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Party poopers in the March 3 election

February 2, 2009 | 10:27 am

If you read Sunday's newspaper, you might know that two of the candidates for Los Angeles controller are fighting over who will be more independent from Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. And that argument has led to one of the campaign's weirdest controversies: Birthday-gate, and what it means when a candidate shows up at a party for Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

It all started when engineer Nick Patsaouras, one of three candidates seeking to replace City Controller Laura Chick, accused opponent Wendy Greuel of being in the mayor's "inner circle." Greuel’s closeness to the mayor, Patsaouras said, would make it hard for her to question the mayor’s management or audit programs conducted by his office.

Greuel, a city councilwoman from the San Fernando Valley, shot back by saying Patsaouras, a onetime mayoral appointee who raised money for Villaraigosa’s 2005 campaign, is the one who resides in the inner circle. To hammer her point home, she noted that Patsaouras went to Villaraigosa's Jan. 23 birthday party at the home of Keith Brackpool, a longtime mayoral confidant. Greuel said she was not invited to the soiree.

Patsaouras, a former DWP commissioner, noted that several others went to the party at Brackpool's Santa Monica home -- former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez, MTA board member Richard Katz, City Councilman Jack Weiss, public works Commissioner Cynthia Ruiz, Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt and Ace Smith, the opposition researcher who serves as the mayor's political consultant.

"He invited me to his birthday," Patsaouras said. "What am I going to say? No?"

Other attendees, Patsaouras said, were longtime Villaraigosa friend Jesus Quinonez, a teachers union attorney who was placed by the mayor on the Metropolitan Water District board of directors, mayoral pal and fundraiser Ari Swiller, who works in the renewable energy business, and Maria Elena Durazo, who heads the powerful Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.

-- David Zahniser