The top contenders in the race for L.A. mayor have a lot in common, but there is one key strategic difference. As council members, Eric Garcetti and Jan Perry have to vote on issues that come up at City Hall. Wendy Greuel, the city controller, does not.
And in the early stages of the race, Greuel has used that fact to maximum advantage, avoiding taking positions on the city's most hot-button issues.
Whether it's development, pensions or power rates, Greuel has been careful not to offend anyone by maintaining a policy of deliberate vagueness. It seems to be working. Though the primary is not until March, various sources agree that Greuel is leading
in the early polls.
Consider the issue of power rate hikes. Last month, the City Council voted 10-4 to increase rates at the L.A. Department of Water and Power by 11%. The vote was years in the making and deeply contentious. Garcetti voted yes -- risking losing support among businesses and homeowners affected by the increase. Perry voted no -- potentially angering the IBEW, which represents DWP workers.
Greuel did not take a position. Instead, she issued the following statement:
"DWP needs to effectively demonstrate that they need this increase. They need to look at their business practices and continue on the path that they are on to increase transparency. While DWP has made progress on reductions, DWP has more to do to bring spending under control. DWP must show that it has a workable plan for clean, efficient, reliable power that can serve Los Angeles throughout the coming decades."
The statement went on from there at some length, but at no point did Greuel say whether she supported the increase or not, and her campaign did not respond to a follow-up request for clarification. The DWP has, of course, provided the public with material substantiating their request for an increase, and the city's new ratepayer advocate signed off on it.
Next up: pensions. Former Mayor Richard Riordan is gathering signatures for a pension reform measure that would convert all new city employees -- include cops and firefighters -- to 401(k) plans. At a recent debate, Garcetti said he opposed the plan because it will cost more in the short term. Perry has also expressed skepticism about the measure. Greuel, again, did not take a position.
Asked to take a stance, her campaign said she has concerns about Riordan's plan, but did not say whether she would support it or oppose it:
"While Greuel agrees with the measures in the Riordan proposal to ensure transparency in financial reporting, she has concerns that the proposal's 401(k) plan may directly and negatively impact the very services, including police and fire, among others, which Mayor Riordan says he is attempting to preserve."
The City Council -- including Perry and Garcetti -- recently voted for a more modest pension reform measure for the city's civilian employees, at the risk of alienating the city employee unions.
Greuel has not taken a position on that measure, either. Instead, her campaign spokesman, Dave Jacobson, said that if she were still on the city council, she would have introduced an amendment to eliminate double-dipping and to prohibit felons from collecting a city pension. If those amendments were added, she would have voted for it, he said. He would not say how she would have voted if the amendments failed.
At the first mayoral debate, the candidates were asked whether they supported the new Hollywood Community Plan, the controversial rezoning that allows high-rises around transit corridors. Garcetti spearheaded the plan, angering some neighbors who saw it as a giveaway to developers. Perry was absent from the vote, but said at the debate that she would have supported it. But Greuel offered some general comments about the need for stakeholder input, she said she could not take a position on the issue because she hadn't studied it closely.
Last month, the Weekly asked Greuel about measures to reduce the city's persistent deficits. While she laid out some of her thoughts on pension reform, she also said she couldn't go other details because, "I'm not on the inside."
"I don't have access to the data and hard numbers that are currently being debated," she said. "As a result, this makes it difficult to predetermine specific and concrete reforms beyond what I listed above, prior to the release of my pension audit."
If Greuel were still on the city council, she would have to take votes and anger constituencies. But as city controller, she is on the periphery at City Hall, with no direct responsibility for setting policy.
As an officeholder, that's a handicap. But as a candidate, it's an advantage.