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Wendy Greuel takes a pounding from rivals at final mayoral debate

Wendy Greuel may have known it was coming, but it still had to be hard to take a pounding from all four of her opponents for mayor of Los Angeles, as the city controller became a prime focus for much of the final debate before Tuesday's primary election.

A good portion of the 90-minute discussion, televised live Friday night on KCAL-TV Channel 9, centered on the $2.7-million campaign being run for Greuel and funded largely by the city's unionized water and power workers. Another large chunk of the discussion focused on dissecting whether Greuel's audits as controller had really uncovered much new revenue for Los Angeles.

About half an hour into the debate, the spotlight turned on Greuel when City Councilman Eric Garcetti, her chief rival, suggested that the mass support from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers had influenced her scrutiny of the DWP.

“You found zero dollars in waste in your audits,” Garcetti said. “Why did you let them off the hook in a way that we haven’t seen with other departments?”

That touched off a prolonged critique of not only those eight reviews but other audits conducted by the controller's office over the last four years. Greuel began to answer but Garcetti interrupted her to note that her website showed $0 in waste uncovered at the DWP and ask whether she really thought there was no waste in the massive utility.

“Do you know what an audit is?” Greuel retorted, going on to say that some of the investigations had been designed to root out improper practices that would save money in the future.

Moderator Dave Bryan of KCAL 9 pressed Greuel as to how much of the $160 million in "waste, fraud and abuse" she has claimed to uncover could be recovered for the city treasury. The Times previously reported that roughly half of the money came from two audits -- one that amounted to moving money from one city fund to another and another in which the projected revenue of $52 million Greuel had called "unrealistic."

She did not offer a specific figure Friday that could be recovered in the future but said it would be substantial.

One of the largest potential areas of recovery, according to Greuel’s audits, would be a “street furniture” fund, in which the city collects payments in exchange for a company installing bus shelters and kiosks, on which it then sells advertising.

Greuel bemoaned the fact that as much as $52 million in future revenue might go uncollected if the city does not renegotiate  a contract with the vendor, CBS Decaux. She blamed the City Council for failing to take action. "They have attacked my numbers or attacked the auditors,” she said, “but they have not attacked the problem.”

That provoked Councilwoman Jan Perry to join the battering of Greuel. She accused the controller of having it both ways because, as a councilwoman, Greuel had one of the worst records for approving the revenue-generating street installations. “Wendy, you didn’t put the amount of units on the street in your former district that you should have,” Perry said, adding that Greuel could have done much more to clear the way for the street fixtures.

Greuel said she had to heed concerns from her constituents about the placement of some of the furniture but that the bigger amount of funds was lost because the council has not redone the contract.

Greuel couldn't have been thrilled when moderator Bryan returned to the issue of the influence of outside money as the final topic of the debate. Her opponents got in a few final shots, but Greuel kept her cool as she insisted her  priorities remained in the right order.

"I am going to fight," she said, "for the ratepayer and taxpayer as mayor of Los Angeles."

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-- Maeve Reston and James Rainey

 
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