LA city attorney candidates sharpen attacks against each other

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The race for Los Angeles city attorney is turning out to be one of the most negative political campaigns in recent memory. City Councilman Jack Weiss and criminal defense attorney Carmen Trutanich have launched blistering attacks on each other in what many expect to be a close vote. The election for the non-partisan but powerful post is less than two weeks away. KPCC's Frank Stoltze reports.

Frank Stoltze: One television ad in support of Weiss seeks to highlight Trutanich's work representing companies accused of polluting the environment.

Campaign Ad: Trutanich's polluters guilty of 25 felonies. Trutanich even represented a guy who criminally shot sea lions from his boat.

Stoltze: The gunshots play as a sea lion appears onscreen. The Trutanich campaign shoots back.

Campaign Ad: Jack Weiss is attacking Carmen Trutanich? It was Jack Weiss who took hundreds of thousands of dollars from polluters and developers, then skipped 149 votes on tougher environmental laws.

Stoltze: In response to the ads, Weiss has said many of those votes were not laws but less important resolutions. Trutanich has said he's helped polluters clean up their act.

Jaime Regalado: It's kinda of hard to watch and hard not to watch. In some ways it's captivating and in some ways it's disgusting.

Stoltze: Political science professor Jaime Regalado heads the Pat Brown Institute at Cal State Los Angeles. He notes Weiss has also pushed Trutanich is release a list of all of his legal clients over the past two decades.

Regalado: It's his Achilles heel. There's no question about that. And Weiss is smart to keep the focus there and keep Trutanich on the defensive.

Stoltze: Raphe Sonenshein long has followed Los Angeles politics. He's a political science professor at Cal State Fullerton.

Raphe Sonenshein: This is a really contentious issue and a lot of lawyers are arguing about this one. Some people say you should not be held responsible for your representation.

But at the same time if it turns out he has to recuse himself from certain lawsuits that the city is involved in, that could be an issue down the road. So it's an important issue.

[Man speaking Korean]

Stoltze: At debates, the two candidates have been relentless. Here's Weiss at a recent debate at TVK-24, Korean language TV in Los Angeles.

Jack Weiss: He is a walking, talking conflict of interest. He needs to disclose his clients.
Moderator: Thank you. Mr. Trutanich.
Carmen Trutanich: I tried to be positive. I tried.

Stoltze: Trutanich sought to raise questions about a Weiss fundraiser co-hosted by a member of an L.A. City pension board. Board members are prohibited from such political activity. The Weiss campaign has since returned $20,000 raised at the fundraiser.

Trutanich: We need to get his campaign manager's e-mails, phone records. We need to get his e-mails, phone records to determine how far up the chain knowledge went on that fundraiser.
Moderator: Now let's try to stay on the subject of the questions we are asking.

Stoltze: Weiss, a former federal prosecutor and two-term city councilman, enjoys the backing of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, LAPD Chief Bill Bratton, and the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. The federation has spent $335,000 on behalf of Weiss.

Political science professor Jaime Regalado notes by far the biggest independent expenditure in the campaign has been on behalf of Trutanich. The Los Angeles Police Protective League – the union that represents rank and file LAPD officers – has bought more than $600,000 in radio and television advertising pushing Trutanich, a former state prosecutor.

Regalado: They are a big fish here. There's no question about that.

Stoltze: Trutanich is an ex-gang prosecutor who's also backed by District Attorney Steve Cooley and Sheriff Lee Baca. Sonenshein of Cal State Fullerton worries the negative advertising will depress voting in a critical race.

Sonenshein: It's an important, well-known, visible position. They're kind of the city's lawyer in many different ways. They are the interpreter of the city charter. The city is often in court, so the city attorney is the most important civil litigator for the city.

Stoltze: Voting in the race is already underway. The city clerk mailed absentee ballots last week. They're expected to make up as many as one-third of the ballots cast. The election is a week from Tuesday.