Steve Lopez: Labor unions the big loser in mayor’s race

Labor gambled and lost.

Wendy Greuel drove away much of her own base.

And it’s done. After two years of campaigning and more than $30 million of spinning, the next mayor of Los Angeles will be Eric Garcetti, who doesn’t exactly have what you’d call a mandate.

Though he won by several percentage points despite predictions of a tighter race, it looks like about four out of five registered voters blew off this election.

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The question is whether Garcetti won the election or Greuel lost it, despite several million more dollars being spent on her behalf by independent expenditure campaigns, and you could argue it either way. But as a San Fernando Valley resident, Greuel did herself no favors by identifying herself with the most hated city agency, the L.A. Department of Water and Power. Garcetti and Greuel appeared to have basically split the Valley vote, which Greuel needed to dominate.

Why is DWP hated? It’s simple. In the Valley, where you’ve got to water your lawn and turn on the air conditioning, nothing makes you angrier than rising DWP rates, even if other utilities in California charge even more.

And it didn’t help that the public employee union that represents DWP workers laid it all on the line, spending millions on Greuel while the union boss -- Brian D’Arcy -- told me he was expecting raises from the new mayor.

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“From what I was hearing from my neighbors, the DWP backing was a major factor in their decision” to vote for Garcetti, said Don Schultz, a Van Nuys resident and community activist. Schultz voted for Greuel in the primary but switched to Garcetti on Tuesday for several reasons, including Greuel’s primary attack on candidate Jan Perry.

Labor leaders, meanwhile, have done themselves no favors, alienating much of the public and losing in the process, which could mean tougher negotiations when contracts are up. They’d have been better off, in retrospect, either staying out of it altogether or splitting their bet.

Meanwhile, there’s been grumbling among low-wage private sector union members, who fear that labor’s big play in the campaign could make their fight for fair contracts all the tougher. No doubt about it, labor comes out of this with some problems to fix.

And business, as well, rode the wrong horse, with the Chamber of Commerce backing Greuel, who kept calling herself the labor-business candidate.

Maybe, for those who voted for the first Jewish mayor, who’s also got Latino blood, they were voting against the city’s most powerful institutions and players.

This was a vote against labor, against the chamber, against ex-Mayor Richard Riordan and many of the other pooh-bahs who think they ought to be running this city.

The next mayor of Los Angeles is Eric Garcetti.


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