Candidate Closeup: Wendy Greuel

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imageThe mayor’s office would bring Wendy Greuel’s long political career full circle: She started in the same room.

The 51-year-old candidate began volunteering for former mayor Tom Bradley when she was still in high school. Greuel is a lifelong Angeleno. Born in North Hollywood, she graduated from Kennedy High School in Granada Hills and then from UCLA. She worked in Bradley’s office for more than ten years and was elected to City Council in 2002.

Her long-term dedication to the city impresses Kaya Masler, who took a break from phone banking at Greuel’s office on Crenshaw and 54th to talk.

“She really loves being in politics, especially local politics, and she loves LA. So that was inspiring to me,” Masler said.

As City Controller, Greuel discovered in 2010 that city agencies left more than 260 million dollars in debts uncollected, mostly in parking tickets. She also published the salaries of city employees after embezzlement in Bell, California made headlines in 2011.

“She’s incredibly genuine, and she is a watchdog. I mean, she’s a fiscal watchdog,” Masler said.

Greuel’s priority is economic growth.

“One, it’s about creating jobs in Los Angeles. It’s about addressing pension reform, and it is about looking at inefficiencies—ways in which we can address waste, fraud and abuse in the city of Los Angeles.”

Specifically, Greuel has promised to dedicate 20 percent of new revenues to the police and fire departments. She wants to hire 2,000 new police officers and 800 new firefighters, which the Los Angeles Daily News says would cost about 200 million dollars.

“We should have a goal of being the safest big city in America,” Greuel said. “If we increase the revenue that is so important to the city of Los Angeles, that a portion of that should be dedicated to hiring more police and firefighters, as well as making sure we have more emergency preparedness and gang reduction programs.”

But this year’s FBI report shows that property and violent crimes have fallen steadily for a decade now. Former Daily News editor Ron Kaye says growing the police force doesn’t need to be the city’s first priority.

“I think the perfect example of what’s wrong with this campaign is Greuel’s posturing that she’s going to get the police force up to 12,000 by taking all this booming new revenue that’s supposedly going to come in,” Kaye said. “The fact is that we’re at an incredibly low point for crime, unprecedented, and crime isn’t the number one problem, cops aren’t the number-one issue in this city. The health of our neighborhoods, the quality of our lives and our loss of faith in a city working for us is the crisis.”

To generate money, Greuel plans to rely on the new City Controller to reduce the city’s budget. In addition to reforming city pensions, she vocally supports the elimination of the gross receipts tax for businesses. Economists say it will probably drive investment, but it may take a decade to recoup the lost revenues.

Eric Garcetti, Kevin James and Emanuel Pleitez support removing the tax, too. Jan Perry wants to keep it in place.

Greuel also opposes the half-cent sales tax increase on next week’s ballot. But Kaye wants more details.

“[Greuel is] against the sales tax in a very quiet voice. They haven’t suggested how they would actually fix the city’s financial problems, and they talk in symbolic language without actually specifying concrete policies that could be critiqued, examined, challenged, questioned.”

If elected, Greuel would be the city’s first female mayor. And after Tuesday’s vote, the City Council might become all-male.

Masler says gender isn’t the reason she supports Greuel, but she would like to see a woman in the top office.

“I’m not really one for tokenism, but she’s hyper-qualified,” Masler said.

Greuel leads the candidates in funds raised, and she’s neck-and-neck with Garcetti in most polls. She’s backed by most of the city’s public workers unions, who in total have donated more than 2 million dollars to her campaign. Detractors worry that such huge fiscal support will oblige Greuel to unions.

“When I’ve challenged it of why, why’ve they’ve jumped aboard, the answer generally is, Wendy’s the easiest one for them to manipulate. And I think it’s true—she has never really stood boldly for anything,” Kaye said. “She is incredibly likeable, everybody likes Wendy, she’s smart and personable… But she’s danced around the hardest issues.”

After more than three decades in LA’s public eye, Greuel is definitely popular—and if polls are accurate, she’ll have two more months to address those challenging issues.

Tiffany Taylor contributed to this report.

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