Greuel vows to be independent from unions backing her for mayor

City Controller and mayoral candidate Wendy Greuel framed herself as the "business-labor" candidate during a speech at UCLA.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Setting the stage for the final seven weeks of the campaign, Wendy Greuel vowed Tuesday that she would be independent from the labor interests backing her and framed herself as the “business-labor” candidate in the mayor’s race, while accusing her chief rival of demonizing “the working people” of Los Angeles.

Greuel delivered her remarks at UCLA a short time after Kevin James, a Republican who finished third in the mayoral primary, endorsed her opponent, City Councilman Eric Garcetti. James argued that Garcetti had greater “potential for independence” than Greuel “because of the way labor has lined up” behind her.

The city controller vigorously refuted that characterization in her speech, charging that Garcetti had not shown the mettle to make difficult budget decisions and would bring more paralysis to a city that has struggled to pay its bills. Though she did not offer a specific plan, she added that she would “not shy away from telling my friends in labor that the city is going broke and cannot sustain the current pension system.”


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“There will have to be more sacrifice for the long-term health of our city. And that means current workers -- not just future workers, including [Department of Water & Power] employees,” Greuel said, alluding to the union that has spent the most money to boost her campaign. “We can’t keep kicking the can down the road like my opponent and the City Council did.”

At the same time, she charged that Garcetti had maligned labor unions supporting her. In the first of several slaps at the press corps, Greuel said the news media, as well as Garcetti and the political establishment, have had “a hard time dealing with the fact” that she has won support from both business and labor groups.

“My opponent seems to think I should apologize for having earned the support of working people. When he’s not out pandering to them for their endorsement, Garcetti throws the word ‘union’ around like it’s a slur, and has even called L.A.’s working people ‘power brokers,’ ” Greuel said. “I’m not going to apologize for having earned the support of working people, just as I’m not going to apologize for having earned the support of businesses, large and small.”

The dueling messages underscored the fundamental challenge facing Greuel’s campaign in the final stretch. After assiduously courting labor during the primary -- alleging in one private meeting that Garcetti would cut workers’ pay and benefits -- many public employee groups have lined up behind her.

But with her coziness with labor groups, which have spent about $2 million on her behalf, she has risked alienating conservative voters in the San Fernando Valley and the Westside, who were expected to form the bulwark of her campaign.

By urging Republicans to support Garcetti, James’ endorsement further complicates that equation for the controller. Greuel made a brief nod to James’ announcement in her speech, stating that all of her primary opponents “may now be on one side -- but I’m on the side of a better Los Angeles.”

Dismissing Garcetti as “a nice guy,” she suggested that the councilman had tried to make the race about personality rather than substance, and said she was the only candidate with the courage “to say no,” adding that “leadership isn’t just looking good on TV.”

Greuel said she had chosen to deliver the speech at UCLA, her alma mater, because it’s a place “where people care about policy, not personality.”

“We have seven weeks to ignite voters to care,” she said. “Do they want a fighter -- a doer -- as mayor? Or do they want someone who is good at the handshakes, but who won’t stand by his work or his commitment?”

Both candidates have offered only the most scant details about how they would rein in the city’s main budget problem: spiraling employee and pension costs. Greuel offered several new fiscal proposals on Tuesday -- pledging to cut the office budgets of the mayor and council members by 25%.

When asked what else she would do to solve the city’s budget deficit, Greuel said the 25% proposal simply offered “a flavoring” of policy proposals that she would roll out in the next seven weeks.


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