Election 2014: Kuehl, Shriver offer different ideas of accountability in final debate

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Amid a flurry of TV commercials and last minute campaign contributions, Sheila Kuehl and Bobby Shriver appeared in person in the San Fernando Valley to offer competing views of how voters should hold them accountable if elected to the powerful Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

The two Democrats’ comments came during their last debate of the campaign Wednesday night at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino. The election is Tuesday.

“The way you hold me accountable is invite me back to this meeting in a year,” said Shriver, a lawyer, former Santa Monica City Councilman and nephew of President John F. Kennedy.

“I want someone to stand up here and say ‘Bobby, you said this was going to happen last year and you didn’t do it. Why?’”

The moderator, Raphael Sonenshein of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State Los Angeles, then turned to Kuehl. She offered what may have been a surprising answer to some people.

“You can’t really hold people you elect responsible,” said Kuehl, a lawyer who served for 14 years in the state legislature. “You have to trust them from the outset. You have to look at their record.”

Kuehl used Sonenshein’s language to refer to members of the five-member county board, who represent two million people each and control a $26 billion budget.

“They are kings and queens,” she said. “So you better elect somebody who already knows how to do it.”

From the beginning of the campaign, Kuehl has argued Shriver is too inexperienced to hold the job. She believes her years in Sacramento debating statewide policies on everything from health to water to energy policies trumps Shriver’s experience as city councilman.

Shriver has said his local government experience is better preparation, combined with his work with Congress and President Bush on third world debt relief and $15 billion in funding for AIDS in Africa.

The debate occurred as some big money flowed into the SuperPACs backing each candidate. With the election just days away, the business-backed committee supporting Shriver saw some giant checks come in:

  • Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg sent $100,000
  • Entertainment Industry Mogul Haim Saban donated $50,000
  • Real Estate Developer Nile Niami gave $50,000
  • Architect Frank Gehry sent $25,000

All but Niami are well known in political circles. Shriver said he did not know Niami at all. “I had to Google him.” Niami has been described by Curbed Los Angeles as a “mega-mansion developer” who developed a $39 million home for record producer Diddy, aka Sean Combs, in Holmby Hills.

The labor union committee supporting Kuehl has received a big infusion of money too:

  • LA County Deputy Sheriffs donated $122,000
  • AFSCME CA District Council 36 gave $50,000
  • Probation Officers Union sent $50,000
  • National Nurses United for Patient Protection gave $50,000

The debate was sponsored by a variety of groups, including United Way and the interfaith group LA Voice. During one particularly moving moment, a woman described how her family faced hunger and asked how the candidates would address the issue.

Shriver said he had worked to preserve neighborhood markets in Santa Monica. Kuehl said she would have someone on her staff devoted to food security.

The two differed on how much of the money from now defunct Community Redevelopment Agencies should be spent on affordable housing, which has seen a dramatic drop in funding since the demise of CRA’s. Shriver said all of it. Kuehl said “the bulk of it,” arguing there are other priorities in the county.

Kuehl and Shriver - two lifelong Democrats running in a non-partison race – agree on many issues: both support extending a half-cent sales tax for more mass transit projects and both oppose the current $2 billion jail construction plan, preferring the county spend more on diverting mentally ill people from incarceration.

During their closing statements in their last debate, each praised the other.

"I want to commend Sheila," Shriver said. “I think we’ve had a really progressive, really smart series of conversations.”

“I want to praise my opponent as well," Kuehl said of Shriver. "He has been such an intelligent voice."

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