Last December, Cerrell & Associates announced a series of six mayoral debates, set to begin this month. The debates — they actually called them “conversations” — were to focus on a series of issues, and would have been the first opportunity to take a substantive measure of the field.

So much for that. The debates have been canceled, the victim of scheduling problems and an unwillingness of at least one candidate — the dapper fellow to the right — to commit to the format.

“In retrospect, we may have been trying to accelerate the campaign calendar a little bit,” said Dan Schnur, director of USC's Unruh Institute of Politics, who advised Cerrell on the conversation series. “Multi-candidate debates are more likely to happen when the election gets closer and voters are paying attention.”

The primary election will be in March 2013.

The first “conversation” was supposed to be about transportation, and was originally scheduled for Feb. 2. It was canceled and rescheduled for Thursday, Feb. 23. Controller Wendy Greuel made it known that she had a scheduling conflict — she had already committed to attend the Sherman Oaks Chamber of Commerce installation dinner and the Pacific Palisades Community Council on Thursday night. (Her spokesman, Dave Jacobson, said that Greuel did not object to the idea of a multi-candidate forum.)

Councilman Eric Garcetti also had an event that evening — a fundraiser at a private home in Brentwood. But his objections to the Cerrell series were broader.

“We already have dozens of invitations for forums and debates,” said Bill Carrick, Garcetti's campaign strategist. “We weren't going to accept one group having six of them when there's such a high demand.”

Carrick went on to say that Garcetti is not ducking debates. “There are going to be so many debates, you're going to be in a fucking institution by the end of this,” he said.

Austin Beutner, the former deputy mayor, was open to the concept but also expressed some reservations about the scheduling, said Lisa Gritzner, president of Cerrell & Associates. (Beutner's campaign declined to comment.)

Garcetti and Greuel have each raised more than $1 million, making them the frontrunners so far. (Rick Caruso and Zev Yaroslavsky have yet to announce their intentions.) Some of the other contenders were eagerly anticipating the chance to appear on the same stage with them, and did not raise objections to the format.

“We were more than willing to be in debates whenever they want,” said Eric Hacopian, the consultant for Councilwoman Jan Perry.

Former radio host Kevin James, who is bringing up the rear in fundraising, was eager to appear on the same stage with the other candidates. His consultant, John Thomas, issued a statement this week calling it “appalling” that the other candidates were refusing to participate.

Cerrell has decided to change its format to a series of one-on-one interviews with each of the candidates.

Four of the candidates — all except James — are expected to attend a forum next Tuesday at the SoCal Grantmakers conference. That forum, which is not open to the public, is expected to focus on philanthropic issues.

LA Weekly