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Candidates for Los Angeles mayor discuss pension reform at Koreatown debate

Los Angeles City Hall.
Los Angeles City Hall.
Alice Walton/KPCC

Just when you thought you’d had enough of politics, here comes the race to succeed Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.  Four candidates faced off Wednesday in a forum sponsored by the Korean American Coalition. 

Among the topics:  Former Mayor Richard Riordan’s proposed ballot initiative to dramatically overhaul city pensions and move new city workers into 401 (k) style plans.  The plan would likely reduce benefits for city workers.

“I oppose the proposed ballot initiative,” said Councilman Eric Garcetti.  He argued Riordan’s plan initially would cost more, and that the city would not realize any savings for 15 years.

City Controller Wendy Greuel warned the proposal  - staunchly opposed by powerful labor unions – might send police officers to surrounding cities with more generous benefits. 

“What we cannot do is ensure that we have a difficult time hiring police officers,” Greuel said. 

Councilwoman Jan Perry said she appreciated Riordan’s effort.

“The Riordan initiative is interesting because it puts pressure from the outside in to bring about change,” said Perry.

 But Perry later told reporters she would not support the plan because it may initially increase costs to the city.

While Garcetti, Greuel and Perry said city employees would need to pay more into their pension and healthcare plans, only attorney and former conservative talk show host Kevin James backed Riordan’s plan.

“I’m not sure they understand the seriousness of bankruptcy,” said James.  “The existing defined benefit plan is not working.”

James faces the biggest climb in this race.  He has raised far less money than the other candidates, but hopes as the only Republican he’ll stand out.

The one-hour debate in Koreatown prompted a discussion of this year’s redistricting plan that saw Korean American activists fail to convince the City Council to create a district with more Asian American voters. 

Perry accused her colleagues of being interested only in their political contributions.

“Koreatown has been systematically victimized by the political class in Los Angeles,” Perry told the audience.

Garcetti defended his vote supporting the redistricting plan. He said Koreatown remained in one council district and that the alternative was worse.

“The final proposal that was given as an alternative was one that would have sliced up historic Filipinotown,” said Garcetti.