Update below: IBEW releases its own ad, saying the city is "on the verge of bankruptcy." Wendy Greuel had the airwaves to herself for two full weeks -- but no longer.
Her chief rival in the race for L.A. mayor, Councilman Eric Garcetti, launched his own TV ad today, highlighting his record as a "practical problem solver" with "proven results." (Video after the jump.)
The ad continues the argument that Garcetti has been making in debates, which is that he doesn't just talk about the city's problems -- he's led the way in solving them. That could be a tricky argument to sell to voters who don't think the problems have been solved.
This ad features none of the high-flown, history-making rhetoric that we've come to expect from Garcetti. There's nothing about Silicon Beach or smartphone apps or a clean energy revolution or a 21st century rail network.
Instead, he talks about "the basics" -- "answering phones, filling potholes and picking up trash." Looks like he's taking a page from Greuel, who has long billed herself as the "Pothole Queen."
On fiscal matters, Garcetti has been encouraging voters to see the glass as half-full for a while. He has also argued that the other candidates stood on the sidelines of the city's fiscal debate while he and his council colleagues made difficult decisions to balance the budget. In a debate yesterday, Garcetti took credit for reducing the city's budget deficit by 80%. Without the cuts in staffing and pensions, the city was expected to face a $1 billion deficit this year. Instead, it's only $200 million.
After the debate, Greuel's campaign attacked him for painting too rosy a picture of the city budget: "As storyteller-in-chief, Eric Garcetti must be locked in one of his fantasy stories with unicorns because the fact of the matter is that the city still has a $200 million budget gap," said Greuel spokesman Dave Jacobson.
Garcetti, in turn, has attacked Greuel for basing her campaign claims on fuzzy math. In the debate, he took aim again at her claim to have discovered $160 million in waste, fraud and abuse: "I want unicorns and I want rainbows too, but you can't budget on them," he said. "It's important for us to make sure we have hard numbers to make hard choices."
"The judgment people are making is who's exercised leadership in the past, who understands the problems, and who's going to tell the truth about what the solutions are," said Bill Carrick, Garcetti's strategist. "We can make a pretty strong case for that, and it has nothing to do with fraudulent claims about how much money has been produced."
Update: That didn't take long. Working Californians, the IBEW-funded independent group backing Wendy Greuel's campaign, unleashed a TV ad of its own today, which takes a more pessimistic view of the city's finances:
There's more than a little irony in IBEW sounding the alarm about bankruptcy. IBEW's contracts didn't directly cause the city's fiscal woes, but they did play a strong supporting role.
IBEW represents about 90% of the workers at the Department of Water and Power, and a study last year showed they make 26% more, on average, than workers at other utilities. When city workers got a lavish contract in 2007 -- the one that put the city on the brink of bankruptcy -- a key reason for it was to give those workers "wage parity" with IBEW.
So how much responsibility is IBEW willing to accept for the city's fiscal straits? Not much.
"The IBEW's position is they fight for their members," says Sean Clegg, the strategist for Working Californians.
Garcetti and Greuel both signed off on the 2007 contract, as members of the Executive Employee Relations Committee. Councilwoman Jan Perry also voted for it, though she has since said she regrets the vote.
Kevin James, who has been railing against Greuel and IBEW for weeks, said he agrees that the city is on the verge of bankruptcy.
"Of course, it's caused by the mismanagement and the bad decisions that she was at the helm of," James said.
As for the claim that Greuel is the best person to clean it up, James said, "She's already had 12 years to clean it up. She didn't clean it up."
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Update 2: At a debate on Tuesday, Greuel was asked if she thought the city was on the brink of bankruptcy. Her answer: "No. Bankruptcy is a cop out. You can do things now to make sure it doesn't happen."
Update 3: Eric Hacopian, Jan Perry's consultant, works blue: "To have an ad that's paid for by IBEW talking about fiscal prudence is like having Paris Hilton pay for an ad on virginity."