So much for staying neutral. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has said that he would not get involved in the campaign to succeed him, saying he wants to maintain good relations with both Wendy Greuel and Eric Garcetti.
But if we know one thing about this guy, it's that he's constitutionally incapable of staying out of the limelight forever. Five days before the election, Villaraigosa took to the microphones Thursday to denounce two Spanish-language TV ads -- one attacking Greuel and one attacking Garcetti.
While he made sure to balance his denunciations, his remarks reinforced Greuel's message and seem intended to boost her campaign with Latino voters.
The ads were released Wednesday, and can be seen here
. The more polished of the two comes from Lots of People Who Support Eric Garcetti, an independent committee. It attacks Greuel for being a registered Republican in the early 90s, which the ad describes as "the racist and anti-immigrant era of (Gov.) Pete Wilson."
The Greuel campaign has been furious about the ad since it was released, and Villaraigosa's remarks help advance her campaign's argument that the ad is beyond the pale and should be taken off the air.
The ad implies, though it does not state, that Greuel supported Prop. 187, the 1994 initiative to crack down on the undocumented. In fact, Greuel opposed the initiative and campaigned against it.
Greuel has called on Garcetti to denounce the ad. Garcetti has stopped short of that, instead tweeting this on Thursday morning:
Garcetti thus claimed some of the moral high ground without actually calling on his allies to pull the ad.
Rick Jacobs, the co-chair of the independent committee, made it clear he has no intention of taking it down.
"Wendy Greuel was a registered Republican for 13 years including in 1990 when Pete Wilson was elected Governor," Jacobs said in a statement Thursday. "If it weren't for Republicans throughout the state, like Greuel at the time, Wilson would have never become Governor and Prop. 187 would never have happened. Our ad will remain on the air because we believe voters have a right to know the truth about Wendy's past, not her spin."
The ad attacking Garcetti is not as professionally produced. Dr. Feliciano Serrano, a Huntington Park vascular physician, paid for the commercial, which faults Garcetti for claiming Latino heritage and links him to Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, all against a backdrop of roiling flames. While the Garcetti campaign has taken objection to the spot, they have not gone into full-blown outrage mode in the way that Greuel has.
Greuel issued a tweet of her own on Thursday, calling for both ads to be taken off the air.
At the podium Thursday, Villaraigosa echoed Greuel, saying there is "no room in a race for mayor of this great diverse city" for either spot.
The idea that Greuel supported Prop. 187 is "a bald-face misrepresentation of fact," he said. "Wendy has never supported Prop. 187. She has never supported the policies of Pete Wilson with respect to immigration. There is no truth -- in fact, that commercial is out of line, out of step with the diverse city and has no room in politics."
Villaraigosa balanced his remarks by saying that the anti-Garcetti ad "makes outrageous claims about Mr. Garcetti's ancestry."
"I know Eric," Villaraigosa said. "He doesn't support the policies of deportation."
After the press conference, the Greuel campaign sent a press release highlighting the mayor's remarks.
In response, the Garcetti campaign turned the conversation to Greuel's support from the Department of Water and Power union, and to Garcetti's offer back in January of a pledge to eliminate all outside spending in the race.
"We wish none of the Super PAC ads were running," said Jeff Millman, Garcetti's spokesman. "That's why Garcetti offered Greuel the People's Pledge to stop Super PACs on both sides, but Greuel rejected the offer to encourage the DWP union Super PAC to buy the mayor's office for her."
Villaraigosa has not endorsed either candidate, and there has been some suggestion that his endorsement might hurt more than it helps. A recent USC / LA Times poll
found that Villaraigosa is quite popular with Latinos, with 71% holding a favorable view and 28% an unfavorable view. However he remains a polarizing figure among whites, with 46% having a favorable impression and 47% an unfavorable one.
Back in January, Greuel was compelled to rebut the claim that she would represent "Antonio Villaraigosa's third term." The line came from mayoral contender Kevin James, in the context of an L.A. Times article
that tallied up the Villaraigosa commissioners who had donated to her campaign.
By staying officially neutral while helping Greuel on an issue that affects only the Latino community, Villaraigosa may be hoping to make the most of his continuing popularity among Latinos without incurring any backlash from white voters.
On Thursday, the pro-Garcetti group also issued a mail piece
targeting the African-American community. As with the TV ad, the mailer links Greuel to Pete Wilson, but instead of Prop. 187, it talks about Prop. 209 -- the 1996 anti-affirmative action initiative.
"Pete Wilson attacked minority admissions and hiring with his vicious Proposition 209," the mailer says. "Who do you want as your next mayor? Pete Wilson's former party mate -- Wendy Greuel? Or President Obama's national co-chair Eric Garcetti?"
The Greuel campaign said that Greuel had also opposed Prop. 209.