Now that the election is over, it's finally time to focus on the race for L.A. mayor.
What? Too soon? Well, tell that to Councilwoman Jan Perry, who kicked off her campaign with a speech in which she vowed to speak truth to the powerful public employee unions at City Hall.
“The truth is that we cannot afford to continue to pay the city workforce at current salary and benefit levels,” Perry said.
Perry also argued that her top two opponents, Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel, are too closely aligned with labor to extract tough concessions.
“They will both have obligations they will have to meet,” Perry said.
Each of the major candidates has now laid out a broad-brush approach to dealing with deficits at City Hall — projected to be $216 million next year.
Garcetti, a three-term councilman, has spoken out against further cuts and tax increases, instead vowing to solve the city's budget woes by growing the economy. Greuel, the city controller, has vowed to eliminate waste.
Perry, at least, has vowed to tackle a major driver of the city's deficits over which City Hall has some control: union agreements. In her speech, Perry said that city employees should pay more for their health coverage and pensions. She also went after the Department of Water and Power employees — represented by the powerful IBEW Local 18 — saying that they are paid too much, and should be brought into line with the salaries of other city workers.
She also faulted a 2007 agreement with the city's civilian employees — which she voted for, but has since said she regrets — which calls for an 11% raise over the next two years. Perry said that she would not agree to more pay increases until the city's books are balanced.
“As mayor I will not allow for negotiated pay increases until our pension obligations are sustainable and we have closed our long-term structural deficit,” she said. “These proposals are much less dramatic than what a judge would dictate if the city of Los Angeles is insolvent.”
Perry has long represented the pro-business wing of the city council, so her forthright comments on labor matters are not new. During the budget crisis of 2010, Perry even invoked Malcolm X, calling for the elimination of 4000 positions “by any means necessary.”
But to establish herself as the tough-on-labor candidate, she will have to compete with ex-radio host Kevin James, who has made such points more clearly and forcefully in the mayoral debates.
Garcetti and Greuel, meanwhile, are seeking to appeal both to labor and to the business community by establishing themselves as honest brokers between the two sides.
Garcetti's campaign strategist, Bill Carrick, said that Garcetti has already shown that he can enact pension reform by negotiating eye-to-eye with city unions.
“That's the only way we're going to get pension reform done,” Carrick said. “You can give a speech about it, but Eric's actually done something about it.”