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'Polite' mayoral candidates debate in South Los Angeles

January 18, 2013 |  7:56 am

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

After a tense tussle about union spending in the contest, the major candidates in the Los Angeles mayoral race met Thursday night in a congenial South Los Angeles forum in which they largely agreed and avoided attacking one another directly.

Their pleasant demeanor was so marked that the forum's moderator, the Rev. Bob Gay, remarked, "Aren't they all being polite?"

"We're in a church," responded City Councilwoman Jan Perry.

Perry, Councilman Eric Garcetti, Controller Wendy Greuel and attorney Kevin James met at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference's forum at Mt. Gilean Missionary Baptist Church. The gathering took place 24 hours after a heated forum in the San Fernando Valley in which Greuel took repeated jabs about whether she could be independent given that a major public employee union was backing an independent effort to push her candidacy.

Although the controversy sparked throughout the day, it was not mentioned during the evening forum, which took place with the candidates sitting together at a table in front of a largely African American audience packed in the pews. The candidates laced their remarks with references to Martin Luther King Jr., President Obama and Tom Bradley, the city's only African American mayor.

Perry's campaign is the most reliant on support from black voters, and she received the first applause of the evening for promising that, if elected, her office's employees would be diverse.

"To the African American community specifically, if you have felt that you have been left behind the last eight years by the current administration, I can assure you will not feel that in the next eight years," she said.

The candidates largely agreed on calls for funding an underground stretch of public transportation along Crenshaw Boulevard, increased regulation of marijuana dispensaries, gun control and diversity in the halls of power.

James, the sole Republican among the top contenders who has never held elected office, was the only candidate who was overt in his criticism of his rivals, arguing that they have all held elected office for years and failed to deliver.

"You're going to hear a lot of promises tonight, a lot of representations made to you about what these elected officials will do," he said, before delivering a line he would repeat throughout the night. "But I have a question for you -- how long will you wait? They've been in office 12 years –- wasn't it time years ago?”

Garcetti reiterated his pledge to end homelessness -- which Perry questioned -- and also pledged to make summer jobs available for all young people in lower-income communities.

After Garcetti left early because he had another event, Greuel subtly swiped at her main rival in the contest.

"I canceled my event tonight so I could be here and stay for the whole time," she said in her closing remarks. "And it was definitely well worth it to be here for the entire time."


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