Outside groups shatter spending record in L.A. City Council race

Los Angeles City Council race between Assemblyman Paul KrekorianUnions and other groups inject nearly $1 million into the San Fernando Valley contest for the seat once held by Wendy Greuel. More than 90% of that amount is aimed at helping Christine Essel.

As the Los Angeles City Council race between Assemblyman Paul Krekorian and former film executive Christine Essel drew to a close, outside groups shattered the record for independent spending in a non-citywide election since ethics officials began tracking those figures two decades ago.

By Sunday evening, independent groups, including some of the city's most powerful unions, had poured nearly $1 million into the contest for the San Fernando Valley seat formerly held by Wendy Greuel. More than 90% of that money has been devoted to boosting Essel's bid. Heading into Tuesday's runoff, Essel's campaign outspent Krekorian by nearly two to one.

So-called independent expenditure committees are not subject to the same city contribution limits as individual candidates, but they cannot coordinate with the candidates they support.

Faced with a constant stream of mailings and commercials on Essel's behalf by the political committees of the Police Protective League ($403,733) and unions representing the construction trade and electric workers, Krekorian has tried to turn Essel's financial advantage into a vulnerability in the final weeks.

In one of his mailings, Krekorian portrayed Essel as a puppet of the union representing employees of the Department of Water and Power, which spent more than $244,000 supporting her.

Though Essel has described herself as "the jobs candidate in the race," Krekorian has cited union spending on Essel's behalf and her contributions from construction firms and developers to argue "there's one candidate who is going to listen to the money and the power, and one candidate who listens to the community and the neighbors."

The assemblyman has enlisted neighborhood leaders to send letters tailored to individual communities like Sherman Oaks, Studio City and Sunland-Tujunga, where many voters are especially concerned about development and the strains on city water and sewer systems.

Essel has also said she wants to give neighborhood groups a greater voice. And her supporters say that her three decades at Paramount Pictures Corp., where she worked on the expansion of the studio's lot, as well as her leadership of the city's Community Redevelopment Agency board in the 1990s, made her the obvious choice for business leaders and unions who hope to see an uptick in construction jobs as the economy recovers.

Krekorian's "a professional politician," said Bob Cherry, a consultant for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18. "We don't have the confidence in him to deliver that we do in Chris Essel."

As Krekorian has decried Essel's contributions from what he calls "downtown interests," he drew much of his campaign cash from outside the council district. Contributors listing Glendale addresses gave Krekorian $61,500; those in Burbank, where he lived until May, gave him $25,050, and $8,450 came from Sacramento, according to city Ethics Commission campaign reporting records.

Carol Schatz, president of the Central City Assn. where Essel was a former board chairwoman, said Krekorian "has been pandering to the NIMBYs."

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