There has never been a Los Angeles mayor who grew up on the San Fernando Valley side of the city's geographic and cultural divide. Sam Yorty lived in the Valley while he was mayor, but he's the only one I think. So there was a nice story by Kate Linthicum and James Rainey in the Times today looking at the Valley roots of Wendy Greuel and Eric Garcetti. He's more associated now with Silver Lake, where he lives in a modernist solar-powered home, and Echo Park, where he lived until recently — and as the representative of those areas on the City Council he has cultivated a more urban constituency. But Garcetti grew up in the flats of Encino, as he reminded potential voters last week at the Tapia Brothers produce farm, and rode the bus to school at Harvard-Westlake in Studio City. Greuel grew up in Granada Hills, was the student body president at Kennedy High School, and lives in a Studio City cul-de-sac with a basketball hoop and a swimming pool. As she quips in the piece with regard to Garcetti's Valley ties: "The difference is, I never left."
It's one of the more interesting pieces done all campaign, looking a little at how they live and even comparing their vacation practices. Bonus: There are school photos of both, including Greuel as a Kennedy cheerleader.
Area codes might be the shorthand for the stark cultural contrasts between Greuel, the city controller, and Garcetti, a city councilman. She maintained her suburban roots while reaching for big political ambitions downtown. The mayor's office would be "the pinnacle," says a close friend. "It has never been a steppingstone for something bigger." Garcetti moved closer to the heart of the city and embraced the cosmopolitan perspective that came with it. His father, former Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti, said he wouldn't be surprised to see Eric as an ambassador or U.S. senator some day.
To Greuel supporters, her Valley roots are a measure of her consistency and dependability. The candidate knows where she comes from, they say, and what she wants to do. Garcetti's backers view him as a citizen of the world, conversant in everything from technology to urban design. The candidate will be sophisticated enough, they say, to adapt to changing circumstances and constituencies.
The two would-be mayors are keenly aware of the politics of geography. The San Fernando Valley is home to more than 40% of the electorate and many of the coveted 60,000 votes that went to Republican Kevin James, who came in third in the March primary election.
"Stark cultural contrasts" might be going too far — I'm not sure the city's immigrants, Latinos, blacks, Asians, Republicans, poor or almost anyone living south of Downtown would see Garcetti and Greuel, both white middle class political strivers, as of starkly different cultures. And certainly not outside of Los Angeles. But we get it: the suburban mother from the 818 versus the urban world traveler in the 323. (In the story, Garcetti scoffs at the hipster label some media types throw on him.)
For a different take on the race, Bloomberg.com politics blogger Josh Barro writes today that "Los Angeles’s mayoral race may be America’s dumbest political campaign this year." He's on the East Coast with a Manhattan Institute background, just fyi. Excerpt:
The race, between Wendy Greuel and Eric Garcetti, pits two liberal Democrats with few apparent policy differences against each other. Neither has offered a serious proposal for addressing the city’s troubling fiscal problems.
In happy economic times, low-content campaigns can be a sign of flush municipal coffers and, consequently, relatively few pivotal policy choices for candidates to debate. If that were the case, a mayor’s race like this would be just fine.
But Los Angeles isn’t living in an era of economic happiness. It faces severe fiscal stresses that led it to cut its municipal workforce by more than 10 percent from 2009 to 2012. Pension costs have risen 25 percent a year for a decade; now, for every dollar the city spends on wages, it pays 32 cents into pension funds and its employees pay an additional 9 cents on top of that. Pensions are eating the city budget, forcing deterioration in everything from fire-response times to tree pruning.
So this is hardly the time for Los Angeles to be having a content-free race for mayor. Yet, here we are. These headlines are representative: “Garcetti, Greuel Agree They Are Not So Different.” “Greuel, Garcetti Find Different Ways to Balance Campaigns, Kids.” “Garcetti, Greuel Focus on Independent Leadership.” “Garcetti, Greuel Discuss Tunnel and Hollywood Jobs in Mayoral Forum.”
Not the deepest take, but this was interesting. Barro says that Austin Beutner, the business candidate who decided not to run, dismissed both Garcetti and Greuel. "'It’s staggering to me that the media, it’s staggering to me the community, would find acceptable those two choices,' Beutner told me. 'The candidates are promising the sun, the moon and the stars without any idea how to pay for it.'"
The sea-saw contest had Garcetti leading by 9 points 1 month ago, and Greuel leading by 3 points 2 weeks ago. But today, 05/10/13, the candidates are exactly even, with 8% of likely voters still undecided.
Greuel and Garcetti are within 2 points of each other in every age group. Men tip slightly to Garcetti. Women tip slightly to Greuel. Whites and Latinos slightly favor Garcetti. African Americans by 2:1, and Asian Americans ever-so-slightly, favor Greuel. Garcetti leads among Republicans. Greuel leads among Democrats and Independents. Wealthier and well-educated voters favor Garcetti. Less affluent and less educated voters favor Greuel.
Survey USA also finds Mike Feuer ahead of Carmen Trutanich 46-40 in the city attorney race, and Dennis Zine ahead of Ron Galperin in the controller race 46-34. The poll says it has a sampling error margin of 4.2 points.
Photo of Van Nuys skyline: LA Observed