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Sunday, Jun 4, 2023

Business Vs. Politics: Different Sides of Leadership

Wendy Greuel fought an uphill battle on her way to the City Council. Her name recognition was low, and her opponent was a veteran of the state legislature. Now, she’s riding a wave of success, having guided a high-profile tax reform system through city hall with the help of thousands of local business people. Before term limits were imposed, Wendy Greuel may have had an even tougher time of getting elected to her seat on the City Council. Although she had worked for Mayor Tom Bradley, she wasn’t entrenched in Los Angeles’ political scene and didn’t have an extensive donor list. But as an executive at DreamWorks, Greuel had an insight into the workings of Los Angeles’ economy that a City Hall lifer would have missed out on. She was the opposite of the elected officials that term limits proponents were railing against. In doing their jobs, where do council members with politics in their blood diverge from their colleagues who come from private sector backgrounds? “I know how a corporation feels when they make a decision, what’s a tipping point for them in where they decide to locate a business or do location filming,” Greuel said. “There’s a domino effect in having filming happen in Los Angeles, it employs caterers, security, parking attendants. The growth is exponential.” Greuel said that in working with the city’s 14 other council members, she’s tried to distribute the knowledge she’s gleaned in her different careers while at the same time learning from her colleagues, some who have held political positions all their lives. “What I’ve tried to do is use the experiences I’ve had in the variety of roles that I’ve played, just like they educated me on their own experiences,” Greuel said. Different backgrounds The Valley’s council representatives are a motley group. Dennis Zine is a veteran of the LAPD, while Jack Weiss worked in all three branches of the federal government before launching his local political career. Tony Cardenas has run his own engineering company and worked in the state legislature and Greig Smith worked for years as his predecessor’s chief of staff. Alex Padilla started his political career in Senator Dianne Feinstein’s office; he worked for Tony Cardenas when he was an assemblyman, on the building and safety commission and eventually became the third youngest person to be elected to a Los Angeles city office. Tom LaBonge has worked in public service for over 27 years. Attacking long-serving politicians and anyone who works in public service is of course a crowd pleaser; campaigning as a political outsider has been effective for plenty of public officials including Richard Riordan, Arnold Schwarzenegger and George W. Bush, to name a few. But for those working in a city council that’s been described as home to 15 miniature mayors, some representatives say the right attitude will carry a person further than the right background. “You have to have the art of compromise in order to be an effective elected official, you’ll see more defeats if you work as an individual,” said Councilman Dennis Zine. “There are people I’ve seen who haven’t adjusted well, because they haven’t learned that you have to work with an open intellect and a certain level of maturity.” Mayor James Hahn is described as a career politician in the purest sense of the term. His opponents and even some allies say that he never adjusted well to the mayor’s office despite spending years as an elected official in the city. Two of the Valley’s most effective and well-known representatives, Greuel and Padilla, are polar opposites when it comes to a political education. However, each of them has managed to gain the respect of their peers and affect landmark changes citywide and in their respective details. Padilla has made economic development in his district a priority, working alongside the Community Redevelopment District to rejuvenate the former Price Pfister property, which will soon be the site of a new Lowe’s home improvement store. As proud as he is of successful efforts to bring more retailers into his district, Padilla says the lack of high paying jobs is a big problem. To address the issue, he’s been working to lure more financial services companies to the district. Operating as an insider Padilla, while known for cooperation with local business groups on his mission to revitalize business, knows how to operate in the city council as an insider. He managed to be elected as council president in 2001, and was re-elected in 2003. He is chair of the City Council’s Rule and Elections Committee, Vice-chair of the Arts, Parks, Health and Aging Committee and the Environmental Quality and Waste Management Committee and was Chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Democratic National Convention. Padilla is credited as bringing the city’s Children’s Museum to the Hansen Dam in the Northeast Valley virtually single-handedly. Last year, Padilla, worked with the League of California Cities to lead Los Angeles’ effort to negotiate with Gov. Schwarzenegger to get $49 million that the state had siphoned from local property taxes. He also worked to pass Proposition 1A last November, which prevents the state from taking more money from local governments with impunity. Padilla was remarkably successful in negotiating with Schwarzenegger, who, during his election campaign, characterized “career politicians,” as being out of touch with the people they’re charged with protecting. Greuel, who co-wrote business tax reform that passed with unanimous council approval last year, worked outside political establishments to garner support for the reforms. She said that when she first proposed tax reform more than two years ago to her political consultants, they laughed, saying that she’d never get voter support for such an unexciting issue. She managed to rally the support of business people in the Valley and city-wide, however, and by the time tax reforms passed, the legislation had turned into a media draw. Greuel said that during her tax reform campaign, her office received more than 1,000 supportive e-mails from business people around the city.

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