A few minutes into Saturday night's L.A. mayoral debate, a group of demonstrators stood up and demanded that outsider candidate Emanuel Pleitez be allowed to participate.
“Let Pleitez debate!” they chanted, as the KABC feed went to black.
Though they were escorted out, Pleitez had a powerful ally up on stage. Controller Wendy Greuel had urged the debate organizers to include him.
Perhaps that's because she believes that all voices should be heard. Or perhaps it's because Pleitez threatens to cut into the Latino base of Greuel's top opponent, Councilman Eric Garcetti.
“We've made it a point with all of the organizers that he should be allowed to participate,” said John Shallman, Greuel's campaign strategist. “As far as I know, we're the only ones who have done that.”
Shallman argued that Pleitez has more cash in the bank than Kevin James, the Republican radio host who is invited to almost all the debates. Pleitez, who just turned 30, also has run for office before, finishing a respectable third in a race for an open seat in Congress.
“He represents the Latino community. He represents young voters,” Shallman said. “He certainly has a strong argument why he should be there.”
Garcetti's campaign doesn't see it that way.
“I don't think the guy's relevant to the campaign,” said Bill Carrick, Garcetti's consultant. “There's 10 other people running. I don't think any of them are going to have the resources to mount a serious campaign.”
Pleitez was excluded from Saturday's debate on the grounds that he hadn't raised $200,000 in total. But he out-raised Kevin James last quarter, and it's becoming harder to craft rules that would exclude Pleitez while including James.
Given that, it seems likely that Pleitez will get his chance to debate soon. In an interview, he said he had received invitations to participate in about a half dozen forums, including a televised debate.
“This city just needs to make sure all voices are heard,” Pleitez said. “I got an awesome campaign. We're going to get into the runoff.”
To get the flavor of the Pleitez campaign, here's a campaign video. Footage of the protesters disrupting Saturday's event starts at the 2:00 mark:
The only other moment of note on Saturday came when Greuel attacked Kevin James for hosting a “radical right-wing radio show.” Watch this clip and you can skip the rest of the hour-long forum:
James told the Weekly the question shows that she thinks of him as a threat. “Her stretch to apply it in the debate showed desperation,” he said.
The other candidates usually ignore James — who routinely accuses them of being corrupt — but Greuel decided it was high time to go after him.
“No one has been talking about the GOP elephant in the room,” Shallman said. “Kevin James is a Tea Party, right-wing radical who is a shock-jock radio guy. The issue with Kevin James is his recklessness. If you're running for mayor, you want to know that the person who has his hand on the wheel is in firm control of the facts and can handle a crisis without doing crazy things.”
If Garcetti is facing a threat from Pleitez on his left flank, then it seems Greuel is worried about James on her right flank.
“It's obvious, from anybody's observation of the campaign, that she feels threatened by him,” Carrick said.