The top three contenders for mayor of Los Angeles faced off in a debate in South LA Thursday night. A crowd of about 400 people gathered at Ward AME Church on West 25th St. to hear what City Councilwoman Jan Perry, City Councilman Eric Garcetti, and City Controller Wendy Greuel had to say about South LA.
Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary–treasurer of the powerful Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, opened the night’s proceedings with a call for the next mayor of Los Angeles to support good jobs with livable wages. Durazo inspired loud applause from the audience when she said union workers do not want more low-paying retailers like Walmart opening in LA.
Former chief-of-staff of the US Department of Education, Carolyn Webb de Macias moderated the event. She, along with pre-selected members of the audience, asked the candidates questions about creating jobs, supporting affordable housing, and balancing the city budget.
Garcetti stirred up mixed reactions from the audience during one of his answers when he said he would have all of the city general managers re-apply for their jobs when he takes office. “President Obama didn’t just take Bush’s cabinet,” he said.
Greuel, responded to Garcetti’s statement by saying that, because of her experience auditing different city departments, “I know who I’m going to hire and fire. I don’t need them to re-apply.”
On the topic of the city’s deficit, Greuel again referred to her work as auditor and mentioned adding to business taxes for companies doing business in LA. Garcetti highlighted job growth in his district in recent years. Perry connected her answer to South LA, saying she would like to see more developments like the University Village project set to begin near the USC campus.
Webb de Macias’ final question for the candidates was on the topic of gangs. She said some of LA’s students are “better prepared to be inmates than interns,” and asked candidates what they would do to close the “school to prison pipeline.”
In response to the question, Perry highlighted her plan to bolster South LA’s economy by keeping South LA politically linked with its more economically stable neighbor, Downtown LA, to keep residents of South LA connected to good jobs.
Garcetti said he wanted to “put the city’s best teachers in the worst performing schools.” He also mentioned his plan for creating a summer jobs program for young people who want work when school is out.
Greuel recalled working on an after-school program when she worked for former mayor Tom Bradley and said she didn’t want to see so many teachers laid off at the end of each school year.
During their closing statements each of the candidates highlighted his or her own experiences working for the city. Garcetti highlighted his work on city council and also made a mild jab at Greuel, pointing out some of the media criticism she has received.
Greuel closed saying that her job as city controller has been to identify waste and that that will help her run the city efficiently.
Perry had the last word of the night. She said she has been “relentlessly focused” for the last 11 years on city council. She also emphasized that she does not just see running for mayor as a “stepping stone for a higher office.”
The candidates will debate in South LA again at Crenshaw High School on February 9.