Sunday, May 12, 2013

A Primer on the LA Mayor Race: It's Eric Garcetti versus Wendy Gruel and the DWP Union

Nine days to go before Los Angelenos elect a new mayor to succeed the hapless Antonio Villaraigosa. The existing power establishment, the coalition between labor and Hispanics, should be happy. Two solid, liberal supporters of unions, Eric Garcetti and Wendy Gruel, face off. Eric Garcetti is President of the City Council. Wendy Gruel, a former Councilmember, is the outgoing City Controller. Both are wired into LA. Garcetti is the son of the former District Attorney, Gil Garcetti, and Wendy Gruel has seemingly worked in the power establishment of LA for decades. Wendy received the endorsements of President Clinton, Senator Barbara Boxer, former Mayor Richard Riordan, Magic Johnson, and Delores Huerta. She has substantial union backing. The LA Times endorsed Garcetti. All’s not as it seems. Eric’s dad is Mexican American, Spanish and Italian. His mom is Russian Jewish. Thus, Eric is Jewish. He represents the melting pot of America: an Italian Jewish Spanish Mexican American. Wendy, the daughter of a Christian minister, is married to a Jewish lawyer/filmmaker. The Jewish vote is big in LA. The Mexican American vote is bigger, but trail the African American and Caucasian vote in LA. Both grew up in the Valley, the fabled San Fernando Valley. Wendy still lives in the Valley. Valley voters are mostly Hispanic or conservative whites. Indeed, Wendy was a registered Republican for 13 years. Wendy attended UCLA while Eric went to Columbia and is a Rhodes Scholar. Wendy Gruel in the primaries called Eric Garcettti and Jan Perry, an African American councilmember “liars.” Jan Perry has endorsed Eric for Mayor. Wendy went negative eight weeks ago in the general election and Eric responded in kind. She is short of campaign money and has asked for a ceasefire on the negatives. He’s wining the ad battle. She’s almost out of money in her campaign chest. Her big ad buy hasn’t closed the deal. Split polls are out. The LA Times Poll, often inaccurate in Presidential elections, has Garcetti winning big. A recent Cal State Los Angeles poll gives a slight lead to Wendy. None of these factoids mean much of anything in the election. The public employee unions have overwhelmingly supported Wendy Gruel. That would normally be the clincher. This year though the unions and their contributions have become an Albatross wrapped around the Controller’s neck. The City is broke with many prognosticators predicting bankruptcy in a few years. The public employee unions are getting the blame. Wendy Gruel has been endorsed by the SEIU, IBEW, the LA County Federation of Labor, the Hotel Workers, and the police and fire unions. The union’s objections to Garcetti are twofold. First, he voted to reduce the number of fire fighters. Second, he voted on a pension reform package that mostly cuts the benefits of new city employees. Wendy Gruel did not vote on these measures, necessary in light of the financial crisis facing the city, which occurred after she left the Council. The IBEW (International Brother of Electrical Workers) has poured $3.8 million into her campaign through an independent organization. They are her financial lifeline. The firefighters have tossed in $580,347 and the firefighters $259,000. Voters are outraged at the Department of Public Works, the supplier of water and electricity to much of Los Angeles. Mayor Villaraigosa has tried to substantially raise rates, supposedly to go “green.” Green turned out to be the wages paid the 10,000 LADWP workers, 8,000 of whom are members of the IBEW. The LADWP workers are paid an average 50% more than the other city employees and 25% more then their counterparts at comparable private and public utilities. The average pay for LADWP workers rose 15% over the past 5 years compared to 9% for the other city employees, including police and fire. The average wage of DWP workers in 2012 was $101,237, up from $88299 in 2008. By way of contrast the median household income for Los Angeles fell to $46,148 in 2011 from $48,882 in 2008. IBEW officials have stated they expect pay increases from the next Mayor when the contract is up for renewal. Eric Garcetti’s brutal, negative ad wraps the DWP around her: “3.8 million. The DWP’s Mayor. How much will it cost you?” It points out that in her eight years as City Controller she never uncovered any waste in the $7 billion DWP budget nor audited the DWP labor contracts. The story picks up today with an article in the LA Times. The SEIU, which supports Wendy Gruel, has its members believing they will receive a “living wage” of $15/hour from Wendy Gruel. A union loudspeaker truck blares “Wendy, la Wendy. We’re gonna vote. $15 an hour we’ll make. Wendy, la Wendy, we’re gonna dance. Eric Garcetti start crying.” The living wage proposal is technically for unionized hotel workers, but the campaigning is for across the board. Where does Wendy Gruel stand on the Living Wage? She was equivocal earlier yesterday, but then came out for it later in the afternoon. The recent IBEW funding might have affected her decision.

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