When Wendy Greuel launched her bid to become the first female mayor of Los Angeles, it was probably inevitable that charges of sexism would arise during the campaign.
What would have been harder to predict is that those allegations would come from Greuel's opponent. But in the last week, allies of Councilman Eric Garcetti have raised a storm of outcry over a mailer from EMILY's List, a group that supports political advancement for women, and which now finds itself accused of sexism.
"It's outrageous that EMILY's list is attacking a leading champion for women's rights, and it's offensive that their attack mailers feature sexist imagery," said Patty Bellasalma, president of California chapter of the National Organization for Women.
The mailer features a blonde starlet emerging from a limo in a red dress, under the words "Most Los Angeles families don't live like this." A tagline at the bottom reads: "Most Angelenos don't lead a Hollywood lifestyle, but Eric Garcetti does."
Whether the mailer is sexist is a matter of some dispute. As might be expected, Garcetti's supporters are more inclined to see it that way, while Greuel's allies have no problem with it.
Lindsey Horvath, a former West Hollywood councilwoman and president of the Hollywood chapter of NOW, argued that the image is being used to convey the idea that Garcetti lacks substance.
"They're representing that with a white, blonde woman in a red dress who's very attractive," said Horvath, a Garcetti supporter. "That image is used to represent superficiality. It's very diminishing to women... I'm disappointed to see another women's organization reinforce that stereotype."
Garcetti supporters have launched an online petition to denounce the mailer. Garcetti's spokesman, Jeff Millman, called the mailer "entirely inappropriate," and called on Greuel and her supporters to "conduct this campaign with the seriousness voters deserve."
Denise Feriozzi, the political director of EMILY's List, did not return calls for comment. Several Greuel supporters did, however, weigh in to defend the mailer.
"I personally didn't find the mail piece in any way sexist," said Jessica Grounds, a Washington, D.C.-based consultant to women candidates. "It's very far-fetched. The concern I have is where we're getting into a place where we're calling any image of women sexist."
Greuel also said she did not find the mailer sexist.
"EMILY's List is an organization that I respect tremendously," she said at a campaign stop on Saturday. "They would never have put something out they believed was sexist or offensive in that way."
The EMILY's List mailer bears a thematic resemblance to another mailer sent out by Working Californians, the independent group funded largely by the Department of Water and Power union. In that mailer, Garcetti is depicted next to a limo and a small dog in a pink jacket. The mailer is made to resemble an US Weekly cover, with pink lettering that accuses Garcetti of "living like a star."
Asked if the mailer was intended to make Garcetti look ridiculous by feminizing him, Working Californians strategist Sean Clegg said, "That is a moronic question."
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Over the weekend, the Greuel campaign leveled its own charges of sexism against an anonymous YouTube video titled "Greuella de Vil." The video compares Greuel to Leona Helmsley and the Wicked Witch of the West.
Greuel ally Janice Hahn sent a fundraising email on behalf of the Greuel campaign, calling the video sexist and "shameful" and seeking $5 donations to counter it.
"I think it is inappropriate and offensive," Greuel said Saturday. "This is why so many women oftentimes take a deep breath before they decide to run for office."