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L.A. votes: Next mayor's big challenges, questions about union influence

February 25, 2013 |  9:02 am

Los Angeles mayoral candidates Jan Perry, Kevin James, Eric Garcetti, Wendy Greuel and Emanuel Pleitez stand at a debate at UCLA's Royce Hall.

The nation’s eyes were fixed this weekend on the Oscar race unfolding in Hollywood. But with just days to go before the citywide March 5 election, local political contests were getting just as hot and heavy.Election Memo

The Times took a wide-angle look at the challenges facing the city as voters pick a successor to termed-out Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. City leaders have already cut hundreds of millions of dollars out of everyday services and ongoing maintenance to stay afloat, but the next chief executive will have to make hard decisions, especially in light of costly, ill-timed spending commitments made at City Hall and a failure to adjust to the region's weakening economic foundation.

That hard fact has prompted some to question two city unions’ heavy financial backing of Wendy Greuel in the race. Greuel defended her record, saying as controller she has scrutinized many city agencies and has worked on behalf of taxpayers.

FULL COVERAGE: L.A.'s race for mayor

Greuel is not the only one receiving outside aid in her bid. Kevin James, who has received nearly a half-million dollars of support from an independent committee, issued a plea for new funding from the Texas billionaire who has thus far bankrolled much of the effort. Meanwhile, James continued to attack Greuel for her ties to the union representing  many workers from the city’s Department of Water and Power.

The first in a series of profiles of the mayoral candidates examines the past and present statements of James.

The mayoral candidates made their Oscar picks for best movie, and tried to use the focus on Hollywood bonanza to woo voters. James highlighted his endorsement by the Bring Hollywood Home Foundation in a fund-raising appeal that warned, “Imagine a Hollywood with no Oscars because the industry was run out of town by our city's bad policies.” Greuel put out a mailer featuring the head of her rival, Councilman Eric Garcetti, superimposed on an Oscar statue with the headline, “And the award goes to... ERIC GARCETTI. Worst Performance By A Politician In A Leading Role.”

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Greuel was the target of a mailer sent out by Councilwoman Jan Perry highlighting her former registration as a member of the Republican Party. State Democrats howled in displeasure at the mailer, noting that Greuel has been a registered member of their party for more than two decades.

Mark Cherry, the creator of “Desperate Housewives,” hosted a fund-raiser for James on Saturday. And Hollywood executives are holding an event for Greuel  Monday night.

In non-mayoral news, supporters of a half-cent sales tax took to the air, the candidates for city controller debated and the city attorney's race got testy.

WHERE THEY STAND: Los Angeles mayoral candidates in their own words

In the demographically shifting 9th District, residents may not be represented by an African-American politician on the City Council for the first time in a half-century. On the Westside, Mike Bonin looks likely to take over the seat of his boss, Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who is retiring to focus on battling cancer. And columnist Steve Lopez weighs in on New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg putting $1 million into Los Angeles’ school board races.


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-- Seema Mehta

Comments, questions or tips on city elections? Tweet me at @LATSeema

Photo: Los Angeles mayoral candidates Jan Perry, left, Kevin James, Eric Garcetti, Wendy Greuel and Emanuel Pleitez stand at a debate at UCLA's Royce Hall. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times