In the first debate of the 2013 mayor's race on Wednesday, Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel came out of their corners, touched gloves, and then did not take a swing at each other for the rest of the night.
Instead, the two frontrunners spent most of the night agreeing with each other on business taxation, green energy, and, of course, jobs.
“The only priority is jobs, jobs, jobs,” Garcetti said at one point.
Moments later, Greuel gave her top priority: “Jobs, jobs, jobs.”
Gonna be a long campaign.
Councilwoman Jan Perry also played nice, avoiding drawing any contrasts with her better funded opponents. That meant the only fireworks all night came from ex-radio host Kevin James, who, more in anger than in sorrow, ripped the other three candidates for being the source of what ails City Hall.
“Eric Garcetti said 'City Hall is broken,'” James said. “They are City Hall. City Hall is broken, and they broke it.”
Greuel did take a very glancing swipe at Garcetti early on, when she said she wants to focus on “getting back to basics,” and said, “that may not sound sexy or slick or even visionary to some.”
Garcetti did not swipe back, sticking instead to the themes he laid out in his kickoff speech last week. “This election can be a turning point for Los Angeles,” he said, once again distancing himself by implication from Antonio Villaraigosa.
On the issues, Greuel and Garcetti sounded similar, if not identical. Not long after pooh-poohing “visionary” ideas, Greuel declared that “We should be the solar capital of the world.”
She did not say what that meant, but Garcetti was happy to fill in some of the details, vowing to bring a “10-fold increase in our support of solar.” (Afterward, Garcetti specified that would mean expanding from 50 megawatts to 500 megawatts by the end of his tenure.)
Garcetti and Greuel also vied to outdo each other in their support for tax credits for film production.
Neither candidate took on the politically difficult question of how to close the city's persistent budget deficits. Last week, Garcetti avoided the issue by saying that instead of considering cuts or tax increases, the city should focus on economic growth. At the debate, Greuel showed that she will dodge the question slightly differently, by demanding an end to “waste, fraud and abuse.”
“We don't need to cut services, we need to cut waste,” she said, vowing to take on “bloated bureaucracy and excessive perks.”
Perry, who has set herself up as the “reform” candidate, seemed muddled most of the night — especially in comparison to James, who discusses those themes but with the crisp conviction of a radio talker.
Emanuel Pleitez, a long-shot who was barred from the debate, protested his exclusion outside the hall. Notably, Greuel sent a letter earlier in the week to the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, the host of the debate, urging that Pleitez be included.
“Mr. Pleitez is certainly a legitimate candidate given his experience in government and his previous electoral success as a candidate for U.S. Congress,” Greuel wrote.
Greuel's interest in the matter may not be entirely charitable. If Pleitez were to gain a higher profile, that could split Garcetti's base of support among Latinos.