In their feisty final debate before election day, controller candidates Dennis Zine and Ron Galperin repeatedly hammered an insider-versus-outsider theme, seeking to convince voters they would be best prepared to be the city's next chief auditor and accountant.
"I know how the system works. I don't need to be trained," Zine said at the Wednesday face-off before the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Assn. "I don't need to learn how to deal with the City Council, the mayor and the other departments within the city of Los Angeles."
Galperin, a lawyer, former journalist and chair of two city financial commissions, said his qualifications show he has the attention to detail, financial know-how and perseverance to get the job done.
He emphasized that he is the only candidate for citywide office "who has not been an elected official."
"And yet by chairing two of the city's financial commissions," he added, "I've come to have a deep understanding of the city's finances."
The controller's race has been low-profile compared with the near-daily attacks exchanged by the candidates for mayor and city attorney. Last week, however, both controller candidates latched on to news that $42 million that could have been used to preserve city services in recent years sat untouched in a transportation fund.
Galperin blamed Zine, who chairs the council's Audits and Government Efficiency Committee, for not finding the dollars sooner. During the debate, Zine hotly defended himself, saying the problem occurred "way before" he became chair of the audits committee.
Tracking polls have shown Zine holding a wide lead over the lesser-known Galperin heading into Tuesday's municipal election. Zine was favored by 33% of voters to 18% who cited Galperin in a Cal State L. A. survey last week. But 49% of voters had not yet made up their minds, the poll showed.
An earlier USC Price/L.A. Times poll showed similar results. Galperin's chief spokesman, David Graham-Caso, said his boss isn't concerned about polls, citing Galperin's first-place finish out of a field of six candidates in the March 5 primary when just 21% of eligible voters cast ballots.
If Tuesday's election has a similar lackluster turnout, as many political analysts predict, Galperin stands a good chance to win, Graham-Caso said.
"With low-voter turnout elections, it means high-information voters," Graham-Caso said. "That means they read editorials and find out who's actually qualified for the job."
Zine said he's similarly upbeat. People are "acknowledging that I am the one they want to be the controller, from the background, from the experience, from the plan, from the fact is we're going to do something to make it better." The citywide office, being vacated by Wendy Greuel as she seeks the mayor's post, pays $182,200 a year.