Amid a TV ad blitz for Wendy Greuel, rival candidate Eric Garcetti went on the attack at Monday night's televised debate, with just two weeks left before the March 5 primary.
Garcetti challenged Greuel's numbers and repeatedly cited the $1 million in ad spending she has received from the union that represents employees of the L.A. Department of Water and Power.
"I think City Hall is not for sale," Garcetti said, in the debate which aired on KABC-7. "I think democracy is not for sale... This is our City Hall, not the City Hall of the special interests."
The other candidates sharpened their rhetoric as well. Councilwoman Jan Perry touted herself as "not the favorite of political power brokers," because she refuses to make "back-room deals." Kevin James argued the other three contenders had created a government of "higher taxes, higher fees, higher fines, higher utility rates and lesser and lower services." Emanuel Pleitez repeatedly bemoaned the "lack of leadership" at City Hall.
But it was Garcetti's repeated attacks on Greuel that stood out. Many of the arguments were familiar, but this was the first time Garcetti had strung them together in one televised debate.
Garcetti repeatedly challenged Greuel's claim to have discovered $160 million in waste, fraud and abuse, which he argued was based on unrealistic projections. He then suggested that Greuel's fuzzy numbers indicate she's not serious about tackling the city's budget problems. "The next mayor has to be willing to make tough decisions," he said. "If you're not willing to do that, you shouldn't be running."
"Apparently my opponents don't feel there is any waste," Greuel shot back. "They can attack me, they can attack my numbers, they can attack my auditors. But the one thing they haven't done is attack the problem."
Later on, Garcetti challenged Greuel's plan to hire 2,000 police officers, saying she has not identified the money to pay for it.
"Apparently he feels like he has to attack Wendy in order to win," said Greuel's campaign manager, Rose Kapolczynski.
Greuel avoided attacking her rivals, instead staying focused on her own message of creating jobs and finding "efficiencies" -- a word she used several times.
"She got punched and punched and punched, and she didn't respond," said Eric Hacopian, Perry's consultant.
The attacks came as Greuel benefits from $525,000 in TV ad spending from Working Californians, the union-funded independent group, plus an additional cable ad buy from the L.A. Police Protective League. Her campaign is spending an additional $400,000 on TV ads this week, Kapolczynski said.
It's still unclear what effect, if any, the pro-Greuel ads are having. Earlier in the day, SurveyUSA released another poll
of the race, which showed Garcetti with a three-point lead over Greuel. However, like other SurveyUSA polls of the race, the sample included a disproportionate share of Latino voters, which likely skews the result in Garcetti's favor.
"The best gauge of everyone's polling is how they act on stage in the middle of a debate," said John Shallman, Greuel's strategist. "If you saw the way Eric Garcetti was attacking Wendy tonight, it would give you some sense that they certainly don't believe the SurveyUSA poll."
Garcetti's strategist, Bill Carrick, said that Garcetti's attacks were not related to polls. He noted that Garcetti had brought up all of the issues before, and there was no reason not to bring them up again.
"We disagree with her," Carrick said. "We think the police plan is preposterous. We think there is no $160 million in savings. And we don't want to turn over the city's energy policy, water policy, utility policy to the DWP union. Those are all real, live issues."