LOS ANGELES, Calif. — City Councilman Eric Garcetti and Controller Wendy Greuel faced off tonight in their first debate of the mayoral runoff campaign, with each seeking to take unique stances on topics ranging from improving the quality of education to fixing city streets.
The pair butted heads a few times during the debate at American Jewish University in Bel Air and broadcast live by KABC-TV Channel 7, but in the end each echoed the other on most issues.
When asked to distinguish himself, Garcetti highlighted his work revitalizing neighborhoods in his district, adding that he is “not the hand-picked candidate of downtown power brokers,” unlike his opponent, whom he said benefited from almost $3 million in fundraising from city employee unions in the primary election.
Greuel fired back on the latter accusation saying she is “proud” of endorsements she received from both city employee unions and business organizations and said “it’s important I built this coalition between business and labor.”
Greuel attempted to distinguish herself from Garcetti on education, saying that she supports the state’s parent trigger law, which allows parents to take over a low-performing school, and that Garcetti has flip-flopped on whether he supports it. Garcetti answered that he does support parent trigger laws.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa this week scolded the two candidates looking to succeed him for not addressing education more in their campaigns — even though the Los Angeles mayor has no direct authority on education policy — so the pair made sure to devote time during the debate laying out their education platforms.
Greuel lamented the dropout rates and low test scores in Los Angeles schools, saying “it’s not good enough” and that “we need to make sure we hold our teachers, our principals and our parents accountable.”
Garcetti said he would work to improve science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs, adding that he would promote teaching students computer programming courses in high school so once they graduate, they would be “snapped up by start-ups at Silicon Beach right here in this city,” referring to a concentration of tech startups in Venice and Santa Monica.
Both said they would continue Villaraigosa’s Partnership for Los Angeles Schools program which operates 22 schools. Villaraigosa formed the organization after making a failed attempt to put the Los Angeles Unified School District under the control of the mayor’s office.
Greuel and Garcetti also appealed to Latino voters, who make up 30 percent of Los Angeles’ registered voters, in different ways.
Greuel said her stances on education and business development would be the key issues attracting Latino voters to her.
“No matter where you live in Los Angeles, you should get the same education,” Greuel said, adding she would also promote entrepreneurship and job creation.
“As a small business owner, I get it, the importance of those jobs,” Greuel said.
Garcetti reached out to Latino voters by saying because his grandfather was an immigrant from Mexico, he can relate to the “dreamers” today, some of whom work on his campaign but “aren’t yet citizens.”
Garcetti has made immigration reform a focus of his campaign and promised to restart the Office of Immigrant Affairs in the mayor’s office to assist immigrants in their efforts to gain citizenship.
The pair also took slightly different stances on whether they would support a $3 billion bond measure to fix city streets.
Garcetti said he would be “quite open” to it, adding that the city has delayed repairs for 70 years and further delays could results in costs going up.
“If you don’t repair it (the streets) every year, you’re going to do patch work,” Garcetti said.
Greuel said she would not go to the voters to advance a bond measure until she had first found money within the city government by preventing “waste fraud and abuse,” to which Garcetti again responded by saying that Greuel’s touting of $160 million she claims to have saved the city “don’t add up.”
Garcetti made a further dig at his opponent by saying, “I’m not going to pretend a little bit here and a little bit there” is going to fix streets.
Both said they would work to end homelessness.
Greuel pointed to her time tackling homelessness while working for the federal government and said she would identify government funds to pay for homeless services.
Garcetti pointed to his involvement in efforts to end chronic homelessness, saying he has worked with Los Angeles County officials on a program to transition homeless people into permanent housing.
“By learning their names and stories, we are getting them off the street one at a time,” Garcetti said.
Garcetti also touted his efforts to revitalize his district’s neighborhoods, including supporting development in Hollywood. During the debate, he proposed a “Great Streets” project to improve 20 streets in Los Angeles.
When asked about his opposition to the Millennium project, which would result in two towering skyscrapers being built next to the Capitol Records building, Garcetti explained that he supports development, “but that doesn’t mean we’ll get any project done no matter how tall it is.”
Greuel criticized Garcetti on “waiting until the last minute” to take a stance on the Millennium project which has been under discussion for two years. She said she would say upfront what she felt about the project, to which Garcetti said he would “listen to the community” first before making up his mind.
Garcetti also referred to a project in Greuel’s district while she was a councilwoman, called Valley Village, that he said sat neglected and “boarded up.”
Both also said if the city continues to experience a budget crisis, they would ask city employees to give back part of their pay raises, scheduled to kick in during the next fiscal year.
Garcetti took credit for helping push through cuts and layoffs in recent years that resulted in eliminating 90 percent of a $1 billion deficit projected, and said more work must be done to eliminate another $150 million by having city employees pay more into their healthcare premiums” — between 5 and 10 percent.
Greuel said “we need to sit at the table and we need to be able to negotiate with city employees,” saying she has “several ideas” such as looking at the pension system.
“We spend 150 million on fund managers. We can do better,” she said, adding that she thinks $66 million can be saved “when look at workers comp and our health care costs.”
When asked what type of “shoot for the moon projects” they would propose, Garcetti said he would lower the Hollywood (101) Freeway and build a park on top to create more green space, while Greuel said she would create economic zones around the city’s colleges and universities so when students graduate, they could conceivably find a job nearby.
They were also asked which of three tasks they would tackle first as mayor — fix potholes, enact pension reforms or alleviate traffic congestion.
Greuel picked fixing traffic, while Garcetti said he would tackle pensions first.
Both also said they would continue to try to bring in an NFL team, though Garcetti pointed out that the team “just can’t be the Raiders,” joking “we have gone down in crime ever since the Raiders left” in 1995.
Both closed by summing up their approaches in different ways.
“I don’t identify problems, I solve them,” Garcetti said.
“I believe City Hall is broken,” Greuel said, adding that she is running because she is not satisfied with the city the way it is.