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Steve Lopez: No one seemed to fall asleep at latest mayoral forum

February 5, 2013 | 11:43 am

Photo: Los Angeles Mayoral candidates Jan Perry, Kevin James, Eric Garcetti, Wendy Greuel, and Emanuel Pleitez during the debate sponsored by the Los Angeles Coalition for the Economy and Jobs at UCLA's Royce Hall on Jan. 28. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

Steve LopezPacked house Monday night at the Autry National Center to see the mayoral wanna-bes square off.

The highlights?

This one was fairly lively, actually. I sat in the back of the room to gage audience reaction, and nobody fell asleep, to my knowledge.

FULL COVERAGE: Los Angeles mayor's race

Councilman Eric Garcetti and Controller Wendy Greuel smacked each other a little bit over “silly season” political tactics, as Greuel called Garcetti’s proposal to donate PAC money to charities.

Kevin James spent a little too much time on an old-news ticket-fixing story. He was better off lining up the city’s problems -- a budget deficit, high unemployment, soaring retirement costs, broken streets and sidewalks -- and then telling the audience we have the highest-paid city officials in the nation.

All five candidates took the courageous stand of promising not to allow digital billboards in Griffith Park. Thanks, folks. But we wouldn’t have had so many of those billion-watt nuisances in neighborhoods if city officials hadn’t sold out to the outdoor advertising industry.

The candidates are opposed to the proposed half-cent sales-tax increase and also would scratch the gross receipts tax for businesses, which brings in $400 million a year. OK, fine. But I’m reminded of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger delivering on a promise to crush the vehicle registration fee, and then wondering how to fill the $4-billion hole that created each year.

Wendy Greuel showed some oomph, suggesting she must be in the lead, given the way her opponents were ganging up on her. But she remains the queen of campaign clichés. She’s going to roll up her sleeves, be a mayor for all of Los Angeles, and when it comes to fiscal matters, naturally, everything’s on the table. Everything, that is, except anything specific.

And Greuel repeated a line, from her TV ad, that leaves you scratching your head:

“I don’t just want to be the mayor, I actually want to do the job of mayor.”

With all the campaign cash she’s raking in, can’t she hire better writers?

And one last note:

All the candidates said they’d do something to improve public education as mayor, although nobody made a compelling case for what that might be.

Other than political influence, the mayor has little control over the schools. That’s somebody else’s job.

And let’s not forget that one reason Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa got off to such a shaky start was that he wasted precious time in a botched attempt to gain more control.

The first priority for a mayor isn’t schools. It’s figuring out how to balance the budget as retirement costs soar, and still deliver the services taxpayers expect.

And only four weeks remain, before election day, for the candidates to convince us they have the answers.


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-- Steve Lopez

Photo: At UCLA's Royce Hall on Jan. 28, Los Angeles mayoral candidates Jan Perry, Kevin James, Eric Garcetti, Wendy Greuel and Emanuel Pleitez take part in a debate.  Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times