On the night of January 3, the five major candidates competing to become the next mayor of Los Angeles engaged in sharp accusations and rhetorical dodges at Civic Care’s L.A. Mayoral Jewish Community Debate at the Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills. The event was moderated by Jewish Journal President David Suissa and streamed live on the CivicCare.org website.
The debate was the first of 2013 and also featured Emanuel Pleitez, a former L.A. deputy mayor and Goldman Sachs executive, who was not invited to the previous candidate forums due to lack of qualifications for matching funds. Pleitez was joined by fellow mayoral candidates: L.A. city controller Wendy Greuel, councilmember Jan Perry, councilmember Eric Garcetti, and former federal prosecutor Kevin James.
While the two current frontrunners - city hall insiders Garcetti and Greuel - vainly attempted to make excuses for their uninspiring records in city government, it was former Assistant United States Attorney Kevin James who gave a command performance that effectively presented a powerful case with conclusive evidence of his opponents’ ineptitude. The former federal prosecutor compellingly detailed the level of complicity with which his rivals have essentially set the city on a path to bankruptcy in June 2014, as well as dangerously neglected public safety issues. The crowd clapped and cheered after James’ responses, which alternately identified the failures of the city hall insiders and offered his practical solutions to the issues facing Angelinos.
In one particularly forceful reply to a question regarding concerns about public safety in Los Angeles, Kevin James proceeded to demolish the performance of city hall careerists Garcetti, Greuel, and Perry, by saying:
“We have a fire department response time crisis. You just heard about this year ladies and gentlemen because it was in the election. This is nothing new, controller (Laura) Chick did an audit ten years ago, calling out the response time crisis. And my opponents ignored it. Inexplicably, (they) ignored it. Until some citizen, concerned citizens, put it in the paper. Austin Buetner, who was the first deputy mayor, who was in the campaign for awhile, went on a ride-along with the fire department. He discovered they’re using Thomas Guides. The fire department. No GPS (Global Positioning Systems). And you wonder why we’re having this problem with response times? They had bad data going in, and they knew it, and they allowed it to happen. The first thing we do in solving the fire department crisis is be honest with the information we’re dealing with.”
Rather than identify with concrete public safety issues, city councilmember Garcetti called upon his family's legacy as evidence that he is committed to law enforcement issues.
Garcetti responded to the question about the police and fire departments by saying, “I was raised in a household that was rooted in, and devoted to, public safety. My father was a prosecutor for over thirty years, my sister was a prosecutor. I was raised around the table hearing those stories, and remembering the days when we had a thousand murders here in Los Angeles and this year we had a little over three hundred. That’s way too many, three hundred families broken, three hundred lives lost, but it is a huge improvement over where we were.”
Eric Garcetti’s father is former district attorney Gil Garcetti, who is best known for the failure of his appointed deputy prosecutors – Marsha Clark and Christopher Darden – in the bungled O.J. Simpson murder trial in 1995. Gil Garcetti endured withering criticism in the wake of the Simpson acquittal from detractors like former Los Angeles deputy district attorney Vincent Bugliosi, who successfully prosecuted the Charles Manson trial in the Tate-LaBianca killings in 1971. Gil Garcetti eventually lost a re-election bid for district attorney in a landslide in 2000 after the LAPD Rampart Division scandal became a campaign issue.
In the final question of the debate, moderator David Suissa asked the candidates to detail their plans to deal with the anticipated $220 million deficit the city of Los Angeles faces and which will await the next mayor on the first day after taking office.
Councilmember Garcetti tried to explain his role in the city’s financial mismanagement by blaming the national economic recession, when he said, “So let’s put this in context. It was projected four years ago that we would be at a billion dollar deficit this year. The toughest recession in our lifetime took all of our revenues off the cliff. And while folks say this may be a math problem or we need to do this, some of us have actually been solving the problem. I was city council president for six years and I couldn’t be on the sidelines, I couldn’t just say theoretically what I would do. I had to actually do it.”
When his turn arrived, Kevin James skillfully took apart Garcetti’s excuses one-by-one, by responding:
“The cause of the deficit is complete municipal malpractice. Now it is easy today to say well, wait a minute, we didn’t know that the recession was going to be that bad. Maybe they didn’t. Lots of people told them it was going to be that bad, but let’s assume for the sake of argument that they didn’t. What they did know is that the city was in deficit then.”
“When they signed the contracts for the employee raises that they’ve admitted they now regret, the city was in deficit then. That means we were spending more money than we were able to take in. That has contributed to this ballooning, and it is a ballooning, structural deficit that continues. The term ‘bankruptcy’ has not come from a candidate on this stage for political gain. The term ‘bankruptcy’ came from the chief administrative officer Miguel Santana, who said that we have run out of slush funds to continue pouring into the city’s general fund,” James continued with an unrelenting focus on the role of Garcetti, Greuel, and Perry for their involvement in the city’s woeful financial decline.
With only two months before the first ballots will be cast in the Los Angeles mayoral election, the race for city hall will finally be receiving the attention it deserves at candidate forums like the Civic Care L.A. Mayoral Jewish Community Debate at the Beth Jacob Congregation. David Suissa did an exemplary job of moderating the forum and ensuring a respectful and civil tone that dealt with the issues voters are most concerned about in the city of Los Angeles.
On January 3, it was clearly Kevin James who walked away the undisputed winner by displaying command of the issues and an authoritative presence in countering the excuses of the city hall insiders in the race.