In a hot and crowded meeting room on Wilshire Boulevard Tuesday night, Democrats declined to enter the early fray of the race for Los Angeles mayor.
To win the official stamp of the L.A. County Democratic Party, a candidate must garner the support of 60 percent of the voting members of the Central Committee.
During the first ballot, City Councilman Eric Garcetti won 84 votes, City Controller Wendy Greuel received 76, and City Councilwoman Jan Perry picked up 15.
After Perry was eliminated, the vote was Garcetti 83, Greuel 75. The primary election is March 5. The party can still endorse someone in the May general election.
Candidate Kevin James, a Republican, did not seek the Democratic endorsement. Emanuel Pleitez was not present.
After weeks of courting fellow Democrats by phone and by mail, Garcetti and Greuel moved throughout the room shaking hands and patting backs – even as the air conditioning struggled and the temperature soared. Neither took their coats off, as they delivered impassioned pleas for support.
“I was born with Democratic values. I live and breathe them,” Garcetti said from the podium.
“I’ve been proud to be a part of progressive Los Angeles and I want to continue that as Mayor of Los Angeles – to have us the most progressive city in the country,” Greuel said.
Early polls indicate Garcetti and Greuel are the frontrunners to replace Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Each has raised more than $2 million dollars. Consultants to both candidates sought to spin the "no endorsement" as a defeat for the other side.
It was clearly a victory for Perry, who asked the party to stay out of the primary election.
“Let’s not begin this race by tearing our party apart,” Perry said. “Let us take our fight to the people and let the people decide.”
The endorsement is important because upwards of 60 percent of voters will be Democrats. The party usually sends out mail supporting its candidate. The candidate can also claim to be the party’s choice.
In other citywide races, Democrats backed Mike Feuer in his challenge to City Attorney Carmen Trutanich. Trutanich is registered “decline to state.” They also endorsed Ron Galperin for City Controller. Galperin faces City Councilman Dennis Zine, a longtime Republican who two years ago changed his registration to "decline to state."
There were a few other twists to the evening. Former Assemblyman Gil Cedillo marshaled enough support to keep the party out of his race with Jose Gardea. Both seek to succeed 1st District City Councilman Ed Reyes. Gardea is Reyes’ chief of staff, and an endorsement committee had recommended backing the relative newcomer over Cedillo.
The committee also voted to back Mike Davis in the 9th District. But Democrats rejected that decision and decided not to endorse. It also issued no endorsement in the crowded 13th district council race.
Finally, Democrats refused to endorse Los Angeles Unified School District Board Member Monica Garcia as she defends her seat against five challengers. The party backed her last time, but teacher’s union activists are angry at her support of charter schools.
Jackie Goldberg – the onetime school board member, council member and darling of the left – showed up to express her displeasure with Garcia’s performance.
“It hurts me to speak against her,” Goldberg said. “But I have to do that because of her leadership in giving away the schools to the charters.”
Garcia defended herself.
“We have more graduation today. We have more third graders reading at grade level today,” Garcia said.
This story has been corrected to reflect City Councilman Dennis Zine's current voter registration status.