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In tight mayor's race, no endorsement by county Democratic Party

January 9, 2013 |  7:51 am

Los Angeles Mayoral candidates Jan Perry, Kevin James,  Wendy Greuel and Eric Garcetti at a mayoral candidate debate in Sept. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

In another sign of how close the Los Angeles mayor’s race probably will be this spring, the Los Angeles County Democratic Party failed to endorse a primary candidate after a series of votes in which top candidates Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel fell short of the 60% threshold needed to win its backing.

The competition for the county party’s endorsement became surprisingly fierce over the last few weeks as Greuel and Garcetti personally courted many of the group’s more than 200 delegates, and one of Greuel’s top supporters, Assembly Speaker John A. Perez (D-Los Angeles), began a muscular push to secure backing for the controller.

While Garcetti, the former City Council president, and Greuel, the city’s controller, wooed many of the delegates personally over the phone and leaned on surrogates to help in those efforts, Perez recorded a robo call advocating for Greuel and sent a letter to delegates on her behalf.

The group's decision came after a series of complex procedural votes Tuesday night by nearly 200 delegates, who include members of the state Assembly and Senate, as well as local elected officials, and the seven delegates who are elected in each of the county’s 24 assembly districts.

In the last of three rounds of voting, Garcetti edged Greuel by winning the support of 46% of the 179 delegates voting Tuesday night, to her 41%. Another 12% of the members cast their ballots in favor of no endorsement.

Supporters of Greuel and Garcetti essentially forced a showdown between the two candidates in the final round after a preliminary tally in which Councilwoman Jan Perry was eliminated from the running because she did not meet the required 20% threshold.

Tuesday night’s vote came after the organization’s interview committee, which met with each of the Democratic candidates for 30 minutes Sunday and reviewed their written answers from a questionnaire, could not reach their own 60% consensus that would have been required to endorse one of the candidates.

Operatives for Greuel and Garcetti both claimed victory.

Greuel’s consultant John Shallman argued that Garcetti had been working for the last two years to secure the party’s endorsement.

“He’s the self-proclaimed rising star of the Democratic Party, actively organizing, hiring people to work the Democratic party [groups] …. For him not to get this is a serious setback for his campaign.”

Bill Carrick, an advisor to Garcetti, said the former council president had run a grass-roots campaign for the endorsement — reaching out to delegates one by one -- while Greuel “was coming in with the Sacramento power brokers.”

“What she did failed miserably,” said Carrick, noting that Greuel’s campaign had recruited Reps. Janice Hahn (D-San Pedro) and Tony Cardenas (D-Panorama City) to make personal appeals Tuesday night on her behalf. “We did pretty damn well given the odds of what we were facing.”

The ideological kinship among the top three Democratic mayoral candidates has created similar dilemmas for many of the city’s political groups. Earlier this week, the Los Angeles League of Conservation Voters endorsed both Greuel and Garcetti, praising their work on policies to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and protect open space, and arguing that either candidate would be a champion for the environment.

The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor has decided to stay out of the primary race. To win that nod either Greuel or Garcetti would have had to draw support from two-thirds of its members.

Though there was no victor at the county Democratic party Tuesday night, the Garcetti campaign has notched endorsements of a number of notable party groups in the race before early voting begins for the March 5 primary election. In early December, he won the backing of the Democratic Party of San Fernando Valley, a group that represents 27 Democratic clubs and could be instrumental in helping the former City Council president cut into Greuel’s turf in the Valley.

Though Greuel or Perry could make history by becoming the city’s first female mayor, Garcetti was also endorsed Tuesday by the political action committee of the California National Organization for Women.

The group’s president, Patty Bellasalma, said members had weighed which candidate “would be most willing to create a more equal playing field” for the city’s women and girls: “The answer to that question -- without hesitation -– was Eric Garcetti.”


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Photo: Los Angeles mayoral candidates, from left, Jan Perry, Kevin James, Wendy Greuel and Eric Garcetti attend a debate in September. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times