Mayoral hopefuls talk neighborhood representation, Oscar picks
With Los Angeles' March 5 primary looming, mayoral candidates took turns wooing crucial San Fernando Valley voters in a wide-ranging debate that touched on the role of neighborhood councils, campaign contributions and even which film they hoped would take home the best picture Oscar on Sunday.
The audience of about 200 included representatives of 25 neighborhood councils in the San Fernando Valley, high-propensity voters the candidates hope to win. Each of the candidates pledged continued support for the city's network of panels representing local communities, which was created in part to respond to Valley residents' concerns that their voices weren't being heard downtown.
The loudest reponse came when candidate Kevin James promised to restore neighborhood council funding, which has been cut in recent years.
"People say, 'Kevin, where will you get that money?'" said James, a lawyer and former radio show host. "From the discretionary funds of council members, that's how."
City Controller Wendy Greuel took shots from opponents over $2.2 million spent to back her campaign by outside committees affiliated with two city worker unions. Councilman Eric Garcetti said the expenditures raise the question of whether "elections can be bought."
"I don’t think that comes without strings attached,'' he said. Greuel repeatedly countered that her record shows she has no problem saying "no" to allies, and that her competitors were merely trying to whip up controversy.
All five major candidates -- except former technology executive Emanuel Pleitez -- have benefited from some outside spending, though none to the degree Greuel is being aided.
The debate at Valley College was moderated by Dan Schnur, director of USC's Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics, and was put on by the Valley Assn. of Neighborhood Councils. Perhaps hoping to lighten the mood, Schnur asked each candidate which movie they would vote for a best picture Oscar, if they had the chance.
James and Pleitez said they had been too busy campaigning to see the nominated films and passed on an answer. Councilwoman Jan Perry cited "Zero Dark Thirty," about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, as embodying the triumph of good over evil.
Greuel said she was rooting for "Lincoln,'' the presidential biography made by her old DreamWorks boss, director Steven Spielberg.
Garcetti named "Argo,'' which tells the story of the daring rescue of American diplomats from Iran.
Why? "Because it's the only one that filmed here,'' he said.
-- Catherine Saillant in Valley Glen
Photo: Los Angeles mayoral candidates at recent Loyola Marymount University debate. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times