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L.A. mayor candidates Greuel, Garcetti trade barbs at labor meeting

December 14, 2012 |  1:02 pm

Mayoral candidates City Controller Wendy Greuel and City Councilman Eric Garcetti in 2006.

The Los Angeles mayor's race has been tame so far, with candidates sticking mostly to topics that are far from incendiary: business taxes, economic development, affordable housing.

But the first hint of a more lively race to come surfaced at a forum staged recently by the Service Employees International Union, which represents 10,000 city employees. The event was held exclusively for SEIU members and not open the public. But a recording of it, a copy of which was obtained by The Times, revealed City Controller Wendy Greuel and City Councilman Eric Garcetti taking veiled swipes at each other as they sought the support of organized labor. A segment can be heard below, with Greuel speaking, then Garcetti.

Greuel first took a shot at Garcetti, bringing up a 2010 City Council proposal that called for the elimination of 4,000 city positions "by any means necessary, including layoffs." Garcetti and another mayoral candidate, Councilwoman Jan Perry, signed that proposal just as the city was in economic free fall. "You have to ask yourself this question: Who do you trust? Who's going to be true to their word?" Greuel said, without mentioning Garcetti by name.

"It is important that you have someone who is going to stand with you every step of the way," Greuel told the union audience.

Garcetti fired back at Greuel, suggesting she had been too timid in criticizing former Mayor Richard Riordan's ballot proposal -- now abandoned -- to move new city workers into 401(k)-style retirement plans. Garcetti did not mention Greuel by name, referring instead to "somebody who talks about trust."

"You can't just have silence when there are things like your pensions that are about be privatized," said Garcetti, who was the first to criticize Riordan's proposal.

Ian Thompson, a spokesman for SEIU Local 721, said his union is still trying to determine whether it will endorse a candidate in the March 5 mayoral primary. During the forum, Greuel and Garcetti ducked the question of whether they would keep Miguel Santana, the top budget official who has drawn the ire of city unions.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the council have eliminated more than 4,000 city jobs in recent years, mostly through early retirement and transfers of employees to agencies not affected by the budget, including the Department of Water and Power. Fewer than 400 have resulted in layoffs.

Garcetti said he would not apologize for votes that "make sure this city does not go bankrupt" but noted that he had been vocal in opposing a recent plan to lay off about 200 additional employees. "I will speak up the moment somebody says we're going to lay more people off and be the first person -- not the second or the third or the silent person."

Council members have been taking steps in recent days to make sure none of those workers, three-fourths of them in the Police Department, are laid off.

The remarks by both candidates troubled Jack Humphreville, who frequently writes about the city budget for the online publication CityWatch. Humphreville, who recently submitted a ballot argument against the council's proposed half-cent sales tax hike, said neither candidate is providing a road map that addresses the cost of salaries, benefits and pensions at City Hall.

"It's not just discouraging. It's just plain irresponsible. Not one of these guys are willing to address the issues that need to be addressed," he said.


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-- David Zahniser at Los Angeles City Hall

Photo: Mayoral candidates Wendy Greuel and Eric Garcetti in 2006. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times