Mayoral candidates Wendy Greuel and Eric Garcetti met on Thursday night for their first one-on-one debate. But on the hot topic of the week -- education reform -- an expected confrontation fizzled.
Greuel did challenge Garcetti on the issue, but she passed up an opportunity to put Garcetti on the defensive over his support from United Teachers Los Angeles.
Earlier in the day, UTLA announced that 91 percent of its membership supported a vote of no confidence in the leadership of Supt. John Deasy. Deasy is generally seen as an ally of the education reform movement, which seeks to improve school performance through testing and competition.
Greuel has cast herself as the candidate of education reform, coming out in favor of a comprehensive teacher evaluation system that would make it easier to fire poor performers. Earlier in the day Thursday, Greuel challenged Garcetti on Twitter to break with UTLA and join her in signing an online petition expressing support for Deasy.
Shortly before the debate started, Garcetti acquiesced and added his name to the petition. (Update: Garcetti's team signed it at 6:58 p.m., two minutes before the broadcast went live.) But Greuel never raised the issue during the debate, which was held at American Jewish University on Mulholland Drive and televised on ABC-7.
Instead, Greuel confronted Garcetti on his changing position on the "parent trigger" law, which allows parents to take over schools via signature-gathering campaigns. Garcetti responded that he "always supported parent trigger," which is not the case
. (He has supported it since Feb. 27
.) That was the extent of the exchange on education, which is an important issue for Greuel if she expects to build up an advantage with women voters.
Greuel also faulted Garcetti for his handling of the proposed Millennium Hollywood skyscrapers, saying he waited too long to weigh in with his opposition to the project. "What we need is people who will lead in this city," she said, "not wait until the last minute."
Speaking after the debate, Greuel's strategist, John Shallman, said that she had been "about as powerful as you can be."
Garcetti, for his part, kept up attacks that he had launched during the primary. He went after Greuel's plan to hire 2,000 additional police officers, challenged her claim to have found $160 million in waste, and reminded the TV audience that unions had spent nearly $3 million supporting her campaign.
"I'm not the handpicked candidate of the downtown power brokers," he said.
On the positive side, he stuck to his theme of being a "practical problem solver" and "delivering the basics." But he also flirted with some big ideas.
Most notably, he suggested crowd-sourcing the city's traffic problems by offering a $1 million prize for the best solution to L.A. gridlock. He borrowed the idea from Netflix, which offered $1 million to the developer who could devise the best recommendation algorithm. (However, after awarding the prize, Netflix never actually used the algorithm.
Most of the audience members who spoke with the Weekly afterward gave the nod to Garcetti, especially on style.
"I think his style is mayoral," said Fran Spitzer, of Encino, who said she voted for Greuel in the primary but is now leaning to Garcetti. "He seems like an honest kind of guy. After (Mayor Antonio) Villaraigosa, we really need a change."
Matt Rutta, also of Encino, said he will be voting for Garcetti because he seemed the more practical of the two.
"He was a lot more definitive. He said what he would do about it," Rutta said. "She said what she wanted to happen, but she didn't say how it would happen."
Rutta's friend, Jonathan Toker, said he was leaning to Greuel because she was more business-friendly and had experience in the private sector.
"He was a better orator," Toker acknowledged, "but that doesn't do anything for me."