Bill Boyarsky
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And the mayor debate winner is...Professor Guerra

The winner of Tuesday night’s mayoral debate was the moderator, Professor Fernando J. Guerra, director of Loyola Marymount University’s Center for the Study of Los Angeles and a longtime analyst of local politics.

Like a professor trying to keep an early morning class awake, Guerra worked hard to breath life into an event where the five candidates gamely fought their way through another of the many forums that are the major public events of the campaign. This one at LMU occurred exactly a month before the March 5 primary election. It was hard to tell who is doing best. They all looked as though they were on a marathon, exhausted and praying the finish line was near.

The room was packed; warm and dark, for the benefit of cameras live streaming the forum. Guerra’s finest few minutes in the two hours was when underdog candidate Emanuel Pleitez revealed his plan to solve the city employee pension crisis. It was very complicated, involving borrowing money from Wall Street to buy out the pension obligations of city workers, who would then use it to build their own retirement accounts.

“It sounds good, but I don’t understand it,” Guerra said, turning a moment that could have been really boring into something amusing. He interrupted the debate, scorning a rigid format, and asked the other candidates if they understood it. None of them did. Neither did I. Afterward, I asked Pleitez aide John Hill to explain it. He did, sort of. Then Pleitez came up and offered to explain it more but I asked him not to. Hill, I said, told me all I had to know.

Pleitez, considered a sure loser by the experts, is actually could be a contender if he gets more campaign contributions. He has a good biography—poor in El Sereno, top student and athlete at Wilson High School, Stanford graduate, Obama transition team official, tech company executive. He’s Latino in a city where the Latino vote could decide the election. But so far, he’s been on display only in debates and before small audiences and may get lost among the television barrage in the final days.

Some other thoughts:

Councilman Eric Garcetti continues to describe Hollywood, in his district, as a crime-free, homeless-free, graffiti-free, low-unemployment island of prosperity in a city that has unfortunately not benefited from his leadership. Hollywood has improved in recent years but it’s definitely not free of the ills that afflict the rest of L.A.

Controller Wendy Greuel, considered, along with Garcetti a front-runner, has stopped talking so much about her audits. I can see why. The subject is uninteresting and the Times raised good questions about how much money they would actually save. Instead, she offered a more lively speaking style and promised to be tough as mayor.

Ex-talk-show host Kevin James remained the best with one-liners. The auditing Greuel, he said, boasts “she knows where the bodies are buried” He said “that’s because she buried the bodies,” presumably meaning city hall secrets.

Councilwoman Jan Perry, asked along with the others what she would like to do if she loses, said she’d study to be a rabbi, and when ordained would work outside temple walls to help society’s unfortunate. Politician turned rabbi—that might be a first.

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