Tonight's debate of five Los Angeles mayoral candidates was free of attack lines and zingers that are part of the national stage, but it also was also largely of that big captivating idea.
With five weeks to go, there have been many. many forums already, but the event on Monday at UCLA that was broadcast in the early evening on NBC 4, ensuring a larger audience. The theme was jobs and the economy, and moderator Conan Nolan put that in stark relief by showing a chart of the city's rising deficit as well as its climbing pension liability, rising to more than a quarter of the general fund by 2016.
While all of the candidates agreed on the need for pension reform, perhaps most surprising was that Kevin James, the former radio host and Republican on the non-partisan ballot, wasn't the rhetorical flame thrower to match the tone of a recently released pro-James SuperPAC ad. He cast himself as a candidate free of special interests when it came to dealing with public sector unions, and talked of freeing business tax calculations from gross receipt formulas. But otherwise seemed to agree with the other candidates on other issues, like the need to support green energy development or to undertake large-scale infrastructure projects.
Instead, most of the criticism of the other candidates came from Emanuel Pleitez, a tech executive and the underdog of the field, who seemed to start just about every answer with the phrase, "I am the only one up here who (fill in the blank)" Didn't Mitt Romney use that line?
A memorable moment for Wendy Greuel came when she announced that, as city controller, she identified $165 million in cuts --- the old adage "waste, fraud and abuse" --- including $7 million for fuel, the mystery being fuel for what?
City councilwoman Jan Perry suggested tying development agreements to job creation, such as setting aside employment for lower-skilled workers.
City councilman Eric Garcetti talked about the turnaround of Hollywood since he's held his seat, one of the few (albeit fleeting) references to the entertainment industry during the debate.
Somehow, though, these things always seem to come down to an issue universal to all, traffic. One of Garcetti's lines drew a rare moment of applause and laughter: "Traffic is strangling our economy and ruining our lives."