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Los Angeles mayor candidates Garcetti, Greuel exchange sharp jabs during TV debate

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You could almost see Los Angeles City Councilman Eric Garcetti preparing his attack when City Controller Wendy Greuel delivered her now familiar campaign pitch during a debate Monday night at Cal State L.A.

“I’ve identified $160 million in waste, fraud and abuse,” Greuel said. “There are efficiencies that we could do today to help solve our budget problem.”

Garcetti pounced.

“Miss Greuel said she identified $160 million in waste, fraud and abuse – something the LA Times said is simply not true,” he said. “It rests on an accounting maneuver and unrealistic projections.”

Greuel refuses to back down from the number, despite the Times and other news reports suggesting it’s inflated. There’s good reason. The “waste, fraud and abuse” argument plays well among conservatives who vote in large numbers in municipal elections. At the debate, the controller portrayed herself as the unwelcome bearer of bad news.

“They told me that City Hall would try to kill the messenger,” she said. “Apparently, my opponent doesn’t feel there’s any waste."

The exchange stretched throughout the debate. It was almost a debate within the debate.

Greuel said people should go to her website. Garcetti agreed.

“The numbers simply aren’t there,” he said.

Polls, including a new one from SurveyUSA , show Garcetti and Greuel are neck-and-neck in the March 5 primary. They’ve also raised the most money. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two finishers compete in a May runoff.

RELATED:   For more, go to: 2013 Los Angeles Mayoral Race  &  KPCC My Ballot Voter Guide

City Councilwoman Jan Perry has placed third in polls and fundraising, but is hoping to squeeze her way into a runoff by attracting conservative voters and African Americans. Perry is black, and a champion of downtown development.

She may have provided the most honest answer of the debate. A questioner wondered about her credibility as a “straight shooter.” Perry has mailed out fliers praising and criticizing Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

“I think it shows that I’m smart and I know how to engage in micro-targeting of my mail, and to speak to different populations,” Perry said. “That’s what a campaign is all about. I’m campaigning to win.”

Entertainment attorney and former radio talk show host Kevin James repeated his argument that Garcetti, Greuel and Perry are part of the problem at City Hall because they’re all current office holders.

“City Hall is broken, and they broke it,” he said.

James also took aim at the nearly $1 million spent largely by the labor union representing Department of Water and Power workers on behalf of Greuel.

“The DWP as it relates to this campaign stands for the Department of Wendy Power,” James said.

  It's worth noting Dallas billionaire and GOP stalwart Harold Simmons has given $600,000 to an independent committee supporting James.

The fifth candidate in the debate was former high tech executive Manuel Pleitez, who is 30 years old. While he remains well behind the front-runners in terms of poll numbers and fundraising, Pleitez continues to offer some of the more interesting ideas in the campaign.

Monday, he proposed creating a deputy mayor for urban design and suggested LA should offer to buy out city employee pension plans to lower costs.

“We are on the brink of bankruptcy. We have the highest unemployment rate in the country. We have the lowest high school graduation rate in the country,” he said, pointing out the three top candidates have held office for more than three decades collectively.

“I’m not happy. I’m tired of them. I want something new.”

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