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LA mayor's race: could Greuel’s union support backfire in contest with Garcetti?

The two finalists for the LA mayor's race, City Controller Wendy Greuel and Councilman Eric Garcetti,  both have support from labor unions, but her campaign has the financial advantage.
The two finalists for the LA mayor's race, City Controller Wendy Greuel and Councilman Eric Garcetti, both have support from labor unions, but her campaign has the financial advantage.
Grant Slater/KPCC

Los Angeles Mayor race 2013 Mayoral hopeful Wendy Greuel won the support of yet another labor union Wednesday – just a day after securing a spot in the runoff against Los Angeles City Councilman Eric Garcetti.

“Wendy is the right candidate for the job in these challenging times,” said Bob Schoonover, president of Service Employees International Union, Local 721. The union represents more than 10,000 trash truck drivers, tree trimmers, sewer workers and other city employees. The union also represents 85,000 other government workers in Southern California.

Schoonover cited Greuel’s “institutional knowledge” and called her a “good problem solver.” Greuel currently serves as L.A. City Controller.

The timing of the endorsement a day after the primary is unusual. Over the past few months, an assembly of union activists failed to agree on a mayoral candidate. Schoonover, a Greuel ally, said union leaders met “by phone” on election night and decided to back her.  He offered no further details.

All three of the city’s biggest labor unions now support Greuel – the unions representing Department of Water and Power workers and LAPD officers spent nearly $3 million dollars on her behalf during the primary. It was one of the largest independent expenditures during an L.A. primary ever.

Schoonover promised more help: “We intend to be a big factor on the ground for Wendy.”

It may not be entirely helpful.

”We think it’s a lot of baggage for her to carry into the runoff,” said Garcetti’s chief strategist, Bill Carrick.  “Particularly for those voters who are up for grabs.”

Carrick refers to voters who backed Republican Kevin James and City Councilwoman Jan Perry for mayor. Many of them are more conservative than most L.A. voters and suspicious of city labor unions, he argued. Greuel’s voter base in the western San Fernando Valley, long a hotbed of DWP critics, may wonder about her union support, Carrick said.

One political analyst agreed. “I think we’ve already begun to see it,” said Fernando Guerra, director of the Center for Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University. “Everyone is OK with union support. But then they spend a bunch of money, people wonder.”

In his election night speech, Garcetti sought to capitalize on any suspicions by saying as mayor, Greuel would be “bought and paid for by the power brokers at the DWP union.”

Greuel dismissed the idea she would lack independence from city unions.

"I really appreciate the support of SEIU,” Greuel said in a statement. “Today's endorsements, less than 24 hours after polls closed for the primary election, sends a tremendous message to working people all across Los Angeles.”

Greuel said she also enjoys the support of a variety of business groups, including the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce and the Valley Industry and Commerce Association.  “As mayor, I'll bring both sides together."

In endorsing Greuel, SEIU 721’s president made it clear he was unhappy with Garcetti’s leadership on the city council when it voted for layoffs, unpaid furlough days and pension changes during the budget crisis. SEIU's contract with the city is up for renewal next year.

“Eric obviously has a track record, and there are some things  where he supported us and some other things where he very much voted against our interests,” Schoonover said.

Greuel left the council in 2009, and was spared many of the difficult decisions about budget cuts at the time.

Garcetti is not without union support. United Teachers Los Angeles, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 13, and Teamsters Joint Council 42 are backing him. “Eric has a better overall labor record,” said Teamsters Director of Public Affairs Edward Rendon. He cited Garcetti’s work restricting “big box” retailers such as Wal-Mart, which is non-union.

Rendon noted he has 12,000 members who live and vote in Los Angeles. At the same time, he said his union likely would not spend money on an L.A. city election.