Candidate Closeup: Eric Garcetti

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imageWe’re probably going to see a lot more of Eric Garcetti.

He served on Los Angeles City Council for more than a decade. The son of former District Attorney Gil Garcetti is only 42 years old, the second-youngest among the five leading candidates. He is expected to finish in one of the top two spots in the mayoral primary election March 5.

Garcetti is second in fundraising to City Controller Wendy Greuel, but he leads narrowly in polls. He’s been endorsed by a host of local leaders, including movie stars, unions, La Opinion and the LA Times.

“Eric Garcetti shows the most potential to lead LA into a more sustainable and confident future,” the Feb. 17 endorsement read [Read more…]

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.

Candidate Closeup: Emanuel Pleitez

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imageEmanuel Pleitez is the Los Angeles mayoral race’s undisputed underdog:

“I’m stepping up to take the challenge on because we need that,” he said. “We need a new leader, someone with a fresh perspective, a unique perspective.”

Pleitez has rocketed onto debate stages and into TV ads since the new year after surprising analysts by raising enough money to receive matching public funds.

Just 30 years old and born in South LA, Pleitez is a breath of fresh air for longtime LA political reporter Ron Kaye, former editor of the Los Angeles Daily News.

“He has the immigrant son story of growing up in the city, and he’s put himself on the map,” Kaye said. “I think he’s become a visible player, and from my personal point of view, a welcome one.”

Pleitez is only seven years out of Stanford University, but his job history is extensive. He has worked for John Kerry, Mayor Villaraigosa, Goldman Sachs, President Obama’s transition team, a consulting firm and, most recently, data firm Spokeo. He even ran for Congress in 2009, but lost. In fact, his only victorious election has been to his senior class presidency in high school.

Pleitez calls this job history an advantage because it makes him an outsider to City Hall, independent from debts to unions and specific neighborhoods.

“I’m a mayor of all Angelenos, and that goes whether they’re documented or not. I am the mayor of all Angelenos that are in the city of LA, and I want to make sure everyone has an opportunity to work and contribute to LA,” Pleitez said.

Kevin James, a lawyer and radio host, is the race’s other “outsider.” But Jan Perry, Wendy Greuel and Eric Garcetti are City Hall veterans with big endorsements from politicians, unions and developers.

But Pleitez’s relative inexperience stokes his popularity for frustrated voters.

“The things that he said, it gelled. It came together,” said Brian Gaines, who saw Pleitez speak at a mayoral forum on Jan. 19. “Look at the others who have been there–what have you done over the last, collectively, 30 years?”

“The others who have been there” refers to Greuel, Garcetti and Perry’s combined three decades in City Hall. “That really stood out to me, being young and coming through the trenches. I want to see something new.”


Consistently, Pleitez’s number-one issue is one ravaging City Hall: Pension reform.

LA’s pension obligations will increase to $3 billion a year by 2017, according to former mayor Richard Riordan. That’s about 50 percent of the city’s annual budget. Pleitez wants to increase the retirement age and move toward a 401-k plan for current city employees.

“That’s why every single year they’re having to cut another few hundred million dollars. If we reform the pension system, we wouldn’t have to make those cuts,” Pleitez said.

His number-two issue is education. Pleitez has been speaking ardently at LA’s community colleges and is hosting a “South LA Backyard Hackathon” next weekend. Its mission: “Bring Silicon Alley to South LA.”

“If we actually invest in education and training, not just for young people, but older folks as well, then we’re going to be able to move our workforce into a higher skill level to get the jobs that are actually available,” Pleitez said.

Based on city election trends in LA, though, this race doesn’t look good for Pleitez: He has a fraction of the frontrunners’ money and lacks endorsements from major city players like unions and councilmembers.

But he does have momentum. Pleitez said this week that his team has knocked on 40,000 doors and made 150,000 phone calls since Jan. 1.

That effort might be sufficient. According to California Common Cause, LA has notoriously low voter turnout in local elections: Sometimes just 7 percent of the population votes, and the city’s maximum is about 35 percent.

However, Ron Kaye cannot envision Pleitez qualifying for the runoff election in May. If no candidate wins a majority of the vote on March 5, the top two candidates advance to another ballot on May 21.

“I do not have a scenario where this is going to be an election that changes the face of LA politics,” Kaye said. Pleitez is young, however. “He’s put himself on the map, nobody had heard about him a few months ago. I think he clearly has signaled that he intends to be around.”

Pleitez will be around, knocking on every door, at least until March 5.

Molly Gray contributed to this report. Photos by Molly Gray.