greuel said, “but there is a historical nature to it.”

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“I met a little girl today, 6 years old, who said I understand that you might be the first woman mayor and her eyes lit up because I was going to be a role model for her,” Greuel said. She also noted that, depending on the outcome of the May 21 election, the council could have no female members. As controller, she is only the second woman elected citywide.

Garcetti, who has an Italian last name, pointed out that he could also make a historic breakthrough — as the city’s first elected Jewish mayor (one was appointed in the 1880s, but only for a year). As he has throughout the campaign, he noted that his father’s parents both emigrated from Mexico and that it would be helpful to continue to have a mayor “who is Latino and speaks Spanish.”

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“What I’ve said is ‘I don’t want your vote because I’m Latino or Jewish. I don’t want your vote because I speak Spanish,’ ” Garcetti said. “I want your vote because of my record

james.rainey@latimes.com

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maeve.reston@latimes.com


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