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Politics, government and public life for Southern California

LA mayor's race: Wendy Greuel re-starts campaign with aggressive tone (updated)

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Los Angeles Mayor race 2013Mayoral candidate Wendy Greuel rebooted her campaign Tuesday with a speech that defended her support from City Hall unions and attacked her opponent, Eric Garcetti, as someone who “is good at handshakes, but who won’t stand by his work or his commitment.”

Greuel also used the speech to criticize the media for focusing on the $2.1 million that labor spent to support her in the primary. In a briefing with reporters, Greuel said Garcetti chose to “demonize” City Hall unions after failing to win their support.

“When he’s not out pandering to them for their endorsement, Garcetti throws the word ‘union’ around like it’s a slur, and has even called L.A.’s working people ‘power brokers,’” Greuel said.

Her comments came just after former mayoral candidate Kevin James endorsed Garcetti for mayor.

RELATED: KPCC's LA mayoral endorsement tracker

“I had to look at the race in a different perspective,” said James, who placed third in the March 5 primary. “I had to decide whether I was going to step in and tell my supporters who would be the mayor of Los Angeles.”

The Greuel campaign had sought James' support.

“I have some incredible endorsements," Greuel said. "I think my opponent would probably have loved to have had Magic Johnson – and he tried.”

The aggressive tone of Greuel's speech came just a week after her campaign made personnel changes. Greuel’s field director and three staffers left, and Janelle Erickson of the mayor’s office and Jim Dantona, formerly of the Community Redevelopment Agency, were brought on board.

Campaign reboots can be a sign that candidates have momentum or that they're having problems, according to Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC.

“Truth is, we won’t know which one of these is the answer until Election Day,” Schnur said.

Using the speech to address criticism from her opponent is a good strategy for Greuel if she wants to win moderate and conservative votes in this race, Schnur said.

“In order to get elected mayor, she needs a large and enthusiastic turnout from labor, which means her challenge is to explain to those Valley voters why — although she has support from labor — she’s not beholden to them,” he said.

Rather than focusing on endorsements, fundraising and poll numbers, Greuel told supporters at the UCLA Faculty Center that the campaigns should be focused on real issues. To that point, Greuel announced she would cut the mayor’s and city council offices’ budgets by 25 percent if elected. She proposed a $50 million fund for tech jobs to leverage public and private money for start-up companies. She also proposed awarding city contracts to local companies. (The city already has a local preference ordinance.)

She also called on the Los Angeles Unified School District to improve low-performing schools. Greuel, currently the city controller, wants her successor to audit the district’s “downtown bureaucracy,” even though the mayor has no control or authority over public schools outside of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, which was created by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

On schools, Greuel said:

I will aggressively and creatively fight to ensure that every dollar is spent in the classroom. I will make sure that our neighborhood teachers, parents and principals are in charge – not downtown bureaucrats – and that they work together with LAUSD and our newly elected city controller to push for the access we need to conduct a full audit of their downtown bureaucracy and to ensure that every dollar is spent in the classroom.

The runoff between Greuel and Garcetti is scheduled for May 21. 

Update: The Greuel campaign clarified it wants to put forward a charter amendment that would change the city's local preference ordinance from applying countywide to only those businesses within Los Angeles city limits. 

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