A Greueling Race: I’m Not Ready to Make Nice after Vicious L.A. Mayoral Election

Here’s a commentary long and involved and fiery enough that it may last you through the holiday weekend.

Many women (and plenty of men) have been feeling down at the fact that outgoing Los Angeles City Controller Wendy Greuel fell short in her attempt to become LA’s next Mayor, losing to Councilman Eric Garcetti, by a tentative count of about 54% to 46%.  I wish that I could feel more sympathetic.

I understand why people of good faith would want LA to have a female Mayor — someone that little girls could look up to.  I am among them, in fact; I would have liked it too.  I would have been happy, for example, had that women been Jan Perry.  But like Perry herself, who endorsed Garcetti after the primary, I didn’t want it to be Wendy Greuel.  Breaking ground on gender is important — but where there’s a clear difference between the candidates, it’s not everything.

The disappointment among feminists with Tuesday’s results is compounded by Ana Cubas‘s apparent loss of to Curren Price in Council District 9 by about 500 votes (or 5.5%) and (less compellingly) by the fact that the sole female incoming member of the City Council won’t be elected until a runoff in District 6, where insider Cindy Montanez led labor insurgent Nury Martinez with about 43.5% to 24%.  Women make up 50.3% of the City of Los Angeles, and the prospect that, for a few weeks, at least, no woman will be among the City’s officers or Councilmembers is very unsettling.  (That only one will be among them after that runoff is not much better.)  Two openly gay men, new Controller Ron Galperin and District 10 representative Mitch O’Farrell, both liberal Democrats, were elected and a very liberal firebrand Mike Feuer will be the next City Attorney — a huge step up from Carmen Trutanich.

I understand why many feminists are disappointed.  But among the above results, except for the loss of Cubas, I am thrilled.  Women will before long find a better candidate for Mayor of Los Angeles than the 2013 Wendy Greuel.  I hope, in fact, that she doesn’t run again.  Pissing me off that badly took some doing.

Goodbye, Greuel World

Photo illustration from highly degraded version of LA Times’s vote map http://graphics.latimes.com/la-mayoral-maps/#10/34.0498/-118.6002 and a slice of one of its photos of Wendy Greuel 
http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/.a/6a00d8341c630a53ef017d3f7e521a970c-640wi.  Green and yellow areas went for Garcetti; purple and magenta areas went for Greuel.  The brownish areas, including the San Fernando Valley — from which Greuel comes, at which I have her staring, and which she had expected and needed to win — are areas where the outcome was roughly even.

My happiness is certainly not due to not wanting to see a woman elected to LA City Government; I voted to endorse Cubas as a member of the LA County Democratic Central Committee  and my initial choice for Mayor was Perry, whose campaign never got enough traction.  It’s because, by the end of the race, I truly could not stand Wendy Greuel.  Even now, a few days after the election’s end, I don’t want to see her anywhere near City or County or State government.

It is not so much her personally that I dislike as her campaign — but I am confident from talking to her that she ran the campaign of her own choosing.  She ran the kind of campaign that, for the good of the political system, should not be readily forgiven, just so as to make an example of her to others.

Jerkishness

Some things about the Greuel campaign bothered me without repulsing me.  Her complaints about polls being biased against her, for example, are not horrific, but they ought to be embarrassing.  (Yes, as in the primary, the pre-election polls were wrong — as Garcetti beat her by roughly twice the margin indicated in the polls.)  I’m not surprised when campaigns “play the ref” — but there ought to be a cost to doing so, like not letting them (or others of us) forget it.

Then, there’s political assholishness that still falls short of repulsive.  For example, Greuel’s campaign started picking a fight with Garcetti back in the primary, using ads with a Disney theme in which they dubbed him “Prince Charming” (and things went far downhill for that.)  Ha ha.  Well, someone in (or supportive of) the Garcetti campaign had the bright idea of depicting Greuel as  the two-toned-hair Disney villain, “Greuella de Ville.”  Ha ha ha.  But then, seemingly almost immediately, Greuel’s patron Janice Hahn — who herself had played with the fire of ethnic tensions in trying to stir up trouble between Debra Bowen and the Westside Jewish community during their race for Congress in 2011 by implying baselessly that Bowen was anti-Israel — sent out a e-mail screed accusing the Garcetti campaign of the most vile sexism, leaving out the fact that, in using Disney characters, the Greuel campaign had thrown not only the first punch, but the first dozen or so.

That’s the sort of eye-roll-inducing rottenness that simply wants to make me never support a candidate again if there is a reasonable alternative; that’s how I feel about Hahn.  But Greuel went further than that.

Playing with Fire

In the primary, Greuel issued blistering attacks against Jan Perry for having gone through bankruptcy — once in the wake of a divorce, which a feminist should understand often leads to economic turmoil for which she personally may be blameless.  These were beyond what should be considered acceptable in politics.  They themselves were dwarfed by the enormity of her scurrilous and desperate attacks, late in the campaign, against Mayor-Elect Garcetti — on divisive demographic grounds.  I take that especially seriously.  We take special care as a society to punish people worse when their crimes are intended to terrorize a given race or a gender; baseless political attacks that that divide us in along the same lines are offensive in a similar, although less extreme, way.

A responsible adult does not play with fire that way.  How do we stop politicians from doing this — or willingly hiring and paying big bucks to campaign consultants who do it on their behalf?  There’s only one way: by not letting them off the hook after the election.  So, as the Dixie Chicks sang:

Greuel’s carelessness with fire involved bogus assertions of racism — especially ones that are aimed at one community.  (A paradigmatic example of that would be Spanish-language ads aimed at Latinos that directly contradict what is being said to everyone else in English.)  In some cases, all I have to suggest that the Greuel campaign did this sort of thing are allegations from those supporting the Garcetti campaign — but they appear to have documentation.  If they’re wrong, let’s have it out.  The seriousness of these attacks demand their resolution.

For example, one campaign supporter wrote: “what is outrageous is that Wendy Greuel’s campaign is using the fact that Gil Garcetti [Eric’s father] prosecuted O.J. Simpson (apparently an innocent and wrongfully framed man) as a reason to not vote for Eric. Let’s note though that “Free the Juice” is a message being sent to only one set of voters.”  (I presume that those leaflets, if they exist, can be located.)

Wow.  If Greuel thought that O.J. Simpson was framed, she should have had the guts to say it where everyone, not just African-Americans, could hear it.

And here’s something worse, from the LA Weeklyaccusations that Garcetti was tolerant of rape:

Wendy Greuel attacked Eric Garcetti on his home turf today, challenging his jobs figures and blaming him for a recent spike in rapes, which she called the “dirty little secret” of Hollywood.

“It’s one of the most dangerous places for women in the city, something Mr. Garcetti seems to be ignoring,” Greuel said, according to remarks provided by her campaign.

Greuel cited a 68% increase in rapes in Hollywood since 2009. However, a broader look at the data shows … an overall decline since Garcetti took office in 2001.

If you click through to the story, you’ll find a graphic showing that forcible rapes in Hollywood from 2010-2012 were higher than they had been in 2007-2009 — but substantially lower each year than they had been for all but one year between 2001-2006.  Greuel’s attack relied on both lying with statistics and voter ignorance about the overall record of this area.

Imputing Garcetti’s personal responsibility for the increase in forcible rape in part of his district — without explanation of what it is he supposedly could or should have done differently — is completely irresponsible for a candidate.  If you ever run for office, don’t do that.

Dragging Down Labor

One can’t really comment on the Mayor’s race without focusing on the issue that Garcetti stressed in the late stages — the idea that Greuel was going to be beholden Labor.  Well, not Labor exactly — just of one specific union: the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18 and its SuperPac, Working Californians.  (The Los Angeles Labor Federation also backed Greuel, but I don’t get the sense that it was with particular enthusiasm.  They sort of had to do it when the IBEW took the stand that I’m about to describe, but I heard that many of them were significantly apprehensive about that support blowing up in their face if and when Garcetti won.)

Normally, this sort of baiting someone for their union ties really cheeses me off: but there are exceptions.  Here’s what the LA Times had to say on the topic:

Most striking was Garcetti’s success in defeating Greuel in such Republican bastions as Porter Ranch, an area won by GOP candidate Kevin James in the March primary. Garcetti did that largely by casting Greuel as too closely tied to the union that will soon ask the new mayor to award raises to thousands of workers at the unpopular Department of Water and Power.

The union, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18, spent $1.65 million trying to get Greuel elected, a campaign that backfired when Garcetti made it the subject of brutal TV attack ads.

In essence, Garcetti argued that Greuel was an untrustworthy leader for a city still unable to maintain its streets and parks amid chronic budget shortfalls. That tarnished Greuel’s self-portrayal as a fiscal conservative who had uprooted waste and fraud as controller.

At the same time, Garcetti — who like Greuel has a long track record as a strongly pro-labor Democrat — used his history of backing layoffs and furloughs of city workers during the financial crisis to shed his own liberal image and solidify his gains among Republicans.

(The Garcetti campaign apparently puts the figure coming from IBEW at somewhere between $3.4 million and $4.1 million.  I’m not going to try to suss out the truth: no matter which, that figure is way too high.  In the absence of a Jim Righeimer-style ideological foe of labor on the other side, supporting someone to the time of $1.6 million or more just because she promises to give your employees a raise that most everyone else seems to think that they don’t deserve looks like buying a politician.  And looking like its buying politicians is bad for Labor.  Labor has the better of the argument; it can and must win on the merits.

What the IBEW was doing is the opposite of, say, the Orange County Labor Federation supporting Julio Perez, whose commitment to Labor came first.  Perez was a partisan for labor and its broad interests before coming a candidate; there was no need to “buy” him because his heart was already with the movement.  Greuel had long presented herself as a fiscal conservative — apparently one with a gaping exception where the DWP workers under the IBEW are concerned, at least for a price.

(My hypothesis was that, when push came to shove, Greuel — taking public opinion and fiscal reality into account, with an eye on yet-higher office — might well have betrayed the IBEW as a way of proving her conservative Democratic bona fides, coming to pretty much the sort of position that Garcetti now will.  If true, this would mark LA’s IBEW leadership as being dumber than a barrel of sand.  We’ll never know.)

Why would I doubt Greuel’s commitment to her positions?  Well, let me tell you what she did late in the campaign, in an apparent effort to win Latino support: she favored increasing the minimum wage.

(Wait, what’s wrong with that?  That’s good for a Democrat, right?  I favor raising the minimum wage!)

Yeah, but she favored raising the minimum wage to $15/hour.

Now one can make a coherent and compelling argument for raising a city’s minimum wage that high.  But doing so requires setting the groundwork.  It’s not the sort of thing that one just springs on people.  It takes an issue-based campaign of public education first.  And she didn’t do any of that.  She just came out and said — “hey, poor Angelenos, let’s put more money in your pocket.  Vote for me!  Wheeee!”

And that move looked like total bullshit — the sort of thing that people invoke when they use the phrase “politics as usual.”  I wonder if more than a handful of people in all of LA believed that Greuel was actually committed to this.  I’ll tell you what, though — if she’s committed to that sort of wage hike, she can redeem herself in my eyes by spending all of her time working on the issue.  She may have to turn in her “fiscal conservative” card if she convinces her long-time supporters that she really means it, but by all means let her go ahead.  My head can be turned by her good works.

I’m not holding my breath that she will, though.

Politics as Usual, or Why I’m Asking for Trouble Here

Here’s what “Politics as Usual” really is: one is supposed to be able to pull stunts like this during a campaign and then walk away from it at the end with a gracious concession and at worst a mild apology.  For most well-connected politicians — and Greuel is that, with support from Bill Clinton and here in OC from the likes  of Frank Barbaro, who lauded her at last year’s Democratic Party annual Truman Dinner as LA’s next Mayor — one gets to say “bygones!” and go back to whatever it is one would have been doing before.

You know what you’re not supposed to do?  Call people on it — like I’m doing here.

But my belief, again, is that if people think that they can get away with something — they’re going to keep on doing it.  So I think that we have to put this into Wendy Greuel’s “permanent file.”  We need to hold the grudge.  I’m not ready to make nice over her 2013 campaign — and I don’t know that I ever will be.  I will hope for the next female candidate for LA Mayor to be someone that I can support without reservation — someone very much unlike Wendy Greuel.


About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)