Los Angeles mayoral candidates Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel are lining up endorsements as they prepare to go head-to-head in a runoff election on May 21.
In the race to lead the nation's second largest city, the candidates are working to secure their bases and make inroads into those of their opponents. The election is guaranteed to be a milestone for Los Angeles, one of the country's most diverse cities: Garcetti, a city councilman, would become the Los Angeles' first Jewish mayor if elected; if Greuel, the city controller and former city councilwoman, wins she will be the first woman to hold the job.
The major differences between the candidates are superficial. Garcetti's campaign has focused on the councilman's leadership and ability to build consensus. Greuel's, on the other hand, has emphasized her experience in business as well as government. In terms of policy, however, the variations between the two are relatively slight. Both are democrats who have touted the popular jobs-for-the-middle-class message but have been vague about their plans to fix the city's problems.
Instead, endorsements from political, labor and business leaders are serving to differentiate the candidates--and possibly motivate voter turnout in what's expected to be a low-turnout race. In the recent primary, less than 300,000 of the city's 1.8 million voters cast a ballot.
Greuel recently snagged the endorsement of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, a labor group representing hundreds of thousands of workers in Los Angeles County. The endorsement was widely expected after the group's political committee voted in favor of backing her last week and adds to the candidate's already strong support from unions.
"L.A. deserves a mayor who has the strength to be a leader and bring the city together to keep our neighborhoods safe and get us back on financial track," said Maria Elena Durazo, of Federation of Labor, at the announcement to endorse Greuel on Tuesday.
Because of the low expected turnout, union support could be a deciding factor--assuming members go to the polls.
Greuel's backing from unions, whose contributions have largely fueled her campaign, may be the key to victory for her, but it could also work to her detriment. With the city's budget and union-pension reform being some of the most pressing issues for the incoming mayor, South L.A. Councilwoman Jan Perry, a candidate who has been critical of Greuel and finished barely 200 votes behind James, has warned against electing a mayor who is too cozy with the unions.
"With Wendy Greuel receiving all these endorsements from significant city unions, that helps her quite a bit, but it can also hurt her if she is defined as being too dependent," said Fernando Guerra, director of the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University. "I think that becomes a problem."
Just before the recession, city leaders--including Garcetti and Greuel--agreed to give most of the city's workers a 25 percent raise over five years. But the city has struggled to balance its budget in recent years as revenues have fallen, making the promised raises untenable.
Unions later made some concessions, but then city leaders dramatically modified pensions for new employees. The changes, which pushed retirement age from 55 to 65, cut retirement wages and reduced health benefits, were made without negotiating with labor.
The pension vote has recently become a key issue in the race for
Garcetti was among those who voted for the changes, which defenders say are expected to bring $4 billion in savings to the city over three decades.
But last week, Greuel backed labor in saying that, although she agrees with "99.9 percent" of the changes, labor had been treated unfairly by not being consulted.
Labor, of course, isn't the only voice that matters in the race. Garcetti, who does have some support from labor, recently won endorsements from fellow councilmen Paul Koretz and Paul Krekorian. He also picked up the endorsement of long-shot mayoral candidate Emanuel Pleitez over the weekend.
Koretz, who is on the city's budget committee, announced his support for Garcetti at a famed Jewish-owned deli in his heavily Jewish district, noting the leadership Garcetti had shown during "the worst financial crisis" the city has endured in his lifetime.
"I believe that he is the right mayor to help with the budget," Koretz said.
The Jewish bloc remains a key base in Los Angeles. Although Jews only make up 6 percent of the city's population, they cast 17 percent of the votes. Garcetti already has a significant lead in the district.
Both candidates have been courting attorney Kevin James since the March 5th non-partisan primaries. James, the only Republican candidate in that race, finished third in his first run for public office.
For Greuel, an endorsement from James would help her solidify her support in the San Fernando Valley, where both Greuel and James received the majority of their votes in the primary. That support would be a welcome boost for Greuel. Though she has shown her strongest numbers in the San Fernando Valley, that dominance was threatened when Krekorian, the valley's councilman, endorsed Garcetti.
While Greuel leads among African-American voters, Garcetti's recent endorsement from the New Frontier Democratic Club, an influential African-American organization, could erode that lead as well.
The Latino vote, meanwhile, seems likely to go to Garcetti if the upcoming election follows the lead of the primary. Garcetti captured 48 percent of the Latino vote in the primary, while only half as many Latinos voted for Greuel. Current-L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has not decided whether to endorse a candidate or not, though his cousin, state Assembly Speaker John Pérez, and Dolores Huerta, co-founder of United Farm Workers, have endorsed Greuel.
Late Wednesday, the two campaigns each announced an endorsement from high-profile Republican leaders. Former mayor Richard Riordan, who has pushed to reign in pension costs, endorsed Greuel, in what is seen as a significant coup for the city controller.
The announcement came just as Garcetti's campaign shared that Steve Soboroff, a Republican who worked in Riordan's administration, had endorsed the councilman.