It's always interesting, and, of course, a bit suspicious, when seemingly smart politicians are “surprised” or claim ignorance when something peculiar happens on their watch — as if that's a valid excuse.

Los Angeles mayoral candidate and brainy Rhodes Scholar Eric Garcetti pulled such a maneuver last week when he said he didn't know that billboard company Clear Channel Outdoor was a subsidiary of Clear Channel Communications when he owned stock in the latter and voted in favor of a lucrative city settlement for the former.

In 2011, Wendy Greuel, who's also running for mayor and graduated from UCLA, did something similar and pleaded ignorance during the infamous “Gold Card Desk” parking ticket scandal. She's still sticking to that line.

The Gold Card Desk scandal was supposed to be a feather in Greuel's cap when, as city controller, she found through an audit that nearly 1,000 city parking tickets over a two-year period were dismissed through a service apparently well known among City Hall insiders.

The service, which had been around 20 years and called the Gold Card Desk, was exclusively provided to the Mayor's Office and City Council members to help them quickly deal with parking tickets on the behalf of constituents, Greuel found.

The scandal caused an uproar among citizens and community activists, who've long been annoyed by such special City Hall perks that regularly turn into sleazy political tools.

Read the award-winning L.A. Weekly cover story “Los Angeles on $300,000 a Year.”

Also, people were especially unhappy that hundreds of thousands of parking citation money were lost due to the dismissed tickets — at a time when the city was facing serious financial problems and slashing such things as the city's public library system budget.

So here was tough City Controller Wendy Greuel reigning in the elitist, back-room-dealing politicians!

Then the whole thing boomeranged on her.

Greuel insisted she had no idea the Gold Card Desk existed when she was a City Council member between 2002 and 2009.

City News Service thought that was odd and found out through emails it had obtained that then-Councilwoman Greuel not only knew about the Gold Card Desk in 2006, but an aide used the service.

In a 2011 Los Angeles Daily News story, then-Villaraigosa spokeswoman Sarah Hamilton added, “As chair of the City Council's Transportation Committee, then-Councilmember Greuel was briefed on all aspects of the department's operations and was fully aware of the Gold Card Desk.”

CNS asked Greuel for a comment in 2011, but she declined. So L.A. Weekly recently asked the Greuel campaign if she still clings to her story that she never knew about the Gold Card. The newspaper was first referred to Greuel's campaign web site.

There, the mayoral candidate appears to be sticking to her story, saying that “Wendy came across the program” when she was conducting the audit and did not know her staffer used the Gold Card. Greuel subsequently asked that staffer to reimburse the city for that dismissed ticket.

But mayoral candidate Kevin James says, “Miraculously, Wendy was the only council member that somehow didn't know the Gold Card Desk ticket-fixing scam existed, even though Wendy was head of the Transportation Committee that oversaw the contractor in charge of administering this exclusive service.”

He adds, “Not coincidentally, this same contractor was a major contributor to Wendy's campaigns. For Wendy, Eric, and the rest of the council, membership certainly had its privileges.”

Greuel campaign spokeswoman Shannon Murphy responds, “Kevin James continues to twist the facts.” She adds, he “is slipping in the polls and he continues to make up desperate lies about Wendy.”

Murphy says Greuel did not know about the Gold Card Desk when she was a councilwoman, and points out that as a result of Greuel's audit “the program was shut down.”

John Hill, spokesman for mayoral candidate Emanuel Pleitez, says, “Controller Greuel using city resources for her personal benefit is old news. Hopefully she included those parking tickets in her '$160 million of waste, fraud, and abuse.'”

By the way, check out the in-depth Weekly profile on inner-city success story Emanuel Pleitez. Growing up in gang-plagued El Sereno, he and his single mother certainly didn't have access to the Gold Card Desk.

Anyhow, if Garcetti and Greuel can't remember or be aware such things, you gotta wonder how one of them — if he or she becomes mayor — will deal with a multi-billion-dollar budget and hundreds of millions in a budget deficit. And when the fat is in the fire, will Greuel or Garcetti choose the “surprised” excuse or plead ignorance?

Contact Patrick Range McDonald at

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