Hundreds of locals filled Highland Park's Ramona Hall on Tuesday night to see four of the five candidates vying to be Los Angeles' next mayor participate in a forum hosted by the Northeast Coalition.
Current City Council Representatives Eric Garcetti and Jan Perry squared off against radio host/lawyer Kevin James and businessman Emanuel Pleitez in a mostly cordial affair moderated by journalist Patt Morrison. City Controller and candidate Wendy Greuel had a commitment in San Francisco, Morrison told the audience.
While it was a mostly predictable stop along the road to election, there were six things worth noting from Tuesday's forum.
The candidates defined their respective roles:
Councilmembers Eric Garcetti and Jan Perry leaned on their accomplishments while Emanuel Peitez and Kevin James tried to establish themselves as the fiery outsiders.
While the candidates agreed on almost every issue, Pleitez and James often chastised the council members for their failure to follow through on issues like pension reform while in office. This led to a heated exchange, where Garcetti declared that pension reform was about working "behind the scenes" to make changes and not "macho grandstanding." Pleitez took issue with those comments, saying Garcetti had failed to uphold the public trust as a member of the city council.
The candidates stood united on important local issues …
It should come as no surprise that all four candidates in attendance took stands against the extension of the 710 Freeeway through Northeast Los Angeles and in favor of the reopening of the Southwest Museum.
Each attempted to make their own sort of political hay in stating their support of the Southwest Museum. Garcetti referred to his first visit to the museum as a youth as a "right of passage." Perry said she would reach out philanthropists to find funding to reopen and operate the historic museum. James leaned on his legal experience and called out the Autry for failing to follow the terms of the contract that granted them possession of the Southwest Museum's collection. Pleitez asked why, if Perry and Garcetti supported the reopening of the Southwest Museum, they hadn't done anything about it while on the city council.
… and on Measure A:
All four candidates opposed the proposed sales tax increase. James and Perry pointed out that they signed the opposition argument against the sales tax, Garcetti reminded voters that he voted against placing it on the March ballot, Pleitez called it a "band aid to bad problems at City Hall."
Eric Garcetti took a stand against Wal-Mart:
Moderator Patt Morrison lobbed a steady stream of softballs at the candidates throughout the two hour forum, but a question regarding the potential permitting of a Wal-Mart superstore in Chinatown challenged the candidates to balance their stances on growth and development against their support of local business and workers' rights. Pleitez and James argued that, given the city's current revenue picture, it wasn't wise to "antagonize" any particular business, regardless of their global reputation. Perry, who represents Downtown and South Los Angeles on the city council, said it should be up to the locals to decide the value of the superstore.
Garcetti stood out on this issue, saying he would welcome any big box store to Los Angeles that could prove their business would bring have an overall net positive impact on jobs. "We don't have any of those stores in this town, because they can't prove that."
Wendy Greuel was out of town, and she paid for it:
Greuel hasn't been a total no-show in Northeast LA; she visited firefighters at LAFD's Highland Park Station 12 last month and was at the unveiling of the York Boulevard parklet. But she wasn't on hand Tuesday night, and Pleitez and James both took the opportunity to jab at the city controller in her absence. Had she been on hand, Greuel may have been able to distinguish herself from her opponents by calling on her efforts to find "waste, fraud and corruption" in the city's budget. Instead, the other candidates were able to call out her failure to do so.
Northeast LA represented:
Ramona Hall was packed, with the more than 200 seats filled and many more audience community members standing along the walls of the hall. The community certainly made a statement to the mayoral candidates that they plan to make their voices heard in the coming years.