Mayoral candidate Wendy Greuel rebooted her campaign Tuesday with a speech that defended her support from City Hall unions and attacked her opponent, Eric Garcetti, as someone who “is good at handshakes, but who won’t stand by his work or his commitment.”
While the Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel campaigns have spent millions of dollars in the race for L.A. mayor, independent political action committees are spending millions more. The PAC supporting Eric Garcetti, “Lots of People Who Support Eric Garcetti for Mayor 2013,” is focusing its resources on making direct contact with pro-Garcetti voters, particularly Latinos.
The staff of the “Lots of People” PAC includes a lot of veterans of President Obama’s re-election campaign. The PAC’s campaign director, Mary Jane Stevenson, ran the Obama campaign in California. The PAC is also borrowing a key Obama strategy: It plans to spend nearly $2 million putting paid staffers and volunteers in direct contact with Latinos supportive of Garcetti.
That strategy is particularly important in an election that may see a low voter turnout, say "Lots of People" staffers.
Janitor Gabriel Zaimora is a member of the PAC's volunteer force. Wearing the purple T-shirt of his Service Workers West local of the Service Employees International Union, he says he cleans a local shopping mall.
Zaimora says he’ll make calls, help on the streets, and go door-to-door telling people to vote May 21. He gives his union’s political fund about $3 a week. The union is using donations from Zaimora and his fellow workers to give $100,000 to the "Lots of People" PAC. It’s also providing the PAC with volunteers.
"I am a union member," says Zaimora. "I come with them and I come by myself, you know, because I believe in Garcetti."
Zaimora cannot vote; he’s in the U.S. illegally. He likes Garcetti’s stance on changing immigration laws to permit people like him to remain and become citizens.
“The mayor is for everyone,” says Zaimora. “The mayor doesn’t only govern those who are legally in this country.”
"Lots of People" campaign director Stevenson makes no apologies about Zaimora's immigration status.
"We had many, many undocumented people asking others to vote during the Obama campaign; you don’t have to be able to vote to volunteer for a campaign," she says. "And we’re not going to stop people from volunteering for a campaign and getting their neighbors and friends and family to vote."
More than half of the money for the ground campaign is coming from wealthy donors who have already given Garcetti’s own committee the maximum donations allowed by law – $1,300 in each of the primary and general elections.
One of those maxed out donors is Ferris Wehbe. He owns apartment houses and a restaurant in Hollywood. He said he gave additional money to the PAC to counter the millions that city worker unions are putting into Working Californians, the PAC supporting Wendy Greuel.
"I’m really personally against PACS," says Wehbe, but "what I was watching and witnessing was a few special interests in the city trying to buy the election."
That echoes a criticism Garcetti has made, that city unions are trying to buy the mayor’s office for Greuel.
But KPCC’s analysis of campaign donation reports found that more than $400,000 of the nearly $1 million collected so far by the "Lots of People" PAC comes from unions representing laborers, janitors, industrial laundry workers, health care workers, Teamsters, engineers, teachers and dock workers.
"Lots of People" co-founder Rick Jacobs says there’s an important difference between the city union money supporting Greuel, and the mostly private sector union support for Garcetti.
"If Eric wins, they’re not going to be sitting across the table negotiating with him about their salary, and that’s a big difference," says Jacobs.
And those private sector union members, who count themselves among the “Lots of People who Like Eric Garcetti,” will be working hard over the next six weeks to convince Angelenos to vote for Garcetti on May 21st.