Hollywood money boosts excitement in L.A. mayor's race

With the March 5 primary just four weeks away, the sexiest issues in the Los Angeles mayor’s race seem to be pensions and the city’s financial health. So it’s no wonder the leading candidates are looking to put a starry shine on their campaigns, wooing Hollywood to gain the perception of momentum — or maybe even grab on to the real thing.

Overall, as of Sept. 30, Hollywood had contributed almost $1 million to the race, according to local outlets KPCC and NBC4. That’s a significant chunk of the total raised, and can be particularly effective in the traditionally low turnout of a city election.

While the money may reflect the realization of the influence city politics can have on the industry in everything from film permits, real estate development, studio expansion, business taxes and runaway production, the list of those who have donated suggest that, typically, biz givers don’t necessarily have industry issues in mind.

In the past week, the campaign of City Councilman Eric Garcetti, leading in some polls, unveiled a somewhat irreverent Web video featuring Salma Hayek, who talked about his skills as a dancer, among other things. The campaign has been promoting a Feb. 7 fund-raiser at the Henry Fonda Theater with headliners including Moby, Will Ferrell and Jimmy Kimmel. Also being tubthumped: A list of 200 “entertainment leaders for Garcetti,” with laudatory quotes from the likes of Michael Eisner, Showtime’s David Nevins and attorney Ken Ziffren, and including the names of Jake Gyllenhaal, Kevin Spacey, Michael Ovitz and Tom Sherak, as well as campaign finance chair, Sony executive Eric Paquette..

Overall, as of Sept. 30, Hollywood had contributed almost $1 million to the race, according to local outlets KPCC and NBC4. That’s a significant chunk of the total raised, and can be particularly effective in the traditionally low turnout of a city election.

While the money may reflect the realization of the influence city politics can have on the industry in everything from film permits, real estate development, studio expansion, business taxes and runaway production, the list of those who have donated suggest that, typically, biz givers don’t necessarily have industry issues in mind.

Many see the list as a counter to City Controller Wendy Greuel, a former DreamWorks executive, and in particular the high-profile endorsements she gained early in the campaign from her former employers, Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen. Spielberg, Katzenberg and their political consultant, Andy Spahn, have an extensive network of industry contacts to urge to write checks, and sources say they are helping a pro-Greuel independent expenditure committee that can collect contributions beyond the $1,300-per-individual limit placed on the campaigns. Greuel has a fund-raiser at the Soho House on Feb. 11 that features Kate Hudson, J.J. Abrams, Bryan Lourd, Tobey Maguire and Sarah Silverman among the co-hosts, and her campaign has held aloft her endorsement from the Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. The campaign also released its own list of supporters, including Eva Longoria, Tom Hanks, Haim Saban and Ron Meyer.

City Councilwoman Jan Perry, meanwhile, may not have the same depth of ties to the biz, but she has drawn support from Amy Poehler and George Takei.

And the campaign of Kevin James, a former prosecutor, entertainment attorney at Lavely & Singer and host on conservative talkradio, has released a list of its own supporters from the industry, including Gary Sinise, Bill Duke, Marty Singer, Lionel Chetwynd and Marc Cherry. In addition to being the only right-of-center candidate among the major contenders, James is also openly gay, and has been heavily involved in AIDS Project Los Angeles.

The candidates have been courting the industry to the point where the line that separates support from endorsement has been blurred. James’ campaign lists screenwriter Dustin Lance Black and CAA’s Kevin Huvane among supporters, and while each has given money to the candidate, Black says he has yet to endorse anyone. Huvane, meanwhile, also appears on Garcetti’s list of supporters. And Abrams gave money to Garcetti, but he’s now on Greuel’s list.

Strange bedfellows indeed.

According to the recent KPCC/NBC4 analysis, the race for industry money has been one of Garcetti vs. Greuel, with Garcetti collecting $488,000 from industry sources to Greuel’s $277,000.

Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, senior fellow at USC’s School of Policy, Planning and Development, sees a somewhat higher level of sophistication now in entertainment figures’ support of local candidates than evidenced a few decades ago. None of the mayoral candidates has yet solidified a base or coalition, she notes, adding that Garcetti and Greuel are engaging in a cat-and-mouse game to capture attention within the biz.

“Greuel has the big guns (with Spielberg, Katzenberg and Geffen), and Garcetti’s message is, ‘Don’t count me out in Hollywood,’ ” Bebitch Jeffe says.

Garcetti’s district includes much of the Hollywood region of Los Angeles, known more for working-class renters than for movie studios, and he has pointed to a turnaround in parts of the area’s more blighted sections. He’s also had cameos on TNT’s “The Closer,” where he has portrayed, auspiciously, the mayor of Los Angeles. (His father, former district attorney Gil Garcetti, was a producer on the series).

However, a bigger celebrity endorsement may lie not in Hollywood, but in Washington, where there remains a lingering question as to whether President Obama will declare a favorite in the race. Garcetti, an early backer of Obama’s first presidential bid, was among those attending an after-hours party at the White House after a day of inaugural hoopla. But there’s also talk that Katzenberg, who is among the largest fundraisers of Obama’s presidential bid, and one of the biggest donors to the SuperPAC that supported him, would exert his influence to champion Greuel.

Also in Washington during inaugural weekend was Los Angeles’ current mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa. At a Daily Beast event the day before the swearing in, he mingled with guests at a Georgetown eatery, and chatted about the need for politicians in general to be authentic — which is either an understatement or, depending on one’s views of Villaraigosa’s tenure, ironic.

It may also be a stark reminder for the candidates, given the most recent televised debate, that pensions and a fiscal plan are more important than all the stars that shine.

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