Councilman Tom LaBonge was the honoree at last night's 16th Annual Los Angeles Political Roast at the Beverly Hilton. And while there were plenty of jokes about his fondness for pumpkin bread, all eyes were on mayoral rivals Wendy Greuel and Eric Garcetti to see if they would get in any nasty digs about the race for mayor.
This being a political season, the two rivals played it safe. Introducing Greuel, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky predicted that "she will choose her words carefully because if she doesn't, Eric will throw them right back at her in the next TV commercial."
Greuel thanked the organizers for the opportunity "to say something so utterly inappropriate that no amount of PAC money will be able to undo the damage." Naturally, however, she passed up that opportunity.
The closest she got to a real shot at Garcetti was when she held up a "Wendy" bumper-sticker and announced that L.A. County Federation of Labor boss Maria Elena Durazo had instructed the valets to stick one on everybody's car. "She would have put a Garcetti sticker on, but nothing sticks to Eric," Greuel said.
The crowd -- an even mix of politicians and City Hall lobbyists -- oohed, apparently realizing that this was as far below the belt as it would get.
Garcetti was even more restrained. It's been a tradition, over the years, for Garcetti to write and perform a humorous song at these roasts, but the hectic pace of campaigning meant that he didn't have time this year. Instead, he offered some light-hearted quips about LaBonge's incomprehensibility and indifference to policy detail, along with some jokes at his own expense.
"I'm very happy to be here in Beverly Hills," he began, "because you see in Beverly Hills they have a different water and power company so my mike hasn't been cut off. Recently in L.A., whenever I start speaking, the lights and the power just turn off."
That's of course a joke about Brian D'Arcy, the head of the DWP union who has spent $2 million backing Greuel.
Garcetti also noted that LaBonge speaks other languages, and is "equally incomprehensible in Korean, Tagalog and English."
"Of course I speak all those languages fluently because I'm Korean and Filipino," he said. "And because I like to connect with my audiences I want you to know my great-great-great grandfather was a lobbyist."
The best lines came from Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, freed by term limits from the burden of inoffensiveness.
Villaraigosa joked about his own ambitions, saying that he thought about becoming Pope, because "Pope would be a great stepping stone on the way to something else."
He also had the best jokes about the campaign to succeed him, which has drawn little interest from voters.
"Everyone's asking me who I'm supporting in the mayor's race," he said. "C'mon, I'm a third-generation Angeleno. I'm not voting... Hell, I'm not even registered to vote."
He said that Greuel would make a good mayor because, "she'd fit perfectly in Brian D'Arcy's pocket" -- ooooh -- "right where Eric wants to be."
After poking fun at LaBonge for routinely not knowing what he's voting on, Villaraigosa said, "What city councilman really knows what you're voting for? Isn't that what you lobbyists are for?"
The silence suggested he may have hit too close to home. "Hey I'm on my way out, baby," he said, recovering. "I wouldn't have said that in my first year."