In today’s Los Angeles mayoral primary election, voters will choose two candidates to succeed Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
But though the wide slate of candidates might appear extremely diverse, Director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics Dan Schnur said that the candidates in this year’s Los Angeles mayoral contest don’t differ on most policy issues.
“If the issue differences aren’t as big, it’s only natural to focus on the differences in the candidates’ backgrounds. These candidates are a very smart and impressive group — but none of them are the type of larger-than-life personalities like Antonio Villaraigosa or Dick Riordan that we’ve seen in the past,” Schnur said.
Though there are similar goals in the candidates’ platforms, their mayoral plans and prior experiences distinguish them.
Eric Garcetti, a former professor in international relations at USC, takes much of his political experience from his council position. In addition to the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce naming Garcetti’s council district No. 1 in job growth, Garcetti’s achievements include building 31 parks in his district, tripling his district’s total number of parks.
According to a USC Sol Price School of Public Policy/Los Angeles Times poll conducted last week, Garcetti has a close lead at 27 percent.
For Garcetti, his focus is on increasing job opportunities, especially for students coming out of universities.
“First and foremost, we want to keep the young people graduating from USC with a first-class education with youth and vigor here in Los Angeles and we want to create opportunities for those students,” said Yusef Robb, Garcetti’s Deputy Chief of Staff. “Right now, way too many people are graduating from college with high levels of debt and low levels in terms of career prospects.”
Additionally, Garcetti plans to develop partnerships between the city of Los Angeles and its universities in order to move ideas from the classroom to the boardroom.
“There is no reason why people who are being educated in Los Angeles should be leaving our city as soon as they earn their degrees,” Robb said. “We want to keep them here — it’s good for them and it’s good for our economy.”
Alexander VanRoekel, a senior double majoring in political science and economics, said Garcetti’s modern approach to problem solving makes him a unique candidate.
“He is focused on things like green jobs,” VanRoekel said. “Even something as small as Garcetti’s 311 app. I think it’s an important way of seeing actually how he solves problems in the 21st century way.”
The other frontrunner, Wendy Greuel, has 25 percent of the projected vote according to the Price/L.A. Times Poll. Greuel has a strong focus on creating jobs, as do many of her competitors. Her previous experiences include working in the private sector for DreamWorks Animation SKG and running a small family business. Greuel’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“She has audited the city and found $160 million in wasteful spending that could go back to schools and creating jobs,” said Kaya Masler, a Wendy Greuel campaign staff member. “She really has her thumb on the economic issues our city is facing,”
Masler said Greuel’s experience qualifies her for the role of mayor.
“She has been in the city’s politics since she was 17,” Masler said. “She knows how to do the job and she’s really the only person who is going to do the job to bring the jobs home.”
Masler believes the little practical things matter as well as the larger scale ones.
“She was known as the ‘pot hole queen’ because there were so many pot holes in her neighborhood when she was in the city council that people were getting hurt and she was like ‘I need to fix this’ and she fixed it,” Masler said.
Greuel’s platform highlights job creation, continued progress with the Los Angeles Unified School District, prioritizing spending to increase public safety and promoting greener transportation practices.
Kevin James is currently standing at 15 percent in the Price/Times poll. Not only is he the only Republican in the race, but he is also the only candidate of the four top candidates who has not previously served on city council.
“My party registration has little to do with the way I would manage the city,” James said. “It’s the independence I bring to the race to be able to get the new reforms that we need in the city of Los Angeles passed that should be very attractive to kids at USC.”
Many of James’ student supporters see his independence from city council as a definite plus.
“I think the biggest thing with Kevin James is that he really is a city hall outsider, so he’s not stuck in the system,” said USC College Republicans president Madeline Lansky. “I think that there’s a lot of corruption that has gone on in city hall. In the meantime, [the other candidates] were already in city hall and did nothing to stop the corruption or seek it out when they were there.”
James identifies himself as an “independent outsider in the race” and believes this allows him to connect well with USC students.
“One of the things we need is for young people and USC graduates to have a welcoming job environment when [they] graduate,” James said. “The choices you should be making should be about which jobs you want in Los Angeles rather than trying to choose what city outside of California you are going to move to because you can’t find the job in Los Angeles. That’s what has been happening too much.”
James’ other platform points include job creation, business tax reform, pension reform and public education reforms including vocational training as early as middle school.
Jan Perry prides herself in the tangible results she has recorded during her past 12 years on the city council, including the creation of more than 5,000 new units of affordable mixed income housing, the addition of 90,000 net new jobs in Los Angeles and her work as the former chairperson of the Los Angeles Exposition Line. The Price/Times poll currently has Perry at 14 percent.
Perry comes from a family of Trojans. She attended USC for both her undergraduate and graduate education, her husband came to USC for law school and her daughter, a current Annenberg student, will graduate this spring.
“I understand the depth and breadth of what it means to ‘fight on’ and, in the face of even the most complicated, I think that USC has taught me to bring all I have to creating solutions,” Perry said. “[My priority is] moving this city forward toward an economic recovery and a level playing field so that children here will have a chance to have a decent education [and] people will have choices on where they want to live and job opportunities for where they want to work.”
Perry currently represents the area surrounding the university and has made an effort to remain involved with the university by speaking at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and the Price School of Policy, Planning and Development.
“I have been very active in campus life as a graduate and as a public servant, and I would continue to do that and raise the profile of the university and all the other excellent learning institutions we have in our city,” Perry said.
Perry’s primary focuses include education, making Los Angeles a greener city, increasing job opportunities and reforming the Department for Work and Pensions.
Though the differences between the four candidates aren’t staggering, Schnur said the runoff promises for a more distinctive election.
“Once the field narrows from several candidates to just two, the differences between the remaining two in the run-off will become much more clear to the voters,” Schnur said. “Five candidates on a debate stage can be sort of a muddle to even the most attentive of voters but, when it’s one-on-one, the differences start to crystallize.”