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Jan Perry And Kevin James Score Points At LMU

Matt Pressberg |
February 6, 2013 | 1:24 a.m. PST


The five candidates for mayor debated at Loyola Marymount Tuesday night. (Matt Pressberg/Neon Tommy)
The five candidates for mayor debated at Loyola Marymount Tuesday night. (Matt Pressberg/Neon Tommy)
Outsider conservative candidate Kevin James has repeatedly hammered the three favorites in this spring’s mayoral race, all longtime current or former Los Angeles city council members, on their inability to fix the city’s budget problems over the course of their lengthy tenures in office.

Tuesday night at a debate held on the campus of Loyola Marymount University, James scored the biggest applause—and gasp—line of the night when he went after current city controller and former councilwoman Wendy Greuel for citing her familiarity with the city’s finances in her answer to a question about how she would create jobs as mayor.

“Ms. Greuel knows where the bodies are buried,” James said. “That’s because she buried the bodies.”

The fact that this line resonated with the crowd may help to explain the relative disinterest Angelenos have had in the mayoral race, and why James has been so successful in pushing the experience of Greuel, Councilman Eric Garcetti and Councilwoman Jan Perry as a liability rather than an asset. In a debate where three of the five candidates answered yes to a question asking if L.A. is close to bankruptcy and the other two gave unconvincing denials, an outsider can become more appealing.

James may have landed some big blows, but Perry won the evening on points. She gave a distinctly adult and soundly reasoned performance and was not afraid to say some unpopular things, such as that fixing our scarred streets “could be through an increase in vehicle license fees.”

Being a Democratic elected official in Los Angeles, Perry’s most politically courageous moment—which was maybe made easier by the fact that union endorsements have largely gone to Greuel and Garcetti—was when she directly took on the public-sector unions in a response about the structural deficit.

“The hardest part of dealing with the structural deficit is getting employees to the table and getting them to give back some of their retirement and health benefits,” Perry said. “The rest is just window dressing.”

The audience in the mostly filled lecture hall was fairly animated throughout the debate, although clearly showing the most interest when the obligatory LAX airport expansion question was asked. Not surprisingly, the Westchester crowd was vociferously opposed to the proposal, approved in a 6-1 vote Tuesday by the L.A. Board of Airport Commissioners (announced at the debate by audience member and Commissioner Valeria Velasco, the lone no vote), to move the north runway 260 feet, moving airplanes closer to homes and forcing the rerouting of Lincoln Boulevard, a major thoroughfare in the area. All five candidates refused to commit to signing off on the plan at this point of time, arguing that not all other alternatives have been exhausted.

Garcetti, who emerged as the favorite in an ABC7 poll last month, spoke mainly about his successes in his Hollywood-centric district. He interspersed running on his record with making some prima facie unrealistic promises, such as “I will end homelessness,” but managed his debate as the front-runner, betting that contra Kevin James’ interpretation, Garcetti’s 12 years in the city council would be a positive selling point to voters.

The candidates were not interrogated at random over the course of the two-hour debate; rather, they were arranged on the stage by last names and all five prospective mayors answered every question in that order, all asked by Loyola Marymount students. This direction was followed throughout the debate, with only the first responders varying, but never going out of order.

This setup seemed to benefit James, as he repeatedly found opportunities to hit Garcetti, Perry and particularly Greuel, who had often just finished her answers on what he judged to be a lackluster performance by the city during their lengthy incumbencies.

In one case, the city controller responded to how she would balance the city’s books as mayor with a formulaic list of three things, which were for the mayor to be the “job czar”, reforming public-sector pensions, and increasing efficiencies. Pension reform was something all of the candidates agreed had to be done, and neither of the other two suggestions seemed all that bold or inspiring to the crowd.

James pounced. “If we’re going to solve this pension problem with jobs,” he said. “Why haven’t they been the job czar the last 12 years they’ve been in office?”

Thirty-year-old longshot candidate Emanuel Pleitez did not have the polished style of his opponents, three political veterans and a talk radio host, but his enthusiasm and obvious grasp of economics made him a welcome addition to the debate. The tech executive held his own against four much more experienced talkers, and his compelling personal story played well with the crowd.

Read more of Neon Tommy’s coverage of the mayoral race here.

Reach Editor-at-Large Matt Pressberg here.



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