Carmen Trutanich and Mike Feuer have been hammering each other in press releases for months. Last night, the two rivals in the race for L.A. city attorney got their first opportunity to spar in person, in a debate at Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks.
Trutanich, the incumbent, is trying to reboot his image after his disastrous bid for D.A. Unlike in that campaign, his advisers have said he will debate his opponents and make himself available for interviews.
He's also rebooting his position on at least one major issue: prison realignment.
During the race for D.A., Trutanich supported the state's plan to reduce prison overcrowding by transferring responsibility for inmates from the state to the counties. Trutanich put out a position paper, which is still on his campaign website
, in which he called realignment "an opportunity":
"It's here and we need to stop bemoaning it and look at as an opportunity to fundamentally transform our correctional system... One reason that we're in this mess is because our criminal justice system is
over-reliant on incarceration."
But now, Trutanich is running against Feuer, who voted for realignment in the state Assembly. That means it's time to start bemoaning it again. In last night's debate, Trutanich accused Feuer of having "balanced our budget on the back of public safety," and blamed prison realignment for 16 murders committed by ex-cons in L.A. County.
Turning to Feuer, he asked "What do you have to say to the victims' families?"
Feuer countered that Trutanich was either "woefully misinformed or trying to mislead people," and said that realignment did not lead to the premature release of any state prisoners. Feuer also accused Trutanich of engaging in a "politically opportunistic strategy" by changing his tune on the issue, and suggested that Trutanich supported realignment in the first place only because he was seeking the endorsement of Gov. Jerry Brown.
When it was Feuer's turn to ask a question, he asked Trutanich why he hadn't taken a voluntary pay cut to show solidarity with his staff, who have seen their salaries slashed 13% due to furloughs. Trutanich, who earns $214,000 a year, said he could not afford to take a pay cut because his wife's pension was wiped out when her company went bankrupt.
"We live on my salary," Trutanich said. "At the end of the day, no more political gimmicks. It's time to take the games out of the race."
The rest of the debate was just as hostile, with a series of harsh exchanges on medical marijuana, the death penalty, truancy, genetically modified foods and Measure J, the failed measure to extend the transit tax.
Judging by applause, the crowd seemed to tilt in Feuer's favor. Trutanich's spokesman, John Schwada, chalked that up to the fact that the debate was held on Feuer's "home turf" in the San Fernando Valley.
Greg Smith, a private attorney, is also running in the March election. But the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association, which hosted the debate, did not invite him to participate.