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Garcetti, Greuel offer vision for LA at USC Price debate

Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel take part in the LA mayoral debate at USC. (USC Photo/Tom Queally)

Pension reform, education, traffic, job growth and leadership style were among the wide range of topics addressed on April 22 at a mayoral debate co-hosted by the USC Price School of Public Policy, NBC4, KPCC 89.3 FM and Telemundo52.

City Councilman Eric Garcetti and City Controller Wendy Greuel took the stage at Louis B. Mayer Auditorium on the Health Sciences Campus for a discussion of the issues. The debate was broadcast live on the hosting stations.

The event was moderated by NBC4 chief political reporter Conan Nolan. USC Price Dean Jack H. Knott was one of three panelists to present questions to the candidates, along with KPPC reporter Frank Stoltze and Telemundo news anchor Ana Patricia Candiani.

“Given the importance of tonight’s event to our city and its future, the USC Price School is pleased to provide a forum to advance dialogue and debate that will help make an impact in our city and our neighborhoods,” Knott said in his opening remarks.

Garcetti trumpeted his ability to make tough decisions and his track record in improving his district during 12 years on the council, including having his district ranked No. 1 in job growth by the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, increasing the number of parks from 16 to 47, doubling the number of schools, cutting crime by two-thirds and revitalizing parts of Hollywood.

“Most of all, I’m willing to make the tough decisions,” Garcetti said. “Sometimes I’ll do things that business won’t like. Sometimes I’ll do things that unions won’t like. But that’s what you need in a mayor.”

Greuel, who would become the first woman mayor in the history of Los Angeles if elected, presented herself as being more business-friendly and spoke about education, which she called a personal issue since she graduated from the Los Angeles Unified School District and currently has a son at an elementary school in the district. She pointed out that she worked with then-mayor Tom Bradley to develop the after-school program LA’s Best, which is now in 189 schools.

“It shouldn’t depend on your ZIP code, what kind of education you get in Los Angeles,” Greuel said. “If you look at national statistics, 10 percent of schools are responsible for 50 percent of dropouts. It’s not rocket science. You’ve got to focus in on those schools and make sure those kids have the opportunity to stay in school and that they feel like they can achieve their goals and dreams.”

Knott asked the candidates what they would do to increase use of public transportation in the city. Both responded that they intend on expanding the rail system and will go back to the voters to try to get a 30-year extension on the half-cent transportation tax established by Measure R. In the 2012 election, Measure J tried to get the extension but narrowly fell short of the necessary two-thirds majority with 66.1 percent of the vote.

Garcetti said that in his time in office, he hoped to expand the Wilshire subway to the city’s westside, finish the Expo line, create the Crenshaw line and a 405 line that would include a transit tunnel through the Sepulveda pass. He also favors bus ways and light rail because they are cheaper and quicker to get up and running.

Greuel emphasized establishing rails west of the 405 Freeway to connect to downtown and highlighted the need for public transportation to Los Angeles International Airport.

“We need to identify additional funds that we can have for the city of LA to ensure that we’re leveraging those Measure R dollars in a way that’s going to see those projects actually happen in our lifetimes,” Greuel said, “so that we are not stuck in traffic every day and so that my 9-year-old can take public transportation to get to school and to be able to get to his job in the future.”

Knott also asked the candidates how they would promote jobs to allow university graduates the opportunity to stay in Los Angeles, noting that the LA region produces more engineers than any region in the country but about half, if not more, of those engineers relocate to other areas after graduation.

“We need to create those hubs of economic activity around our universities,” Greuel said. “We recruit young people to come to our schools every single year, and we never recruit them to stay.”

Garcetti indicated that he wanted to start an engineering recruitment and retention program in Los Angeles, saying it could be called “geek chic.”

“Dean Jack Knott represented the interests of the students by asking about job opportunities for us after graduation,” said Carlos Cisneros, a Master of Public Administration student at USC Price. “I am extremely proud that my school holds these types of political events, as they bring practice into our classrooms and reaffirm USC Price as one of the top schools of public policy.

The debate was held a day after a Los Angeles City election poll by USC Price and the Los Angeles Times showed that Garcetti had a 10-point lead over Greuel. The runoff election will take place on May 21.

“If the polls are accurate and Eric Garcetti is ahead, Wendy Greuel did nothing today to change that dynamic,” said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a senior fellow at USC Price and political analyst for NBC4.

Following the previous mayoral debate televised by NBC, Jeffe had said that Greuel came out the strongest.

This was the first of two mayoral debates at USC, the second of which will be held on May 5 at the Galen Center. That debate, to be sponsored by USC and the Los Angeles Times, will be moderated by Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics, and Times editor at large Jim Newton. The debate will be broadcast live on KTLA from 6 to 7:30 p.m.

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