Pro-Greuel group hits Garcetti with TV attack ad
This post has been corrected. See note below for details.
A group funded mostly by unions and entertainment executives has produced a television attack ad backing city Controller Wendy Greuel's campaign to become Los Angeles' next mayor by accusing City Councilman Eric Garcetti of “living large” on the taxpayers’ dime.
The 30-second ad from Working Californians to Elect Wendy Greuel begins with an image of Garcetti, dressed all in white and crooning “White Christmas” at a holiday party, while a narrator declares: “It’s Christmas every day for Eric Garcetti, president of the highest-paid city council in America.”
The ad alleges Garcetti stayed at “five-star hotels,” had “seven city cars” and “took money from neighborhood streets for more personal staff.”
The union that represents most Department of Water and Power Employees is among the main sources of funding for the independent ad, which echoes some of the accusations made in a mailer financed directly by the Greuel campaign. Campaign laws prohibit “independent expenditure” campaigns from coordinating directly with the candidates they support.
The ad comes with five days before the March 5 primary election in which Greuel and Garcetti are seen as two top contenders. The two former City Council colleagues closely mirror each other in ideology and policy proposals. But they have engaged in increasingly testy series of attacks, with Garcetti alleging that Greuel’s audits and proposed budget make no sense and Greuel calling Garcetti untrustworthy.
“As L.A. faced bankruptcy, Garcetti was living large,” the new TV ad says. It outlines Garcetti’s allegedly lavish taxpayer-funded tenure at City Hall, juxtaposed with a picture of a car rolling through a pothole.
The ad is likely to inspire a counterattack, as Greuel also has traveled at taxpayers expense and used city cars and a driver. It also may lead to more accusations from Greuel's opponents that she is beholden to the DWP union, which is not popular among some voters who have seen utility rates rise.
“The DWP union is a bunch of hypocrites, because Wendy Greuel has done the same things they’re attacking Eric Garcetti for,” Jeff Millman, a spokesman for Garcetti’s campaign, said in a statement. “The DWP union would like the voters to forget that Wendy Greuel served on the City Council for seven years herself and while on the council she voted every time for Eric Garcetti to be the president of the City Council.”
When the specific accusations in the ad are explored in detail, they lose some wallop.
Regarding the claim of lavish travel, the Garcetti campaign noted that Greuel has also taken multiple trips at public expense -- including a 2008 visit to Israel originally paid for, in part, by the Department of Water and Power. Greuel has said that she traveled more modestly than Garcetti and that she fully repaid the city for the cost of the trip to Israel.
The accusation that Garcetti “took money from neighborhood streets for more personal staff” refers to the councilman’s use of $195,000 over three years to pay for an employee to do work “associated with land use issues,” according to city records.
Garcetti’s aides rejected the ad’s allegation that money had been taken from streets. The fund used to pay the aide, Kelli Bernard, came from advertising on bus shelters, kiosks and elsewhere. It is not reserved for street repairs, and City Council members, including Greuel, used the fund for a variety of pet projects, including building pocket parks and removing graffiti.
Also, Greuel seconded the motion in 2007 that brought Bernard on board at Garcetti's office. When the annual payment for Bernard went to $70,000 in 2008 from $55,000, Greuel again voted “yes.”
Garcetti is one of several council members who used some of the money to pay employees in their offices. The councilman’s aides said Bernard worked on a variety of issues, including economic development and a street improvement project on Hollywood Boulevard.
Greuel used money from the advertising contract for projects that more directly benefited her constituents, said her spokeswoman, Shannon Murphy.
Finally, as to the ad's suggestion that Garcetti "cut fire service," the councilman's aides noted that Greuel also voted for the 2009 reductions that helped the city balance its budget.
The Working Californians group has raised $1.7 million as of this week’s campaign reports. An offshoot of the Interntional Brotherhood of Electrical workers, which represents Department of Water and Power employees, contributed the largest single share.
[For the record, 7:56 p.m. Feb. 28: A previous version of this post called the anti-Garcetti commercial the first television attack ad in the Los Angeles mayor’s race. In fact, Better Way L.A., an independent expenditure group, had previously launched a negative ad on behalf of candidate Kevin James.]
-- James Rainey and Seema Mehta