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Mayoral candidates face off, attack in heated debate

Los Angeles mayoral candidates Wendy Greuel and Eric Garcetti faced off in a debate at the Sinai Temple in Westwood on Monday night.

By Fiona Kirby

April 30, 2013 1:14 a.m.

The original version of this article contained an error and has been changed. See the bottom of the article for additional information.

Los Angeles mayoral candidates Wendy Greuel and Eric Garcetti were noticeably more heated in Monday night’s debate in Westwood than when they faced off in Royce Hall for the primary back in January.

During the March primary election, Garcetti and Greuel received the largest percentages of the vote – divided among eight other candidates – with roughly 33 and 29 percent of the vote, respectively. A runoff election between the two candidates will be held on May 21.

About 300 community members gathered at the Sinai Temple on Wilshire Boulevard, about one mile east of UCLA, to watch the debate.

Frank Stoltze, crime and politics reporter at Southern California Public Radio, moderated the debate. Topics during the debate ranged from local bike lanes to digital billboards to transportation. Panelists Jim Newton, the editor at large of the Los Angeles Times, and Jill Stewart, managing editor at L.A. Weekly also asked the candidates questions.

During the debate, the two candidates discussed their opponent’s relationships with special interest groups and how they would approach specific city issues.

Adam Swart, a student member of the Westwood Community Council, said he thought the debate was helpful in illustrating where the candidates stood on technical issues.

“Policy-wise they’re very similar – the debate was pretty personal,” he said.

In his opening statement, Garcetti focused on the idea that he had turned around crime rates and improved the Silver Lake, Echo Park and Hollywood neighborhoods.

As he held up a graph illustrating the difference in their campaign finances, he said his campaign was not funded as much by special interest groups as Greuel’s campaign. Her campaign has received about $3.6 million from unions.

Greuel countered that she wanted to focus on her plans as mayor, and not respond to “attacks.”

Later in the debate, however, she made references to a recent attack ad about digital billboards that was launched by her campaign against Garcetti.

Greuel and Garcetti both said they did not support the billboards in residential areas.

Greuel accused Garcetti of voting to install digital billboards while he had stock in the company that owned them, a topic of some of Greuel’s recent political campaigns advertisements.

In response, Garcetti said what his aides claimed after Gruel’s ads were launched – that he had not known his stock was connected with the billboards, but that once he found out he donated the profit he made from the billboards to charity.

Greuel countered that owning stock in the billboards and then giving the money he earned from them to charity was akin to “robbing a bank” and returning the money after having been caught.

“I shouldn’t have voted that way, I’ve owned that mistake,” Garcetti said during the debate.

The debate then shifted gears to the discussion of bicycles in the Westwood area.

Greuel and Garcetti both agreed that bicycles have a place in Los Angeles transportation. Greuel said she thought rezoning Westwood and Sepulveda Boulevards for bicycle lanes was a possibility, but that she would need to discuss the issue with those involved before formulating a definite stance on the issue.

Garcetti said he had done rezoning in his district, but was not familiar with rezoning in Westwood specifically.

The moderator asked the two candidates a question from the audience, about their thoughts on proposed plans to construct a subway tunnel under Beverly Hills High School.

The plan, which would link Downtown Los Angeles and the West Los Angeles area, has received negative feedback from many members of the Beverly Hills community, who contend that it could be dangerous for the high school’s students.

Both candidates said they support adding a subway line between Downtown L.A. and West Los Angeles. Garcetti said he supported tunneling under non-instructional buildings, while Greuel did not specify what her views are regarding the proposal during the debate.

She mentioned that Garcetti had a lease on land near the school, eliciting boos from the crowd.

After a brief discussion about their views on development in the city, Garcetti and Greuel made a final appeal to the crowd as part of their closing statements.

Mitchell Lachman, a 59-year Los Angeles resident, said he attended the debate because he wanted to ask the candidates about a possible plan to alleviate traffic congestion.

He didn’t get to ask his question, but said that he thought Garcetti was more articulate during the debate.

However, Lachman is leaning toward voting for Greuel because she seemed more enthusiastic in her views on bicycling in Westwood – an issue he cares about.

To be elected mayor of Los Angeles, one of the candidates must win at least 50 percent of the vote in the May 21 runoff election.

Correction: Greuel’s campaign has received about $3.6 million from unions.

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