In a relatively tame debate, Los Angeles City Councilman Eric Garcetti and City Controller Wendy Greuel engaged in light sparring more than heavy punching Thursday night at American Jewish University in L.A.
“I am not the chosen candidate of the downtown power brokers,” said Garcetti, referring to how Greuel has been the beneficiary of nearly $3 million in spending by city labor unions. “That is a difference that allows me to be independent.”
Greuel said the support of both city labor unions and the L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce demonstrates she can build coalitions.
“I am proud of the diverse support that I’ve had,” she said.
Both are city hall insiders and longtime Democrats, but they sought to dispel the widespread sentiment among voters that there is not a lot of difference between them.
“We are not identical,” Garcetti implored.
“We are different,” Greuel said. “We do have a clear choice in this election.”
Garcetti focused on economic development in his Hollywood council district, and his efforts at pension reform as president of the city council. “I don’t just identify problems," he said. "I fix them.”
Greuel said a big difference between them is their life experiences.
“I learned the hard work of an entrepreneur from my family business in the San Fernando Valley,” said Greuel.
One difference that arose during the debate centered on transportation. Both candidates were asked if they would support a proposed $3 billion bond measure to repave L.A. streets. It would cost an average homeowner $121 in extra taxes annually.
“Absolutely, I’m quite open to that,” Garcetti said.
“There’s a lot of waste fraud and abuse out there,” Greuel countered. “There are things that we could do differently before you go to the voters and ask them for more money.”
She pointed to her proposal to cut budgets of the mayor and city council by 25 percent.
“That’d be $6 million," said Greuel. "Six million dollars would pave the entire Wilshire Boulevard."
“This is a billion plus dollar thing,” Garcetti shot back. “I’m not going to pretend that a little bit here and a little there is going to pave our streets.”
The approaches to the bond idea were in keeping with how the candidates described themselves. Garcetti called himself a “practical problem solver.” Greuel said she was a “tough fiscal watchdog.”
L.A.’s ongoing budget deficit received relatively little attention during the debate. Both candidates said they would seek to reduce pay raises promised city workers – something labor unions would likely block in negotiations.
Garcetti and Greuel briefly discussed education. Both said they support a "parent trigger" law that allows parents to change the administration of poorly performing schools.
At least one voter who attended the debate left it scratching his head.
“The answers were pretty pat, and I didn’t learn that much,” said Stanley Haberman of Encino.
For others, the debate raised new questions.
“I walked in being very biased towards Miss Greuel," said Ethel Taft of West L.A. "I came away with wanting to get to know Eric Garcetti better.”
A new ABC7/SurveyUSA poll finds Garcetti leading Greuel 49 percent to 40 percent — a two-point increase for him since the last poll two weeks ago.
The election is May 21.