City councilman Eric Garcetti, his campaign boosted by substantial support from the entertainment industry, was elected mayor of Los Angeles early on Wednesday, topping city controller Wendy Greuel, a former Dreamworks executive.
Garcetti beat Greuel by about 8 percentage points, as of the most recent count by city election officials. He pulled ahead late on Tuesday evening to the point where, at a gathering before his supporters at the Hollywood Palladium, he expressed confidence that he would prevail.
“The results aren’t all in, but this is shaping up to be a great night,” Garcetti said, as he was surrounded by family members. other council members and community leaders. He said that on Wednesday, “we roll up our sleeves and get to work rebuilding a great Los Angeles.”
“L.A. is ready to put the recession in the rear-view mirror and to become the city of opportunity that I grew up in once again.”
That is expected to mean that he will pursue greater efforts to retain production in Los Angeles and push for an expansion of the state’s incentive programs for movies and TV shows. Garcetti’s district includes much of Hollywood proper.
Although Greuel enjoyed greater financial support, her campaign seemed to suffer in the face of attacks that she would be beholden to public employee unions, particularly locals representing Department of Water and Power workers, who invested heavily in backing her candidacy. That dynamic gave the race a touch of irony: Garcetti, initially perceived as the more liberal of the two, ended up getting the endorsement of Kevin James, an entertainment attorney and conservative who failed to advance to the runoff after the March 5 primary.
The expensive race between Garcetti and Greuel has been marked by acrimony in campaign spots and mailers, and by a level of apathy among Los Angeles voters, with low turnout. Some estimates were that voting would not even break 20%, although that figure is expect to rise to 24% once provisional and other ballots are counted.
Nevertheless, Garcetti and Greuel each courted show biz support, on and off the screen.
Jimmy Kimmel, who hosts his late-night talk show from Garcetti’s Hollywood area district, headlined fund raisers for him, and contributed heavily to an independent group supporting his candidate, while comedian Will Ferrell and actress Salma Hayek each appeared in campaign web videos for him. Garcetti also found support from a list of executives and industry figures such as Michael Eisner, Ken Ziffren and Steve Tisch.
Eric Paquette, a Sony executive who was Garcetti’s campaign finance chair, said in an interview earlier on Tuesday that many donors gave to Garcetti because “they see someone who they think is going to lead our city in a very different way, and who involves everybody in the process. People have a real vested interest in wanting him to succeed. That goes for every industry, not just Hollywood.”
He noted that Garcetti has made runaway production “among his top issues,” and has pointed to his efforts to revitalize Hollywood proper as a template for efforts elsewhere.
As a councilman, Garcetti championed measures to cut city location fees for production of TV pilots and for new one-hour dramas.
Greuel, too, promoted her efforts to retain production, as a member of the California Film Commission and with her experience working at Dreamworks. In a glossy, 36-page campaign publication mailed to Los Angeles voters, she said that while the city was “hemorrhaging” entertainment jobs, she would be “the strongest and loudest voice calling upon state leaders to increase credits to keep film development in California.”
Both candidates had substantial industry ties. Garcetti’s district includes Paramount and other Hollywood studios, many in the creative community live within its boundaries.
Greuel also relied heavily on entertainment sources for campaign money. The early endorsement of her former employers at Dreamworks — Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen — helped draw other industry contacts, with J.J. Abrams, Tobey Maguire and Kate Hudson among those who eventually contributed and lent their names to Greuel events.
Katzenberg also urged donors to contribute to an independent expenditure committee, Working Californians, that supported Greuel, with the bulk of its support coming from the union representing DWP employees and entertainment sources. Freed of contribution limits, Katzenberg, Geffen and Spielberg each contributed $50,000 to Working Californians, and the flood of money going to the group spurred a Garcetti backer, Courage Campaign founder Rick Jacobs, to create an independent committee to support her opponent. That org, Lots of People Who Support Eric Garcetti, collected hefty sums from Michael Eisner, Kimmel and Michael Ovitz, among others, and Kimmel gave $10,000 to the group just last week. Their spending was still less than half of the Greuel group.
Overall, Garcetti garnered the most from show biz, according to a Los Angeles Times analysis of fund-raising totals, with some $1.4 million going to his candidacy or to independent committees supporting him, compared to $1.1 million for Greuel. Contributions from arts and entertainment sources marked his greatest share of support, 12%, compared to other professions. Greuel collected about 8% from arts and entertainment sources, with union support leading her list.
Hollywood, in fact, may have played a bigger role in this mayoral contest than in any recent citywide race, a testament to both candidates strong connections to the industry and relentless courting of support over the past 18 months. All told, almost $25 million was raised, and the race set new records for campaign spending, according to the Times.
The candidates also relied heavily on high profile endorsements, and the election was a test of sorts of the influence of figures in swaying voters who may not otherwise be paying attention. Former President Bill Clinton stumped for Greuel in April, and she featured him in campaign ads. Garcetti, an early supporter of Barack Obama’s campaign, got the endorsement of Obama’s former senior adviser David Axelrod. The president did not endorse in the race.
Garcetti will make history as the first Jewish candidate elected mayor of Los Angeles, but in a dramatic sense he’s already established himself as hizzoner. He has cameoed as the mayor in “The Closer,” a show in which his father, former Los Angeles County District Attorney Gil Garcetti, is a producer.
Filling Garcetti’s Hollywood seat on the Los Angeles City Council looked to be Mitch O’Farrell, Garcetti’s chief of staff, who beat John Choi in Tuesday’s returns. Ron Galperin, a Century City attorney, defeated Dennis Zine to fill Greuel’s spot as Los Angeles city controller. And voters ousted City Attorney Carmen Trutanich in favor of Mike Feuer.
Residents also sent a message to Washington about the influence of money in politics, certainly on display in the campaign for Tuesday’s election. They overwhelmingly backed a resolution supporting a constitutional amendment that would overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which seemed to have accelerated the flow of corporate, union and other unlimited spending in elections.
Update: At a press conference in Echo Park on Wednesday, Garcetti said the economy would be his main priority, as he said that Los Angeles had the highest unemployment of any major city. “We are turning a little bit into a city of haves and have nots,” he said. He also cited the city budget, noting that “there are serious storm clouds out there.” Of the low turnout, he quipped that the breakdown means that “maybe I got 5% or 6% of the population,” and he pledged to try to boost civic engagement. But he said that the off-year election, in the third week of May, perhaps depressed turnout, and predicted that some time in the future new technology would make voting easier.
He said that the election showed that “real grassroots enthusiasm trumps money and trumps endorsements.”