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L.A. Council candidates trade accusations over ties to Villaraigosa

November 23, 2009 |  4:20 pm

With just two weeks before the Dec. 8 runoff election, accusations are flying between the two candidates vying to replace former Los Angeles City Councilwoman Wendy Greuel in the 2nd District, which stretches from Sherman Oaks and Studio City to Sunland-Tujunga.

Last week, Assemblyman Paul Krekorian sent a mailer depicting his opponent, former Paramount Pictures executive Christine Essel, as the “consummate downtown political insider” and trying to link her to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who had a weak showing in the San Fernando Valley in his March re-election campaign.

Krekorian’s brochure included a 2000 letter sent on official stationery by then-Assembly Speaker Villaraigosa expressing gratitude to Essel for hosting a meet-and-greet at her home. The mailer claimed the letter thanked Essel “for launching his mayoral campaign with a fundraiser.”

But Essel’s campaign said the event had nothing to do with Villaraigosa’s mayoral campaign and no money was raised for him at the event.  A Villaraigosa spokeswoman confirmed those statements.

Villaraigosa was just one of a number of guests, including state Treasurer Bill Lockyer and state Sen. Carol Liu, invited by Essel to speak to a group of women at her home on different occasions, according to her campaign.

Essel’s spokesman said she has never hosted a fundraiser for Villaraigosa. She gave him a total of $1,000 for his mayoral campaign in 1999 and 2001, according to the city's ethics website.

On Monday, Essel’s campaign sent a news release to reporters with a provocative subject line in all caps: “Burglary charge in city council special election.” Aides included a police report filed by Essel on Friday at the North Hollywood station and a letter she sent to L.A. County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley asking him to investigate where Krekorian’s campaign got the letter, which she said was a personal note that was “mine only to possess and or release.” [That assertion is debatable since the document was sent by a public official on State Assembly letterhead].

Essel told Cooley “the development” was something that “eerily conjures up images of the Watergate break-in scandal.” Her campaign consultant John Shallman said “someone broke into some particular place and took that letter,” and said the campaign believes only Republicans in the district received the mailing.

Neither Villaraigosa’s office nor the office of Assembly Speaker Karen Bass released the letter, according to aides for Bass and the mayor. A spokeswoman for Bass said the Speaker’s office does not keep records going back that far.

Krekorian’s campaign said a person -- whom the campaign would not identify -- brought the letter to the campaign office. His campaign consultant Eric Hacopian called the burglary allegation “another silly attempt” by Essel’s campaign to change the subject.

“Her hypocritical claims are laughable,” Hacopian said in a statement. “What's more, in directing the North Hollywood police to look into this frivolous matter to pursue her own political interests, she is wasting valuable police resources at a time when we can ill-afford to misuse public funds.”

But Shallman said “Until they show they had a public records request to get it [the letter] they are in possession of stolen property.”

-- Maeve Reston at L.A. City Hall