The primary election in the race for mayor is a month away – but the campaign isn’t getting much traction with voters. Is it the candidates? Is it the issues – or lack thereof? And what’s next for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa?
KCRW’s Steve Chiotakis sat down with city reporters Gene Maddaus and Dakota Smith to get some answers.
Steve Chiotakis: All right, happy Friday to you both. You know last night’s debate down in South L.A. Eric Garcetti went after Wendy Greuel and there’s this back and forth that’s been going on. $160 million, Wendy Greul is the city controller and she’s saying you know she saved the city this much money. Eric Garcetti has just been hammering her on this.
Gene Maddaus: Hammering her, sure okay…
Chiotakis: Is that not what he’s doing?
Maddaus: No, I mean she’s been saying this everyday. She finally repeated it this week in a TV commercial and that’s what caused Garcetti to start to question it.
Chiotakis: And up to then, Dakota we were just yawning about this campaign. There really hasn’t been much.
Dakota Smith: Yeah, I mean, what was sort of exciting about this week is that it was the first time they sort of went after each other and Eric is very polite, and even with this he didn’t really go after her he just issued a statement and then the LA Times wrote a story and he followed up with a press conference and he called for truth and transparency basically and called her out and she went right back at him. So in a race that’s been pretty polite this is the first bit of sparring that we saw.
Chiotakis: You both were at the debate last night. Were there some fireworks?
Maddaus: It got a little feistier than the usual one I mean starting from a very low base line of feistiness… You know it got a little feisty. He was saying you know why you tell the truth and you know your numbers don’t add up and she was saying my numbers do too add up and that’s kind of where the debate is about that.
Chiotakis: And you know these two are not certainly the only two candidates in the race. You got Jan Perry the City Council woman, you’ve got Kevin James, right? Emanuel Pleitez as well so you know there are others in the race where were they?
Maddaus: Jan Perry was there. The other two were not invited to this one.
Chiotakis: How do you get any traction when your not even invited to the debate?
Smith: Well you hold a press conference elsewhere in the city, which is basically what Kevin James has been doing. He’s the outsider candidate and about two weeks ago or was it last week that the hen house ad came out. When was that?
Maddaus: That was this week.
Smith: This week. Yeah.
Maddaus: It’s been a big week.
Smith: It has been. So he’s been touting that. He’s been touting his hen house ad. Basically he’s got a Super PAC funded by a Texas billionaire. This is where all his money is coming from and he’s basically pinning all of his hopes on this Super PAC.
Chiotakis: Is this the evil sheep ad guy?
Maddaus: It’s sort of a hybrid of that. It’s a fox puppet, which is seen outside of City Hall, and the ad basically portrays the other candidates as foxes guarding the hen house.
Chiotakis: Are people really paying attention to this mayoral race at all?
Maddaus: We’re doing our best to make them pay attention. We’re paying attention.
Chiotakis: How closely are you paying attention? Because we know Villaraigosa’s out and we’ll talk about that in just a moment maybe where he’s going but is there an excitement level do you think that’s not been crossed yet?
Maddaus: Yeah there’s an excitement level that’s not been crossed. People are not interested.
Smith: Are they ever going to get interested?
Maddaus: You know, you think about like 2005 there was this energy around, hard to remember now, but energy around Villaraigosa the first Latino mayor in a 150 years in L.A., right? And there was a lot of interest in that. This time what is there to get excited about? I mean you got basically two white candidates who basically agree with each other on about 99.9 percent of the issues out there, and neither one of them seems to be really firing anyone up. So OK well that’s the environment we’re in then who stands to benefit from that if the turnout is 20 percent or 22 percent or something like that, you know we’re talking about an older and whiter electorate then we have seen recently. So you know that’s the kind of universe we’re talking about right now.
Smith: Another issue is there’s just a lack of sort of important topics to discuss. I mean in 2005 Villaraigosa was taking on LAUSD. Right now you know there’s no big topic that people are gathering around. Even the issues of pensions and healthcare cost which are probably the two biggest issues facing the city. The candidates really aren’t making any bold proposals on that front.
Chiotakis: Even on pension reform, right? That’s gonna cost the city a lot of money down the road.
Smith: Exactly, so I think that’s also lending to the lack of excitement. There’s just not a big issue to gather around.
Chiotakis: Villaraigosa’s moving on of course after his term is up and a lot of folks are saying that he’s off to DC. That he’s gonna do something in the administration, the Obama administration perhaps his Secretary of Transportation. What do we know about that?
Maddaus: I don’t think anything’s for sure and I don’t think you know.
Chiotakis: And then he may have competition.
Maddaus: There are certainly other people that get mentioned in that and you know maybe some of them weren’t partying with Charlie Sheen in Cabo so maybe they might have an advantage.
Chiotakis: Does that come back to bite him do you think?
Maddaus: It doesn’t look good. It doesn’t help him, you know.
Chiotakis: Yeah but then Charlie Sheen said well I was just there with the mayor. I just took a picture with him. Come on I wasn’t partying with him.
Maddaus: Yeah, you know like it’s just not the picture you want out there when you’re being considered for a cabinet level position. Let’s put it that way.
Chiotakis: Dakota, this guy was high up in the Obama campaign he oversaw the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina this year. I mean obviously they have something in store for him.
Smith: I don’t know if he wants it to be honest. I’ve heard that at some Metro board meetings he’ll sort of grumble and say I don’t really want that position if they offered it to me.
Smith:Yeah and the other thing about them…
Maddaus: That’s sour grapes. He wants it of course he wants it.
Smith: I don’t know if he does. The other thing is that he’s also someone who doesn’t really like to be number two. He likes to be number one and if he thinks…
Chiotakis: So he wants the White House instead?
Maddaus: Governor, he’ll run for governor.
Smith: I don’t know if he wants the White House but he…
Chiotakis: First Latino governor of California.
Maddaus: There you go.
Smith: I think ambassador would be better for him.
Maddaus: Ambassador to what?
Chiotakis:: Really? Ambassador to Cabo.
Smith: Maybe Mexico.