L.A. Mayor’s race: Lesser of two evils or diametric leadership styles?

Wendy Greuel and Eric Garcetti, L.A. Mayoral candidates revealed diametric leadership styles and sought to change minds in Black L.A. Photo: Eric Garcette Wendy Gruel / AP Images

LOS ANGELES, May 15, 2013 — I met Anthony W. Ford at the “Dialogue with Black LA” conference (DWBLA) on May 11, 2013. DWBLA encourages African-Americans toward new activism that will affect positive change in the Black Community.

The organizers invited the Los Angeles mayoral candidates Wendy Greuel and Eric Garcetti to a detailed Q&A focused on the Black Community, and how the newly-elected mayor would partner with constituents and community leaders to ensure greater representation in city concerns.

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Anthony, dressed in an “Obama 44” football jersey and jeans, listened attentively to both candidates and took notes. Many in the already sparse audience left after Wendy Greuel, who was first on the program, finished her Q&A .

This is a sad commentary on people’s interest in hearing both sides—especially when the future of their community and City is at stake.

Anthony is a South L.A. resident, a Vietnam veteran, and currently unemployed. I sat directly across the aisle from him, and he captured my attention because of his vocal asides to certain answers from candidate Greuel. During the break between, I asked Anthony about his vocal observations.

“She [Wendy Greuel] drops names: I know Mayor Bradley, I know Magic, Maxine Waters. So what? What have you done? You’ve done nothing! She has no accountability, but she’s the lesser of the two evils. I’m going to vote for her, [rather] than Garcetti.”

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Anthony is representative of many L.A. voters, not just Black L.A. There is little joy in either choice of candidate. Both are seen as opposite sides of the same coin.

However, I see this election more as a choice between leadership styles, rather than a lesser of two evils. Studying the candidates in this more relaxed environment revealed how each one navigated when off script, and showed their capacity in giving answers not clearly laid out in their usual talking points.

Wendy Greuel trumpets her experience in the late 80’s for Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, her experience in the Clinton Administration, her role at DreamWorks Studios, her leadership in City Council District 2, and finally, her “watchdog” work as Los Angeles City Controller.

“All of those experiences I believe, those experiences have shaped who I am,” Greuel said. “Those experiences have shaped that, the fact that I believe, I can hit the ground running immediately, and have the experience of private and public sector experience, and a demonstrated history.”

In weeding through her rambling responses, it seems Greuel’s “demonstrated history” has more to do with the people she has worked with and those who have endorsed her, rather than any tangible gains or marked growth in any of the places where she has held leadership.

As L.A. City Controller, Greuel claims she found $160 million in waste, fraud and abuse. The Los Angeles Times, former mayoral candidate and talk-radio host Kevin James, as well as her opponent Garcetti have pointed out the inconsistencies of this claim.

Another of Greuel’s claims is improvement to areas of her City Council District 2 at Valley Plaza in North Hollywood and sections of Foothill Boulevard in Sunland, California. As a previous San Fernando Valley resident who lived in Greuel’s council district, I can attest that she is dishonest on these claims.

Valley Plaza had its heyday in the 50s and 60s, but is now a shell of its former self. The shops are barely inhabited, and the movie theater is sparsely populated. Sears and Macy’s are the only flagships left, and Sears most recent claim to fame was an employee secretly recording women in the fitting room.  The strip club on Victory Boulevard is probably the biggest draw in the neighborhood. Foothill Boulevard is also hard up, a virtual eyesore, and no place you would want to be stranded after dark.

In light of this glowing track record of business development, when Greuel was asked in the Q&A about what she would do to improve the condition of the decimated Marlton Square in South L.A.’s Crenshaw District, Greuel replied, “We’re at a point in which it’s going to happen, something is going to happen at Marlton Square. Although there’s been improvements, and we’ve seen that, you’ve seen restaurants that have opened up there, but we need to do more—a combination of the housing and the economic development.”

This was one of the places where Ford became vocal: “Where has she been living?!” he exclaimed, apparently finding Greuel’s word on the “improved” conditions at this South L.A. landmark as negligible as some of her other claims.

In terms of both housing and business development, Greuel has been a staunch supporter of maintaining the status quo. In 2007, she voted down the development of a Home Depot in her district. This development could have brought jobs, industry, and a new vibrancy to the area. Instead, she led the charge to see it quashed, citing traffic mitigation and environmental concerns.

Greuel failed to disclose that she held a 50% ownership interest in a competing business: her family’s building supply store about 9 miles from the proposed Home Depot in Sunland.

It is clear from her many endorsements that Greuel has built a loyal coalition. When asked what these endorsements show, she said, “It’s a validation that I am not just coming into the community and talking about these issues when I’m running for office. I have been working in Los Angeles and in the African-American community since I started working for Olivia Mitchell at 17-years old. That is about delivering. Not in front of the cameras. That it is about delivering.”

Greuel’s leadership style, in large part, is delivering an illusion of actual progress. She strives to come off polished, on top of it, and knowledgeable; yet the end result lacks any substantive gains or tangible results.

Ford had even less to say about Eric Garcetti: “Garcetti is a joke. Garcetti is a big joke! It’s only about his constituents and his people. His whole thing is, ‘I’m Hollywood, I’ve done work in Hollywood, Jimmy Kimmel’s in Hollywood, he has a show in Hollywood—yeah, blood?!’”

I live in Atwater Village, part of the City Council District 13 that Eric Garcetti lead for 12 years. Without knowing anything else about his candidacy, I would have been very impressed with the building of small business and renewed industry to my community, as well as the other CD 13 communities of Hollywood, Echo Park, and Silverlake.

I have lived in Los Angeles for 26 years, and the contrast of these communities back in the day, to where they are now is striking. So, where Greuel touts experience and delivering, Garcetti’s district actually shows the fruit of that deliverance.

The latest feather to his neighborhood revitalization cap is Echo Park Lake. The historic landmark was drained of its toxic water, cleaned, and revitalized with plants, other greenery, fountains, and walking and bike paths. This $45-million, two-year project will open on June 15, a fitting denouement to Garcetti’s City Council record.

Ford was quite accurate about Garcetti caring about his constituents. Garcetti is known for walking door-to-door to meet his district residents, and past elections would bear out that he has done something right here, having won his council seat three times without issue.

In the Q&A, Garcetti was asked why he prefers a close relationship with the people he governs:

“It keeps you honest, and it keeps you grounded. The things that are going on in the streets, the answers to our problems in the City don’t exist in City Hall, or in a think tank or in a boardroom, they are on the blocks where people live. So government has to listen. If you forget that, if you surround yourself with the same people, you’re never going to see what real people are feeling.”

His record also shows huge missteps in listening and finding answers that pleased his base. His care for the opinion of his constituency went out the window with Measure B, yet another green boondoggle that the City Council (with Garcetti as its President) tried to ram through in order to get it on the November 2012 ballot. This measure had strong opposition from many sides, and reeked of union influence.

Thankfully, the voters did not bite, but it revealed Garcetti’s progressive penchant for social engineering and rigging outcomes. Garcetti himself said as much in the Q&A: that outcomes were paramount to how he would handle diversity in City Hall. “I will drive goals that reflect the population in terms of the diversity, but I’ll also push that further in and look at outcomes, and not just access.”

Garcetti’s building fetish has also resulted in lawsuits from community activists, accusing Garcetti and the City of being in bed with developers, rather than hearing the community concerns. Greuel has jumped on this bandwagon as well, warning that L.A. could become “a new Manhattan” if Garcetti is elected.

Greuel is the polar opposite in this respect: she appears to be development adverse—almost as if she’d rather not get her hands dirty. However, despite all the protestations and lawsuits, the social engineering done in Hollywood, Atwater Village, and Echo Park have literally transformed the neighborhoods for the better, bringing new economic and community viability to a formerly fledgling demographic base.

The mixed-use affordable developments in Hollywood and Echo Park are a clear reflection of this, where lower income individuals can work, shop, and enjoy leisure within their own radius.

Garcetti’s leadership style is very much the velvet hammer. He presents an easy-going, collaborative face, but when push comes to shove, he will drive the nail, and get down and dirty in order to ensure his outcomes. Those outcomes may not sit well with the people, but you could never accuse him of not getting anything done.

Garcetti’s final words that day on why he should be elected Mayor were based on this ability to get-it-done and make decisions. He pointed to his decision making on pension reform, the moving of LAX runways, and bringing business and residents together to see a community transformed.

“We’re not going to always agree, but I guarantee you I will be tough enough to always make the call,” he said. “That’s what you need from the Mayor: somebody who can make that decision. You need a Mayor who will be straight, who will be tough, and who can deliver.”

Both Greuel and Garcetti used the word “deliver” to describe why they are fit to lead. From their answers at this DWBLA event, and examining their record of service in the Council, only one of the candidates is using that term honestly. Apparently Anthony W. Ford also saw this distinction. After Garcetti’s Q&A wrapped, I approached him to see whether his opinion of Garcetti remained the same, or had adjusted from what he had earlier expressed.

“I’ve changed my vote,” he said. Quite a revelation, and indicative of the power of this type of public forum.

With the Mayoral runoff election less than a week away, My hope is that all of L.A., whether Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, or Other, will take the time to examine the candidates and vote from a place of information, rather than hearsay, emotion, or malaise.

Garcetti spoke to the voter malaise in our local elections, and gave this challenge: “One-third of the people who voted for President, voted for Mayor. And what’s more important to your daily life? Who is in the White House, or who is here, on the streets you drive on, the economy that you’re a part of, the air that you breathe? Trust me, this is a more important election to your daily life.”

Vote as though your life depended on it—because it many respects, it does.

This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Jennifer Oliver O'Connell

Jennifer Oliver O’Connell is the "In My Orbit" columnist for Washington Times Communities, writes on Los Angeles Faith and Community for Examiner.com, teaches Yoga, and coaches on careers and reinvention.

You can keep up with what's in Jennifer's orbit through her As the Girl Turns website: (http://asthegirlturns.com).

Contact Jennifer Oliver O'Connell


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