LA mayoral hopefuls Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel face off Monday night in a live TV debate co-sponsored by KPCC, KNBC-4 and Telemundo-52. A new USC/LA Times poll shows 50 percent of voters favor Garcetti and 40 percent support Greuel.
In recent weeks, KPCC has spoken with voters through its “Dear Mayor” series about what issues are most important to them. In conversations from the San Fernando Valley to the Westside, one issue came up again and again.
“The thing the bothers me most is traffic,” said Mary Jo Darling as she ate breakfast at The Coffee Company in Westchester. What should the next mayor do about traffic? “I really don’t know – something, please!”
Traffic and roads topped the list of many voters. “We have a lot of potholes and streets that need attention,” said Ginneh Smith of South L.A.
When it comes to potholes, L.A’s mayoral candidates differ in their approach. Garcetti said in a recent debate that he backs a $3 billion bond measure for city streets that has not yet been put before voters.
“We must take bold steps, and that requires us going comprehensive,” Garcetti said.
But that bond would cost the average property owner $121 a year. That’s why Greuel opposes it.
“There’s a lot of waste fraud and abuse out there,” Greuel said during a recent debate. “There are things that we could do differently before you go to the voters and ask them for more money.”
While Greuel is reluctant to support a bond to fix streets, she, like Garcetti, supports an extension of the countywide transit tax for rail and other projects to relieve traffic congestion.
At the Republic of Pie in North Hollywood, Dave Wurmlinger sipped his morning coffee. He works as a body double in movies and TV.
“The talk on the sets pretty much daily is, can we keep film in L.A?” he said. "Can we keep our jobs?”
Trudy Goodwin of South L.A. had another version of the jobs issues.
“I’m very concerned with revitalizing those impoverished areas, those blighted areas of South Central,” she said.
Both candidates have talked about working to keep entertainment jobs in L.A, and about leveraging public funds to attract investment to the inner city. Garcetti says he would seek to create 20,000 green jobs. Greuel wants to start a $50 million high-tech jobs fund.
Each argues they are best qualified on economic issues because of their experience. Garcetti points to his efforts to revitalize Hollywood as its representative on the city council.
“Today, Hollywood is once again a place of opportunity for small businesses, for big businesses, for people looking for work,” he said.
Greuel, on the other hand, points to her private sector experience.
“I had a life before I ran for office,” she said. “I learned the hard work of an entrepreneur from my family business in the San Fernando Valley.”
Like candidates before them, these two Democrats also have pledged to lower taxes and cut red tape for small businesses.
Even though the mayor doesn’t have any direct authority over the Los Angeles Unified School District, many voters said they want the next major to play a role in education.
“I want to know what they plan to do to fix our broken educational system,” said Kris DePedro of Studio City. “To me, education is the most important issue,” said Ella Kazemi of West L.A.
Neither Greuel nor Garcetti has indicated they would follow Antonio Villaraigosa’s lead. He has raised millions of dollars for LAUSD board candidates and founded a non-profit that oversees about 20 schools. The candidates say they want to have some influence. For Greuel, that means loosening the grip of the district.
“I believe strongly in choice, whether it be parent trigger, partnership schools, charter schools, or affiliated charters like my son goes to,” Greuel said.
Garcetti said his primary focus would be elsewhere.
“I would look first at our school funding,” he said. “We have $7000 per student, per year. That’s 49th in the nation. As mayor, I’m going to fight for more funding for our schools.”
Voters begin casting ballots in the L.A. mayor’s race this week, when the city clerk sends out absentee ballots. Many, like Wurmlinger, said they’re just starting to pay attention to two candidates they can barely name.
“It’s Wendy, right?” he said chuckling. He furrowed his eyebrows as he searched his brain for Garcetti’s name. “It’s a gentleman, correct?”
“I’m glad this is radio because I’m probably beet red right now.”
The runoff election is May 21.